As the Bundesliga gets back underway this weekend, Borussia Dortmund are preparing to launch an all-out attack on Bayern Munich’s seven-year hegemony, and this time they mean it.
Having missed out on the league title by a whisker last year, Dortmund hope that a flurry of new signings and some newfound swagger will be enough for them to finally dethrone Bayern this season.
“We are going into the new season with the intention of challenging for the title – no ifs, no buts,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke back in June.
With captain Marco Reus and coach Lucien Favre having made similar comments since, Dortmund appear more confident of winning the title than at any point since their last triumph in 2012.
Bayern have dominated the league since then, winning seven successive titles and securing a domestic double last season despite falling nine points behind Dortmund in December.
Yet as they prepare to launch their title defence against Hertha Berlin on Friday evening, it is Bayern who appear to be struggling, while Dortmund have a spring in their step.
Lucien Favre’s side have bolstered their ranks with a string of exciting new signings, including Nico Schulz, Thorgan Hazard, and Julian Brandt.
Perhaps most excitingly of all, they have also lured former captain and 2014 World Cup winner Mats Hummels back from Bayern for a fee of 38 million Euros ($42.4m).
In a team which buckled defensively in key games during last year’s title race, many Hummels experience and quiet leadership as the missing piece of the jigsaw for Dortmund.
Hummels himself has said that he wants to bring some of Bayern’s title-deciding mettle to Dortmund.
“You have to recognise that Bayern are not the worst when it comes to a winning mentality. As different as the two clubs are, I want to bring that attitude over to Dortmund,” he told Kicker magazine this week.
Bayern transfer trouble
While Dortmund approach the new season with optimism, Bayern are still trying to shake off their summertime blues.
Following the departures of senior players such as Hummels, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Bayern have spent the last few months under growing pressure to announce major signings.
Though they secured the services of French World Cup winners Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez earlier this year, their interest in Manchester City winger Leroy Sane and RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner has so far come to nothing.
The lack of movement has frustrated senior players, and at the beginning of August, star striker Robert Lewandowski publicly demanded the club make three more signings.
The arrival of Croatian winger Ivan Perisic on loan from Inter Milan this week has eased the pressure a little, but coach Niko Kovac said this week that his squad “still has to strengthen”.
Despite defying his critics and securing the double last season, Kovac is still viewed with skepticism in some quarters and has faced criticism for reverting to a 4-3-3 system in pre-season.
Bayern struggled in that formation at the beginning of last season, before a switch to 4-2-3-1 saw results improve.
Yet they switched back to 4-3-3 in the German Supercup earlier this month and limped to a 2-0 defeat to an explosive Dortmund side.
“We made the same mistakes as last year, and I hope they don’t happen again,” moaned Lewandowski after the defeat.
Dortmund, meanwhile, hope that the Supercup litmus test will set the tone for the entire season.
The real work begins on Saturday, with their opening fixture at home to Augsburg. From then on, there can be no ifs and no buts. This time, Dortmund mean it.