Borussia Dortmund: Can 'Die Schwarzgelben' provide us with a more tantalising title race in 2013/14?

Borussia Dortmund’s league form last season was, at times, patchy to say the least. Some squandered leads, amateurish defending, and lack of composure meant that points were dropped in games that they shouldn’t have been. Eventually Dortmund finished a mammoth 25 points adrift of the Bayern Munich, a stunning turn around after BVB had claimed back-to-back league titles.

Still though, Dortmund managed to secure a second placed finished in a highly competitive Bundesliga – securing Champions League football for this season. Meanwhile BVB also made their way all the way to the Champions League Final, beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Anyone, that is, except perhaps Jürgen Klopp. After domestic success with a double in 2012, Klopp will be desperate to inspire his players to more silverware yet again this term.
This transfer window was always going to be a big one, Dortmund looking to add depth as well as quality to their ranks. All while supplementing the loss of Mario Götze. The club saw fit to allow Moritz Leitner leave for Stuttgart on loan, and fellow midfielder Leo Bittencourt was somewhat surprisingly sold to Hannover 96. With Felipe Santana departing for Schalke and Lukasz Piszczek out until 2014 after a hip operation it became vital that BVB had a good summer in terms of incoming players.

The New Boys

With their chequered past, you would have been excused for thinking BVB would be afraid to spend big this summer. However, with income from recent success, outgoing transfers, and increased publicity, the club have built the capacity to spend big, and remain within their means. BVB certainly have not shirked the opportunity to spend big this summer, and it was exactly what was necessary in order to compete with Bayern Munich.

Just 3 days after the Champions League Final it was announced that an agreement had been made to sign SV Werder Bremen defender Sokratis. Also courted by Bayer Leverkusen, Sokratis has spent two years in Germany, appearing 59 times for Bremen. The reported price tag of €9.5M reflects value – Sokratis is an experienced international and, as  well as his preferred centre-half position, is adept cover at right-back.

Following on from this deal was an anxious wait for fans, as they waited to see who would be brought in to bolster the team in the final third. In the first week of July things hotted up, and BVB confirmed the purchase of Saint-Étienne forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, for €13M. Aubameyang adds depth to a front line which has previously looked light beyond Robert Lewandowski. Last season in Ligue 1 only Zlatan Ibrahimovic was directly involved in more goals (39) than the Gabonese (28). Already in pre-season Aubameyang has shown blistering pace and a keen eye for goal, and is exciting those at Westfalenstadion.

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Just a few days after the Aubameyang transfer, BVB confirmed their biggest coup of the summer, and announced Shakhtar Donetsk star Henrikh Mkhitaryan as the much sought after ‘number 10’. Mkhitaryan netted 50 goals in 109 games in Ukraine’s Premier Liga, as well as earning 25 assists. Just last season, in 29 games, Mkhitaryan scored an astounding 25 goals and had 10 assists, and will want to kighten the burden currently sitting atvthe feet of Robert Lewandowski. Looking to justify a transfer fee just shy of €30M, the Armenian will be eager to hit a run of form which can resemble that of last year.
Lastly, the players promoted from the youth team to first team squad will be vital for squad depth this season. 19-year old forward Marvin Ducksch has enjoyed pre-season, scoring 3 goals and taking his chance to impress with the  first team. Also impressive has been Jonas Hofmann. Hofmann can be used across the attacking midfield positions, and has constantly been involved in attacks over the summer – expect to hear much more about him this season. At the back promising central defenders Marian Sarr and Koray Günter have also been promoted, but how often they will have the chance to play remains to be seen.

The Key Men

All of them. It can’t be stressed enough that, the way Dortmund play, they need everyone firing to reach their very best. The intense pressing game and flowing, sweeping attacks that the world was exposed to via the Champions League did not mirror BVB domestically, where the players often failed to click and break down their opponents.

Of course, there will be certain players who stand out, but truly the burden will be shared. As the lone centre-forward, Robert Lewandowski will be expected to score the majority of the goals, but he should be helped along by Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will look to add to the already impressive 25 goals and 19 assists they provided between them last season. Those sort of figures can also be expected from new signings Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang – and if all 5 of these players deliver then we are in for a treat.

In terms of building on last season, the key men will arguably be Nuri Sahin and Mats Hummels. Sahin returned to Dortmund last January, and is already showing with a full pre-season under his belt what he’s capable of, with performances reminiscent of his last spell at the club. If Sahin can hit top form as a deep lying playmaker in Dortmund’s double pivot, the former BVB captain could free up Ilkay Gündogan to play a more advanced role, one he excelled in in the recent Super Cup defeat of Bayern. Hummels, by his own admission, failed to reach top form last season, and often struggled for fitness. An on-form Mats Hummels, forming a strong partnership with Neven Subotic, makes the team an entirely different proposition to face altogether. Until New Year, the performances of Kevin Großkreutz and Sokratis at right-back will be absolutely crucial to ensure that Lukasz Piszczek isn’t missed too sorely.

Prediction

Expect a tighter race for the title than last season. Good work in the transfer window has helped supplement losses and the squad looks less thin than a year ago, as well as being sprinkled with a bit more quality. Borussia Dortmund will be determined to provide a stern test for Bayern Munich, and prove that they are within reach. Moreover they will want to assert their place as part of a top two in Germany, showing the chasing pack (including Bayer Leverkusen and bitter rivals Schalke 04) that they have a little way to catch up just yet.
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