In recent years, the main competition to the mighty Bayern Munich has come in the form of Borussia Dortmund. Der BVB wrestled the title away from the Bavarians not once, but twice in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons and finished runners up in 2012/13 and 2013/14. Under Jurgen Klopp the team that had faced bankruptcy a decade before had done the unthinkable on a shoe-string budget, and won fans across the globe.
With the departures of key men, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski to Bayern the side from the North Rhine-Westphalia fell out of the title race, and even from Champions League contention. Jurgen Klopp, the man who had presided over the Dortmund renaissance, announced he was stepping down as head coach and the club struggled to a subdued 7th place finish.
Having been everyone’s second favourite team and a major European force Borussia Dortmund had a reality check. Many expected their remaining stars to be snatched away to play for the major clubs in Spain and England, or make the heartbreaking move to Bayern.
Despite persistent rumours, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and Mats Hummels all stayed at the club to serve under their new coach Thomas Tuchel, the man who had revolutionised Mainz.
Dortmund started the season strongly winning 5 matches in a row, which was only cut short by a disappointing draw with Hoffenheim. Under Tuchel the memory of the lacklustre performances of last season were quickly washed away and BVB look revitalised, incorporating many of the traits seen in the Klopp heyday; high intensity, high pressure and a renewed belief.
Many saw Dortmund’s quiet summer as a bad sign, but the promotion of Julian Weigl from the youth sides proved a masterstroke, as was moving Matthias Ginter to right back. Where Tuchel really showed his abilities was the work he has done with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian moved to BVB with high expectations but failed to replicate the scoring form he had shown in the Ukraine. Under Tuchel it took him just six games to beat his goal tally from last season.
With free scoring Aubameyang spearheading the attack, and the defence showing real confidence for the first time in a while Dortmund once again have the key components to mount a title challenge. Much of Dortmund’s previous success had been based around their phenomenal team spirit and unrivalled determination, and to Tuchel’s credit he has done wonders to revive it.
Bayern’s success lies heavily in their ability to rotate and adapt over the season, injuries and fitness issues can be overcome and Guardiola’s persistent tinkering with the formation allows players to slip in and out of the team without results suffering. The danger for Dortmund was highlighted in the Hoffenheim game, without Gundogan and Mkhitaryan the team looked disjointed and off the pace, and the concern is a serious injury to one or both could scupper Der BVB’s chances of a serious title challenge.
Commentators, fans and bookies alike still regard this seasons Bundesliga title as Bayern’s, despite the strong start from Dortmund. Bet365 have placed them at 9/1 to win, compared to Bayern’s 1/14. While it may not be their season for the sake of the competitiveness of the Bundesliga there needs to be at least one consistent challenger to Bayern. It looked for a while as though BVB would fall back into the turmoil that exists in the wake of the Bavarians, but with Tuchel there is definitely hope.