Boasting a 100 per cent start to 2024 with three victories, ten goals scored and just one conceded, Borussia Dortmund look like a side determined to get back among the Bundesliga title mix. bundesliga.com offers five reasons why BVB will be among the championship run-in come the season's end.
1. Sancho and BVB's attacking pack
"I'm just happy to be back on the pitch, just to try and help the team - getting them back in the top three and obviously qualifying for the Champions League next year." So said BVB's returning No. 10 Jason Sancho recently, and how the England attacker's presence in the squad has helped to revitalise his side's pursuit of the top teams.
Playing with bundles of energy, menacing defences at every opportunity and providing an attacking spark that has sometimes been missing from the Black-and-Yellows on the domestic front this season, the Manchester United loanee looks back at home among old friends.
Providing an assist from the bench in Dortmund's 3-0 win against Darmstadt on his first game since returning to the club, Sancho was thrust straight into the starting line-up in the 4-0 triumph at Cologne on Matchday 18 and was too hot to handle for the Billy-Goats, even being on the end of a foul that resulted in a Dortmund penalty, which Niclas Füllkrug dispatched with confidence. Another start in BVB's subsequent win against Bochum means Sancho is gaining plenty of game rhythm at the German giants.
Watch: Jadon Sancho - back at Borussia Dortmund!
With the likes of Julian Brandt (he of the 14 Bundesliga goal involvements this season), Donyell Malen (scorer of his second Bundesliga brace against Cologne), Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Bochum hat-trick hero Füllkrug and Youssoufa Moukoko all bringing something to the table prior to and since Sancho's return, Dortmund's attack has a more cohesive look with the addition of England's EURO 2024 hopeful and the early signs after the 23-year-old's return augur well for Die Schwarzgelben in terms of the possibility of soon rubbing shoulders with the leaders once more.
2. Dortmund have been here before
As recently as last season, in fact. After matchday 17 of the 2022/23 campaign, the Black-and-Yellows looked seriously out of sorts. Sitting in fifth place after six defeats and with just one point more (31) than they had at the same stage this time around, any talk of a shot at the Meisterschale seemed foolish.
And yet ... going into the final round of games last May, Edin Terzić's men famoulsy led the standings by two points from rivals Bayern Munich. The Bavarian giants would go on to pip Borussia at the death, of course, but that fact that BVB were there challenging at all will give them tremendous belief in the here and now.
Dortmund won eight of their 10 Bundesliga games - and ten in ten in all competitions - out of the blocks in 2023 and they have begun this year with a 100 per cent start, now going three for three. With Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern going at it in a title-challenge for the ages, it's a big ask for Terzić and Co. to propel themselves into the running, but based on last season, anything might yet be possible.
Watch: BVB impressed against Cologne on Matchday 18
3. The Terzić-Şahin-Bender effect
Dortmund moved to bring their former Bundesliga-winning teammates Nuri Şahin and Sven Bender onto the coaching ticket in January and the pair have been busy at work assisting Terzić on the training ground as BVB look to take flight in the top-tier in 2024.
"One of our shared findings was the desire to give fresh impetus to the coaching staff (and) in Nuri Şahin and Sven Bender we’re adding two specialists and personalities who will enrich us both in terms of content and character thanks to their different experience and qualities," BVB sporting director Sebastian Kehl explained of the duo's recent arrival.
"We’re convinced the two of them will make us stronger as a team in order to reach our goals in the second half of the season," Kehl continued. Coach Terzić, meanwhile, said that he was, "really happy to have the chance to have both of them by my side." With Dortmund begining to show plenty of attacking flow and scoring from chances apparently created on the training-ground (see Malen's goal from Brandt's corner against Cologne as an example), the newly-formed coaching team already appear to be putting their heads together to great effect.
4. Young guns ready to give their all
BVB's shrewd moves in the transfer market are paying off, with the aforementioned Sancho and the exceptional Dutch full back Ian Maatsen - loaned from Chelsea - both having a positive, quick-fire impact on the team.
But there is also plenty of encouragement to be found waiting in the wings at the Black-and-Yellows too. Ever a club to promote talented youth, BVB recently displayed another gem in defender Hendry Blank, who helped his side to keep a second successive clean sheet at the start of the year against Cologne.
The 19-year-old Blank came on for the injured Niklas Süle as a second-half substitute to make his Bundesliga debut against Cologne on Matchday 18 and the Germany U20 interntaional showed that he was more than capable of making the step up.
Of course, it's been some time now since Moukoko became the Bundesliga's youngest player as a 16-year-old, but the teen is starting to show that he is rediscovering the form that saw him travel to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar with Germany. Coming off the bench in Dortmund's opening games this year, the sriker weighed in with a goal in each encounter against Darmstadt and Cologne and his resurgence was rewarded with a first Bundesliga start of the season against Bochum. The youngster will likely prove a huge boon to BVB as they continue to climb the standings.
Like Blank and Moukoko, Bynoe-Gittens is also still only 19 and the England winger is another of those brimming with confidence right now. Just watch his wonderful run and assist for Brandt's opener against Darmstadt on Matchday 17 for proof of his determination to make a difference to the Dortmund cause this term while his introduction in the tricky game against Bochum brought immediate reults. Bynoe-Gittens fed Marcel Sabitzer to tee up Füllkrug for that game's decisive goal to make it 2-1 while the Reading native was susbsequently fouled in the Bochum area to give Füllkrug the chance to net a hat-trick, which the Germany international gladly accepted.
Bynoe-Gittens has amassed two goals and five assists in all competitions in 2023/24 and he is showing no signs of slowing down. With the eventual return from injury of Karim Adeyemi, BVB will have an abundance of talented youth on their side as they seek to mount their Bundesliga fightback.
Watch: Moukoko nets a peach as BVB down Darmstadt
5. Carrying on from Champions League
Drawn in a group of death alongside European giants Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and the exciting Premier League side Newcastle United, BVB knew they were in for a formidable battle to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament. The fact that the Bundesliga side not only managed to advance, but did so as section winners, was testament to the their strength. Away victories in Milan and Newcastle were among Borussia's stand-out moments as they set up a Round of 16 clash with PSV in the spring.
With that knockout game against the Dutch side not coming until February/March, Dortrmund can place all of their focus on the German top-flight for now, all the while buoyed by the brilliant memories and big-game experience gained in continental competition the term.
All in all, then, the journey towards one more title tilt appears to have already begun for a Dortmund side hell bent on climbing one more mountain and beating the odds.
Max Eberl's five best signings
Bayern's new board member for sport helped bring Marco Reus' talent to Gladbach before persuading Xavi to join Leipzig...
Pavlović, Tel leading the next wave of Bayern youngsters
Aleksandar Pavlović and Mathys Tel have followed Alphonso Davies and Jamal Musiala in making the jump from academy football to the first team at Bayern Munich, and there are more to come...
Can Leverkusen land a historic treble?
From Neverkusen to Treblekusen? Xabi Alonso's Leverkusen side have a chance to make history this season.