Dortmund celebrate

The Bundesliga was missing something last year. Bayern Munich claimed a record 25th German title, but their usual challenger was stuck fighting relegation for the better part of the campaign. It was an unusual season to say the least for Borussia Dortmund as they had to fight for just a seventh place finish and the unexpected departure of beloved manager Jurgen Klopp threw the team’s future into an even bigger cloud of doubt and uncertainty. New manager Thomas Tuchel has quite the act to follow and a mountain of expectations to overcome, but early signs seem to point to a return to prominence at the Signal Iduna Park.

In their first game of the Bundesliga season, Tuchel’s Dortmund sent a very loud and clear message to the rest of the league: they’re back. From the opening minute, Dortmund dominated a visiting Borussia Monchengladbach. It took just 15 minutes for Marco Reus to blast an effort into the back of the net, and just six minutes after that, Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang doubled the lead. A third goal from Henrikh Mkhitaryan put the hosts up 3-0 before the end of the first half, and essentially secured an opening day victory. One more goal from Mkhitaryan in the second half put an exclamation point on the already impressive victory, and it’s starting to look like we’ll see the Dortmund of old this season.

One of the main reasons that Dortmund have been able to rebound so well after last year’s disappointing campaign was their ability to resign star players. The last several seasons have seen BVB lose the likes of Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski to fellow German power Bayern Munich, and for a while last year it looked as if star man Marco Reus would follow the same path. However, a growing faith amongst the squad that they could once again compete for titles sparked a change in trends. In February, the 26-year-old winger signed a contract extension with the club that secured his services all the way until 2019.

This deal came despite reported interest from every major club in Europe including Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona and a hosts of English clubs as well. Following the path of Reus, two more notable Dortmund players rumored to be on their way out in the summer transfer window pledged their allegiance to the club. Club captain Mats Hummels had been heavily linked with Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United, but on the club’s preseason tour, the defender told reporters, “There have always been rumors about almost every one of our players, but I decided not to make the move this year… Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world, it’s an honor, but I decided I wanted to stay here.”

The other player to snub interest from abroad was midfielder Ilkay Gundogan. With his contract due to run out at the end of the 2015/16 season, pressure fell on the club to either sell the player this summer or risk losing him on a free transfer the following year. Gundogan had previously refused Dortmund’s contract extension offers, but in July, the German international signed a one-year extension that would keep him at the club until the 2017 summer and seemingly guarantees at least one more year at Dortmund.

Along with these three major returns, Tuchel brought in another big name to reinforce the existing squad. The club’s only big name signing came in the form of Gonzalo Castro from Bayer Leverkusen. The 28-year-old had a breakout campaign last year as he recorded a team high seven assists and earned a place in EA Sports’ Bundesliga Team of the Season. When he signed for Dortmund, some in the media saw him as a direct replacement for Gundogan should he leave, but with his latest contract extension, it’s unsure how much playing time Castro will get in Dortmund’s stacked midfield. Should any of the club’s attacking midfielders go down with injury, Castro will surely find himself in the heart of the starting 11, but until then we may have to wait to see how he fits into BVB.

Even though it’s still very early in the season, I think that it’s justified to believe Borussia Dortmund will resume their title challenging ways after a slight detour last year. The introduction of Europa League fixtures may throw a wrench into Tuchel’s plans, but the depth of Dortmund should be able to help them cope with the additional games in their schedule. When the season comes to a close in the Bundesliga, Bayern will be champions, but Dortmund will be back in second and possibly claim some much needed silverware in their other competitions.


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