While no one bottled the Premier League this season, it can be said that Borussia Dortmund blew it in their pursuit of the Bundesliga title. Dortmund had a nine-point lead over arch rivals Bayern Munich in late January, only to let it slip through their fingers. Rather than sit and stew about their collapse and the seventh consecutive Bundesliga title said collapse granted Bayern, the Black and Yellows are reloading the clip, putting together a terrifying squad fully capable of making sure next season ends differently.
Already, before the summer transfer window has officially opened, Dortmund have announced three huge signings: Hoffenheim left back Nico Schulz, Eden’s brother Thorgan Hazard, and Leverkusen starlet Julian Brandt.
Schulz is a smart buy of the typical Dortmund variety. The club had a weakness at left back, spending most of the season playing an assortment of out-of-position players there, and went and fixed it with a cheap (in this case, €22 million) but talented addition. Schulz is an impressively creative wing back who, while not being the strongest defensively, should thrive in Dortmund’s chaotic, attack-minded system.
The Hazard purchase also falls in line with how Dortmund operate, taking highly regarded players from lower-tier German sides at reasonable prices and turning them into world beaters. Hazard is not at his brother’s level, but he is plenty good in his own right, and is a steal for the reported €25.5 million Dortmund paid. The Belgian had 10 goals and 10 assists in 33 Bundesliga games this season and was far and away Borussia Mönchengladbach’s best player.
A presumed starting attacking midfield of Hazard on either the left or right flank (he plays well on both sides), English wonderkid Jadon Sancho on the other (assuming he doesn’t leave this summer, as has been rumored but not credibly so), and Marco Reus down the middle as the no. 10 is certainly fast, creative, and high-scoring enough to contend for the league title. Scoring wasn’t Dortmund’s problem this season (their 81 goals were second only to Bayern’s 88), but giving Hazard the bulk of the minutes Jacob Bruun Larsen and Christian Pulisic were eating up should make BVB’s attack even stronger next season. (As much as it pains to admit it, Hazard today is a better player than our beloved, Chelsea-bound Pulisic.)
The most interesting move was the purchase of Brandt. For some time now, rumor had it that the 23-year-old attacker’s next destination was to be Munich, only for Dortmund to swoop him up for his criminally low release clause of €25 million. In the past Brandt had reportedly turned down offers from bigger clubs outside of Germany, shrugging off reported interest from the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester United.
It’s not hard to see what all the fuss over his future has been about. Brandt is the picture of versatility, capable of playing ably anywhere, be it centrally, on either wing, further up the pitch, a little deeper—anywhere. His long passing is gorgeous. He’s also an able crosser, which should have human goal machine Paco Alcácer salivating while thinking of what’s to come.
Arguably just as big as Brandt coming to Dortmund is where he didn’t go—namely, to Bayern. The Bundesliga’s two biggest clubs cannibalizing their lessers for the league’s best assets is nothing new. What is legitimately notable is a player being courted by both of Germany’s big boys and snubbing Bayern in favor of Dortmund. Bayern’s interest in Brandt did reportedly wane due to concerns about the player’s injury history, but he’s still one of Germany’s best young talents who is already ensconced in the national team setup coming off a season where he racked up a combined 18 goals and assists. Should Brandt stay healthy and realize his potential, he could prove the best signing of all, with Dortmund not only getting a very good player but keeping him away from their biggest nemesis.
None of these transfers guarantee that Dortmund will finally end Bayern’s reign of terror. They still have questions in center midfield and defense, and buying a defensive stalwart will do as much as the three above moves, if not more. But replacing Pulisic with two proven Bundesliga attackers, both of whom seem to fit Dortmund’s hyper-active style, is a good start, as is finally getting a replacement for the long-serving Marcel Schmelzer at left back.
That these deals are basically covered by the Pulisic sale is an added bonus for the necessarily frugal club. Dortmund’s economical constraints have led to them uncovering or polishing some hidden gems over the years (Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa, Ousmane Dembélé), and if they can do it again with Schulz, Brandt, and Hazard, they can build on their success of this season (despite not winning the title, it was the most points they’ve accrued in a season since 2016).
It won’t last long. It never does in the Bundesliga, where Bayern swoops in and buys pretty much any Germany-based player they want just because they can. But Dortmund can (and have) topple the empire with smart purchases and a little bit of luck. Brandt could get hurt again, or Hazard could struggle to fit his style into Dortmund’s, and things might not work out. But if they fit in well, and perform to their abilities, Dortmund will be a pain in Bayern’s ass once again. Maybe this time, they won’t fade at the end.