Reus must fill Kagawa's bootsBorussia Dortmund have shaken off the loss of key players before and come back even stronger, but with Bayern Munich biting at their heels hungrier than ever, can Jürgen Klopp work a wunder again?
"We're a young team that is always learning, and gets better every year," said Neven Subotic recently. It's hard to argue with that statement given they transformed their 2010-11 title win into one of the best seasons the Bundesliga has ever witnessed. Who'd have thought that when Nuri Sahin bade farewell? Now, it's Shinji Kagawa who Dortmund must do without as they look to complete a title hat-trick.
Marco Reus, named by his peers as the Bundesliga Player of the Year last season, scored 18 times and laid on 11 to help Mönchengladbach to fourth, which suggests the void in front of goal left by the Japanese midfielder's departure to Manchester United can be filled. But Reus is not hewn from the same rock as Kagawa, which poses the question: can Klopp get the balance right?
Reus did play the Kagawa-role in the Super Cup against Bayern, but surely Mario Götze, who must confirm his immense promise after his injury-wrecked 2012, would be the better choice to slot in behind Robert Lewandowski with Reus moved to the left to accommodate Jakub Blaszczykowski, brilliant in the second half of last season, on the right.
That will certainly give Dortmund enough firepower to compete with Bayern, though it's hard to counter Philipp Lahm's assertion that "we have the best squad in the league". The money that has been spent in Bavaria this season has been spent wisely. The arrival of Claudio Pizarro and Mario Mandzukic means Jupp Heynckes now has three top-class strikers to call upon — something he could not do last season — while Xherdan Shaqiri and Dante may well prove to be more than mere squad fillers.
"I think it is a bit disrespectful to say we are only improving the depth of our squad," sporting director Matthias Sammer told Eurosport with regard to Bayern's summer signings. "Take a player like Dante for instance who played fantastically for Gladbach and played a huge part in the development of a team that is now trying to qualify for the Champions League. So clearly he is a huge improvement for us — that is quality and not just quantity."
Though Bayern and Dortmund appear to be Kopf-und-Schultern above the rest, Schalke too have moved sensibly in the transfer market to reinforce a squad already well-equipped to at least repeat last season's third-placed finish. While Roman Neustädter's move from Gladbach was already a fait accompli last January, Tranquillo Barnetta's switch from Leverkusen was not, but it is certainly a good piece of business if the Swiss can reproduce the form he showed in helping his country destroy Germany prior to EURO 2012. The loss of Raul is a major handicap, but it may allow Lewis Holtby to take on the playmaker role in which he excelled at Mainz, and keep Klaas-Jan Huntelaar deliriously prolific.
As Dortmund found last season and Mönchengladbach are finding this, the Champions League is a major step up, but Lucien Favre has more than sufficient credit banked to ensure the fans remain happy with his work. The Swiss will have to deal with the loss of Reus as best he can, but the signings of Luuk de Jong, Granit Xhaka and Peniel Mlapa are sound ones. If Patrick Herrmann can continue in the vein in which he played last season, another top-four finish is not unfeasible.
As for the rest, Sami Hyypiä's work at Leverkusen will be one to follow closely, as will that of Felix Magath at Wolfsburg, who looked as if they might snatch a Europa League place last season. With 'only' six new arrivals in the squad, the Volkswagen Arena is almost a place of calm and tranquility, though the waves caused by Vaclav Pilar's injury will take their time to die down. Werder Bremen and more particularly Stuttgart look well-placed to improve their recent fortunes, though the former's bold gamble on youth means fans at the Weserstadion may need to be patient a little while longer before they can expect Thomas Schaaf's men to sustain a serious challenge.
Ian Holyman, Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator