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Borussia Dortmund season preview: Can they overcome the heavyweights?

Matthias Hangst

Along with many top clubs in Germany, Borussia Dortmund have been around for more than 100 years. They won the final pre-Bundesliga German championship before becoming one of the founding members of the Bundesliga, but did not win the domestic league again until 1994/95. Their history is louder than most clubs, but still muffled with the overwhelming success of Bayern Munich.

Then came the loud bark in 2010. Jürgen Klopp took advantage of Bayern's ineptitude in his third season at the helm, and with a young back line, they won the Bundesliga with the best defense in Germany. They rose the stakes to the domestic double in 2011/12, and made it to the 2013 Champions League Final before Bayern claimed the first German European treble.

Dortmund are the only publicly traded German football team, going public in 2002, and their spending budget has increased with each step forward towards European relevancy. Bayern have tried to poke holes in their sales, poaching Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski each of the past two years, but they continue to sail on. Their wise investments in young players have paid off big, with Klopp's aggressive tactics only matched by his personality.

Their summer business over, Dortmund's squad that will take the field in the first match day of the Bundesliga will be one of the more flexible ones in recent seasons. Some of their key players are returning from injury, and their youngsters are budding into Bundesliga stars. Even though Bayern still stand in their way, it is only a matter of time before they hoist the Bundesliga dish again.

When we last met

When they cast off from Wembley following an appearance in the Champions League Final, their voyage was one where they just tried to stay above water despite constant holes in their hull. They lost their entire starting defense to injury, as well as their two starting holding midfielders. Marco Reus and Lewandowski kept them afloat, the two among the leaders in scoring in the Bundesliga, but Dortmund could not muster the same magic against Real Madrid as they did on their way to Wembley.

They had a chance to snatch the DFB-Pokal to add consolation to a tough season, but two goals in extra time from Bayern deflated their effort. They eventually finished second in the Bundesliga to Bayern for the second consecutive year, but it was once again with an embarrassing amount of points in between the two.

Ins and outs

Bayern dealt Dortmund another devastating transfer blow, convincing Lewandowski to move southwest to join FC Hollywood on a free transfer. What they gained, though, were two experienced strikers who traveled to the World Cup with their national teams: Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos. They also allowed Julian Schieber to replace Ramos at Hertha Berlin, and brought in Ji Dong-Won for attacking depth.

Dortmund had a Bundesliga coup of their own, poaching 20-year-old Matthias Ginter from SC Freiburg before Bayern could get to him. Ginter will provide support in both defense and holding midfield, and made interim solution Manuel Friedrich expendable.

Transfer business still to come

After his spectacular performance in Germany's colors at the World Cup, Mats Hummels attracted a lot of interest from clubs around Europe, including Barcelona and Manchester United, but no one made Dortmund a concrete offer. Hummels then received the captain's armband after Sebastian Kehl relinquished his position after six years. The transfer window is still open, but a move from Hummels is now very unlikely.

Bayern might be looking to poach another Dortmund player, recent reports linking the 24-time Bundesliga champions with Marco Reus. They will not be the only ones interested though, with Barcelona and Manchester United sniffing after Reus as well. His contract with Dortmund runs until 2017, but a €25 million buyout clause activates in the summer of 2015.

Big questions

Can Immobile replace Lewandowski? Perhaps the most obvious question of all, but the most critical to Dortmund's season. Dortmund's rise to European contention coincided with Lewandowski's rise to world elite. His runs behind and hold-up play made him the complete striker, and he facilitated a lot of what Dortmund did in attack. His absence will leave a void on top, but it might be one that Immobile can fill.

Immobile, unlike Lewandowski, has never played in the Bundesliga before. As impressive as his 22-goal season was last year in Serie A, he will be transitioning to a new country and a new league. Dortmund brought in Adrian Ramos as an insurance policy, but there is no doubt that the club wants Immobile to be their future. Whether that future comes this season will determine how well Dortmund can compete with the big boys.

Will Sven Bender and Ilkay Gündogan stay healthy? The injury bug infected many players last season, but the area that it affected the most was holding midfield. Bender missed most of the year with a groin injury, and Gündogan, who many expected to take the next step into elite-hood, did the same with back problems. The pair were imperative to Dortmund's Champions League run, and the Schwarzgelben struggled in midfield without them.

Fortunately for Dortmund, Bender is regaining match fitness in the preseason, including some friendly appearances, and Gündogan has returned to the practice field. Both are expected to be part of Klopp's tactical plans, but Milos Jojic and Nuri Sahin provide support if the two cannot maintain their fitness. Dortmund can be good without them, but great with them.

How much does Roman Weidenfeller have left? Coming over from Kaiserslautern, Weidenfeller has been one of the drivers of the Dortmund bus in their rise in Germany. He was one of the better goalkeepers in the Champions League last season, allowing just 12 goals in nine matches despite a banged-up defense. Germany coach Joachim Löw took notice and called him up to the German national team for the World Cup as Neuer's insurance policy.

All that said, fabulous waves of Weidenfeller's hair cannot man the pipes forever. He is 34, which is not old for a goalkeeper, but is not young either. Mitchell Langerak, the 25-year-old who has bided his time on the bench, had an impressive preseason while Weidenfeller was on vacation, and he could be poised to step in should Weidenfeller's age begin to show. A full change might be too early still, but sometimes it is better to be a year too early than a year too late.

Key players

Marco Reus: With his comrades – Götze and Lewandowski – on the other side of the Klassiker, he remains the one proven world-class player in Dortmund's squad. His ball skills have improved to elite levels, and his pace provides the perfect dynamic for what Klopp wants to do with his team.

Amongst the sea of flexible attacking options, Reus will have to be the reef that directs the splashes in the right direction. He was the most productive player in the Bundesliga a year ago, with 16 goals and 13 assists, but he will need to match that production for Dortmund to maintain the level that they are currently. He has proven versatile, able to play on the flank or on the wing, and Klopp will deploy him in different positions to accommodate the attacking wealth he has.

At 25, he is entering his prime, which is frightening when you consider the seasons he's already recorded.

Mats Hummels: In an age where the big, powerful, imposing center-back is as rare as a liger, Hummels' combination of size, footwork and pace has come to the fore. He led Germany's all-center-back line at the World Cup, and he will do so for Dortmund with a few of his mates back healthy.

He has already achieved both domestic titles and a World Cup, and he is arguably the best defender in Germany. The question remains whether he can stay healthy after his extended summer plans. When he is fit and on form, his defensive slyness and offensive prowess make him a game-changer. Also entering his prime at 25, he could take the next step and become the best defender in the world if he plays his cards right, a bulwark that could drive Dortmund to many trophies.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: Dortmund purchased this Gabonian in anticipation of Lewandowski's departure. With the Polish striker now officially at a different club, Aubameyang may be called upon to fill that void. That is something that he is more than capable of doing.

His touch on the ball was raw a year ago, and his 16 goals in all competition was underwhelming after a fast start. He has the tools to take a big step forward this season, though. His first step is like watching a dachshund chase after a rabbit, and his finishing improved as the season progressed.

Klopp will put him in as many opportunities he can to score, and whether or not he does could be a significant variable in Dortmund's season.

Projected ideal starting XI

football formations

Klopp has lined up his teams in recent years to relentlessly pursue their opponent. Their movement advances and recedes as one, and their pace allows them to be devastating on the counterattack. With injuries in the midfield, they have not been able to dominate the center of the park, which left their defense exposed last season. Their returns will make the team very adaptable, Klopp able to shift personnel based on his tactical needs.

Key reserves: DF Matthias Ginter, DF Neven Subotic, DF Erik Durm, DF Kevin Großkreutz, MF Sebastian Kehl, MF Milos Jojic, MF Nuri Sahin, MF Jakub Blaszczykowski, MF Jonas Hofmann, FW Adrian Ramos

Klopp will likely incorporate Durm and Ginter more and more as the season progresses, for their young talent and vibrant potential is too hard to ignore, even if they still are tactically inept. Jojic, who has impressed since his transfer from FK Partizan, will feature a lot as a number 8, although his defensive liabilities will limit where Klopp can position him. Ramos will have to play second fiddle to Immobile, but Klopp has given all of his strikers a fair share of playing time over the past few years.

How do I watch Dortmund this season?

In the United States, GolTV holds the Bundesliga rights, and Dortmund is one of the teams the channel chooses to highlight weekly. GolTV is also the way to watch in Canada, and highlights are on on a weekly basis. BT Sport 1 carries some Bundesliga games in England, and Dortmund is often showcased there as well.

Finishing second in the Bundesliga, you can also catch Dortmund during Fox Soccer's coverage of the Champions League. ESPN3 also has all of Dortmund's DFB-Pokal matches, including their first-round victory against Stuttgarter Kickers.


Their advantage going into the Bundesliga season is rest, for their major German players were not fit to participate in the World Cup. For that reason, they could storm out of the gate as they did last season, with enough depth now to cope better with injuries that may arise. Dortmund need to avoid major hiccups that hampered their progression last season, losing to bottom of the barrel Hamburger SV, for instance. This will be the season that Dortmund pushes Bayern to the brink, and could even push beyond that to their ninth Bundesliga championship. League: A much closer second place

With a strengthened squad, Dortmund should be able to cope better with multiple competitions on their calendar. That said, their loss of a bonafide star could hamper them in the later rounds. Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan will need to take major steps in their career in order to have a chance against the exuberance of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. Marco Reus will only be able to carry them so far. Champions League: Quarterfinals