18+ | Commercial Content | T&Cs apply | Begambleaware.org
Bayern Munich wrapped up their fifth successive Bundesliga title with three games of the 2016/17 season to spare, finishing the campaign a full 15 points clear of second-placed RB Leipzig, and with more goals scored (89) and fewer conceded (22) than every other side in the German top flight.
The Bavarian giants then went and broke their club transfer record to sign Corentin Tolisso from Lyon in the summer. And, in what has become their customary style, pillaged the Bundesliga by snapping up Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy from Hoffenheim. Another routine romp to the domestic title was fully expected.
But Borussia Dortmund‘s incredible start to the season is threatening their rivals' dominance, and the side from the Allianz Arena should be very worried about how BVB, the last team not named Bayern Munich to be crowned champions of Germany, back in 2012, are playing.
They way Dortmund reacted to Borussia Mönchengladbach captain Lars Stindl's goal at Signal Iduna Park in the sixth round of Bundesliga fixtures tells you all you need to know about this thriving unit. Goalkeeper Roman Bürki angrily kicked the post, and the defenders in front of him held an impromptu inquest on the pitch into how exactly the German international forward was able to escape their attention.
This is not necessarily anything out of the ordinary; you'd expect professional footballers to be aggrieved at the loss of a goal in a high-level game. But what made this scenario remarkable is that Dortmund were 5-1 up at the time. It was the first league goal they had conceded in 2017/18.
BVB went on to restore their five-goal advantage through a spectacular, long-range effort from Julian Weigl, the first Bundesliga goal of the young playmaker's career. The 6-1 win, thanks to a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick and a brace from new signing Maximilian Philipp, a mark of their current confidence.
The emphatic victory kept Dortmund top of the pile in the German top flight, five wins and a draw from six. It is BVB, not Bayern, who are outscoring everybody, with 19 goals to their name, and proving to have the stingiest defence, Stindl's strike their only blot.
They've had to overcome more than their share of adversity to reach this point, too.
Regarded as one of the most gifted young tacticians in the European game, Thomas Tuchel, who'd taken the reins at the club following Jürgen Klopp's departure in 2015, seemed to be building a side capable of challenging domestically and in the Champions League, but the former Mainz coach's spiky character clashed with the powers that be, leading to his dismissal at the end of last season.
BVB moved to replace Tuchel with Lucien Favre, the experienced Swiss coach who took Gladbach into the Champions League and is now working wonders with Nice in Ligue 1, but he rebuffed their advances. Dortmund settled upon Peter Bosz, fresh off the back of guiding a vibrant young Ajax side to the Europa League final, and the Dutchman has simplified the team's approach, thus far to great effect.
Dortmund also had to contend with the drawn-out transfer saga surrounding Ousmane Dembélé‘s eventual transfer to Barcelona, which stretched into the start of the campaign, with the 20-year-old winger effectively going on strike to force the German club's hand.
Signed from Rennes for just £12.75million in 2016, the €105million fee, potentially rising to as much as €140million, represented a tremendous return on their investment, but BVB were losing a player who had shone in the previous season, becoming the creative fulcrum of the side with 21 assists. The lateness of the deal also left Dortmund with no real time to reinvest before the transfer deadline.
But, again, BVB took the turmoil in their stride, putting faith in Philipp, who'd been signed from Freiburg for €20million, Andriy Yarmolenko, a €30million signing from Dinamo Kiev, and rising young star Christian Pulisic to pick up the creative slack in Dembélé's absence.
All three have started the season in fine fettle, and 19-year-old Pulisic, already a key player at international level with the USA, has stepped up in particular. The hugely talented youngster is likely to be the next budding star to depart Signal Iduna Park for an eye-watering fee, but, in the meantime, Dortmund will benefit from his rapid development.
Taking a leaf out of Bayern's book, Dortmund have also looked to cannibalise the Bundesliga in the transfer market – something which is no new development for the club, but seems to have been approached more aggressively this year, with Philipp, Jeremy Toljan, Ömer Toprak and Mahmoud Dahoud all being plucked from rivals to bolster Bosz's options.
One man who looked certain to leave Dortmund this summer was Aubameyang. The Gabonese striker, having scored a career-high 40 goals last term, was seemingly intent of a big-money move away. He has never made any secret of his desire to join Real Madrid, but the European champions didn't come knocking for the 28-year-old.
Paris Saint-Germain did, although no deal could be reached, likewise AC Milan. Dortmund set an arbitrary August deadline for any transfer to be tied up, and it passed with Aubameyang still a BVB player.
This could have quite easily unsettled both player and club – with Marco Reus still injured, Aubameyang is unquestionably Dortmund's best and most important player. But the France-born striker must be commended for his attitude and application. Rather than sulking and pining for a January switch, he has gotten on with business in spectacular fashion, notching eight goals from six Bundesliga outings.
What's more, Aubameyang has spoken publicly about putting the summer behind him and focussing fully on Dortmund. “I have no dream. I shall no longer speak of Madrid. They don't want me. This is not a problem. I move on. I am well in Dortmund,” he told RMC in September.
“I feel that the clubs don't want to go too far [with me]. I'm inevitably frustrated. We had an agreement with Borussia that I could leave. It didn't happen. It is a disappointment. But I'm also happy to stay.”
With Bayern‘s form stuttering slightly – they sit three points behind Dortmund after throwing away a two-goal lead to draw at home against Wolfsburg – murmurings of discontent within the camp and questions of manager Carlo Ancelotti's future at the club, BVB are ready to pounce.
The odds, for some years now, have been stacked against anyone other than Bayern winning the Bundesliga. But Dortmund have already shown themselves to be strong in adversity; could this be their year?