It's not even the end of March, and the Bundesliga title race is all but officially decided. Bayern Munich hold a commanding, 20-point lead over second-placed Dortmund, and could mathematically seal the title with a win this weekend if BVB drop points in Stuttgart.
The league long lost, it's been a disappointing domestic campaign for the two-time defending Bundesliga champions. Success in the Champions League has led them to the quarterfinals, but also taken a toll as fatigue and occasional blunders against lesser teams have resulted in a premature end to their domestic title defense.
Heading into next season, BVB are still the only team that can realistically hope to compete with Bayern following Pep Guardiola's arrival at the Munich club. And the Ruhr side will certainly aim to put up more of a fight in 2013-14.
It will be very difficult for Dortmund to keep pace with Bayern in 2013-14, but if they are to do so, there are some critical factors they will have to use. Read on for analysis of what BVB can do to challenge Bayern for Bundesliga glory next season.
When Dortmund won the Bundesliga title in May of 2011 their triumph was foreseeable even in the previous November. By the end of that month, Jurgen Klopp's side had won 12 of 14 matches and were seven points clear of second-placed Mainz.
Bayern were floundering in fifth, 14 points off the pace. BVB's blistering form set the stage for the season, and by the halfway point there was no catching them. Bayern have done similarly this season.
Bayern have remarkable class and depth and in all likelihood will add to both in the summer. They will almost surely be exceptional, and the only chance to catch them will be to exploit any stumbles they have. Those are most likely to come in August and September.
The summer arrival of Pep Guardiola will bring new tactics to Bayern, and the players will have to adjust and redefine their methods of playing together. It's possible that there will be a teething stage, and during this time, Dortmund will have to pounce. Bayern certainly will not drop many points once they reach peak form.
Competing on three fronts has proven too much for Dortmund's rather thin squad this season. The two-time defending Bundesliga champions have seen extra fatigue brought on from competing in the Champions League hinder their performance.
Indeed, out of eight Bundesliga matches following European fixtures, BVB have lost three and drawn one. They now stand 20 points behind league leaders Bayern Munich.
Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has promised to make amends next season by greatly adding to the squad's depth.
"In the summer will invest considerably, in terms of [improving] the strength as well as the depth," he told Sport 1. And with the club having earned record revenue and profit over the second half of the 2012 calendar year, fans can expect considerable investment.
Mame Biram Diouf and Mohamed Abdellaoue have been linked as possible additions to the center of attack, with Edin Dzeko another option if Robert Lewandowski is sold.
Aside from the center of attack, BVB will have to look for reinforcements in defense and midfield. Backup fullbacks are needed, and if Felipe Santana leaves, a new centre-back will be as well. Captain and central midfielder Sebastian Kehl is now 33, and a replacement for him will also be a welcome addition.
With just a few more players of quality, Jurgen Klopp will be able to use a rotation and keep his best team fresh, as Bayern have been able to this season.
Pep Guardiola was enormously successful at Barcelona, but one of his faults was that he approached every game in exactly the same way. In the rare instance they met their match, Barca never had a Plan B.
Jurgen Klopp is a bit more adaptive in his tactics, and is extremely adept. He outfoxed the great Jose Mourinho in the fall as only a last-gasp free kick saved Real Madrid from two losses to BVB.
Guardiola's pass-oriented tactics require engagement of all players, including defenders, precariously high up the pitch. A great deal of space is left behind the back four, and a team that presses aggressively like Dortmund can exploit that area on the counterattack.
There are many more tactical considerations to consider, especially those that involve individual matchups.
Until we know the teams and for sure the exact style Guardiola will bring to Bayern, a more thorough analysis is purely speculative. What can be firmly stated is that tactics in the head-to-heads between Bayern and Dortmund can make all the difference. And those two matches could decide the Bundesliga champions.
Without a doubt, Mario Gotze is the most exciting young player in the Bundesliga. The 20-year-old has been in scintillating form, especially since November. But even his best season yet as a professional could not stop Dortmund from falling 20 points behind Bayern in the league table. Still, in a few months he could be even better.
Right now, Gotze is slightly ahead of a 20-year-old Lionel Messi. In 2007-08, the Argentine was (within three weeks) exactly the same age as Gotze is now; Messi finished that season with 16 goals and 17 assists in 40 appearances in all club competitions.
Gotze's record for the season stands at 14 goals and 16 assists in 36 appearances: his raw numbers will by season's end exceed those of Messi, and his per-game productivity may as well.
For the record, Gotze and Messi at the same age blow away Cristiano Ronaldo, who had 11 goals and seven assists in 46 club appearances in 2005-06. That comparison is moot, though; both Messi and Gotze provide many more intangibles beyond raw scoring stats that CR7 never has offered.
Messi followed up his 2007-08 season with 38 goals and 17 assists in the following campaign, and his statistics have since continued to inflate with each passing year. This is what makes him so exceptional.
Although it remains uncertain as to where the ceiling stands for Gotze, his being still just 20 years of age coupled with flashes of brilliance in certain games suggest he still has a great deal of potential waiting to be tapped. He just might have another explosion during his 22nd year, just as Messi did at the same age—if he does, it could make the difference for BVB.