5 Reasons Why Dortmund Could Beat Bayern to the Title Next Season
Borussia Dortmund have not had a great season. Although it is still only March, their title rivals Bayern Munich have already won the Bundesliga in record time partly thanks to Dortmund's inability to compete.
Match this with the daunting task of Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League next week and we suddenly find ourselves with nothing left for the old mining club to compete in aside from the DFB-Pokal Cup.
Yet there are good reasons for such a poor campaign, and considering what the club have gone through in recent decades, fans will undoubtedly be happy with second place this season with a hopeful look toward next year.
But what if Dortmund could turn the tide once again and overcome the odds against Bayern in a year's time? Here are five reasons why that might just be possible.
Guardiola Has Yet to Beat a Full-Strength Dortmund Side
Although Bayern have walked to the finish line of the Bundesliga title race with little competition in sight this season, we simply cannot overlook the injury crisis that Dortmund have gone through of late.
Although fans of the Bavarian champions will simply note such a point as no more than an excuse and then state that Klopp's team simply weren't ready for the oncoming challenge, it is a simple fact that Bayern haven't managed to overcome a full-strength Dortmund team since Guardiola took over his new post.
Bayern's 3-0 win in November was a comprehensive one which ended the title challenge before Christmas, but that was against a Dortmund side that had been forced to play 34-year-old formerly retired Manuel Friedrich alongside Sokratis Papastathopoulos, youth player Erik Durm and midfielder Kevin Grosskreutz.
Yet when the two sides met in pre-season during the DFL-Supercup in July, Klopp welcomed Bayern's new coach with a fully fit squad that set about dismantling the newly crowned European champions 4-2.
Dortmund certainly have it in them to match Bayern when their key players are fit.
Dortmund's Midfield General Will Be Back and Fit
For anyone who regularly watches Dortmund this season, the one aspect of their game that is clearly lacking aside from any consistency is the old urge to ferociously close sides down at every point in the game.
As a club that used to be renowned for its own style of total football, Klopp's team worked their way to the pinnacle of European football last May, yet all that seems to have just simply disappeared now.
One factor that certainly isn't just a coincidence is the long-term injury to 23-year-old central midfielder Ilkay Gundogan. He's not just a smart defensive player but arguably the most important player at the club now.
The return of Nuri Sahin and the continued progress of Sven Bender has done a lot to stop the rot that is currently making its way through this once-great team, but what will truly galvanise Dortmund's side is the return of their world-class box-to-box midfielder.
What Gundogan brings to the table is a tenacious ability to close down and disrupt any midfielder in Europe, but what he also adds to that is a technical ability to steal the ball and then create goalscoring opportunities within seconds.
He is, for all intents and purposes, the very embodiment of Klopp's style of football. He's right in the opposition's face with power and physical intimidation and then has the skill and flair to dance straight through them. His return will undoubtedly give Dortmund a shot in the arm next season.
Dortmund Will Have Their Defence Back
It may come as a surprise to some, but Dortmund's defence hasn't exactly been up to scratch this season.
When Klopp's side first won the Bundesliga title in the 2010-11 season they conceded a grand total of just 22 goals in 34 league matches. The following season, when they completed the task again, they conceded just 25 goals, again from 34 league matches.
This season, after 27 league games Dortmund currently sit 25 points behind league champions Bayern, having already conceded 29 goals. That's four more goals than their lesser tally in 2011-12 despite having another seven matches still to play.
Yet fortunately for Klopp and the numerous headaches that have undoubtedly haunted him all season, the solution to this should sort itself out over the coming months. Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic should return to full fitness and regain the solidity that once made this club German champions.
This season, the combined total of games both played before their own respective long-term injuries comes to an astonishing 26 matches. Just three more than Bayern centre-back Dante has accomplished this season, and clearly not enough to maintain a title challenge.
If Dortmund can keep these two fit, we should see an entirely different side next season.
Bayern's Swelling Squad
Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about football is the simple fact that no matter how big and strong you may look one day, fate is always waiting just around the corner to cut you down to size.
A club like Bayern has learned this lesson many times over the decades, yet when we look at this current squad it isn't too hard to predict another minor meltdown in the making.
Guardiola was very savvy with his purchases last summer, signing Thiago Alcantara and Mario Goetze ahead of Robert Lewandowski's signing this coming offseason, yet this will undoubtedly come at a price when other first-team players begin to get restless.
Mario Mandzukic already looks likely to jet off to pastures new when the Polish striker lands in Munich, as reported by Metro, while German international Toni Kroos was far from discrete about his ambitions outside of Bavaria when the club travelled to London just last month, as reported by David Hytner of the Guardian.
Even squad players with their whole exciting careers ahead of them such as Xherdan Shaqiri have begun to question their role in this team of superstars, wondering when they will be able to truly shine as they would at any other club. As Shaqiri's brother told Swiss paper Blick (via ESPN.co.uk), "Xherdan is 22. You need to win regular minutes at this age and that, right now, is not the case."
Bayern may have a star-studded side for now, but that could certainly change over the course of the tricky summer transfer window.
A Clean Slate Up Front
Perhaps the most important and iconic event in German football this summer, unless Germany wins the coming World Cup in Brazil, will undoubtedly be Lewandowski's transfer from Dortmund to Bayern.
Like Goetze before him, the Polish striker has chosen to move on from Klopp's side in the pursuit of even higher glory at the current German champions. The move will do little to reassure Dortmund fans of the future success of this side, yet it's one that could completely reshape and reinvigorate the team.
Top-quality strikers such as Adrian Ramos have been linked with summer moves to the old mining club to replace the departing forward, as reported by Stefan Uersfeld of ESPN FC, yet nothing concrete has been confirmed.
However, even if Klopp opts not to sign another top forward to replace Lewandowski, he does have talent among his squad that will be just itching to try on that No. 9 shirt.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the most obvious candidate for the job, having already scored 16 goals from the right wing in his first Bundesliga season, according to transfermarkt.co.uk, despite actually being a natural striker. If Klopp wants a goalscorer next season then there are few better in Europe right now than this young player.
Alternatively he could turn to Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian forward signed last summer for a substantial fee doesn't quite score as many goals as Aubameyang but distinctly approaches the game in a similar fashion to Lewandowski. Again, if Klopp is looking for a forward who could so readily move into the Polish forward's role then he already has one at the club.
Away from the more direct route of replacing the departing striker, Klopp will also have Jakub Blaszczykowski back from injury next season, while the likes of Marco Reus and Jonas Hofmann will continue to only get better and better, admittedly at different stages, throughout the summer.
Dortmund may be losing its best striker, but the forward line couldn't look better for next season.