Borussia Dortmund's class of 2018/19 won't be forgotten in a hurry after pushing Bayern Munich all the way in a gripping title race.
bundesliga.com shines the spotlight on the cornerstones of the Black-Yellows' tantalising campaign...
1) The leader of the pack: Marco Reus
Look up 'Captain Fantastic' in the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, and you might just see a head shot of Marco Reus. The Dortmund skipper has led by example and then some in 2018/19, putting year upon year of injury heartache behind him to bring the good times back to BVB. Producing 17 goals and eight assists whilst losing only four of his 27 Bundesliga appearances over the course of an almost blemish-free campaign, the Germany international's talismanic qualities have never been more pronounced.
Reus in numbers
- Only Robert Lewandowski and Jadon Sancho had a direct hand in more Bundesliga goals in 2018/19.
- Made more than 20 Bundesliga appearances for the first time since 2015/16.
- Completed 84 per cent of his attempted passes.
The verdict: "Saying this is 'the best Reus ever' is a little over the top for me. That would also mean that it won’t get any better, but it’s still getting better." - Reus
Watch: Marco Reus targets another big title push next season
2) The assist king: Jadon Sancho
The boyish insouciance to Reus' experience, 19-year-old Sancho chimed in with more league assists in 2018/19 than Lionel Messi (14!), belying his tender years and defying expectation in equal measure. The English wizard featured in all 34 of Dortmund's league assignments, starting 26 and scoring 12 goals of his own to more than soften the blow of losing Christian Pulisic to Chelsea. A full England international and Bundesliga title-chasing catalyst in only his second full season as a professional: it's another bucket load of egg on the faces of former club Manchester City.
Sancho in numbers
- Produced one goal and five assists as a substitute, before making his first start of the season on Matchday 7.
- Is the first player born in the new millennium to score a Bundesliga brace (Matchday 9 vs. Hertha Berlin).
- Is the youngest player in Dortmund history to reach double figures in a single campaign.
The verdict: "Though Jadon is very young, he is already playing a decisive role. He has unbelievable dribbling skills, he's incredibly good." - Dortmund coach Lucien Favre
Watch: Jadon Sancho under the microscope
3) The midfield muscle: Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel
Speaking of good business, Dortmund's title hopes might have ended long before Matchday 34 but for the double coup of Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel in summer 2018. The duo transformed BVB's fragile underbelly into abs of steel in 2018/19, as the Black-Yellows recorded eight more wins and lost five fewer games compared to the previous campaign. The Delaney-Witsel pivot brought brains as well as brawn to the table, collecting just eight yellow cards between them over the course of the season, but above all turned Dortmund from pretenders into serious contenders.
Delaney and Witsel in numbers
- Successfully landed over 90 per cent of their attempted passes.
- Averaged 60 per cent for challenges won.
- Produced seven Bundesliga goals and six assists combined.
The verdict: "Axel, Thomas - they're mentality monsters. They've had a massive input and brought a new energy to the side. They do it in training and in matches." - Reus
4) The goal machine: Paco Alcacer
There's no denying Paco Alcacer's role in Dortmund's title challenge either. Twelve of his 18 Bundesliga goals - a tally second only to Lewandowski in the final 2018/19 scoring charts - came as a substitute while all but three fell in BVB wins. Among the highlights were a game-changing brace in Leverkusen, a 34-minute hat-trick against Augsburg, a match-winner against Bayern and a late double against Wolfsburg. Showing no signs of any ring rust after being left out in the cold at Barcelona, he was also rewarded with a first Spain call-up in over two years and a permanent BVB deal. You say 'super sub', we say 'super striker'.
Alcacer in numbers
- Overtook Gerd Müller and Grafite as the striker with the best goals-per-minute ratio in Bundesliga history (18 across 1,204 minutes, at a rate of a goal every 66 minutes).
- Holds the record for most single-season substitute goals, with all 12 coming in the final 15 minutes of matches.
- Scored a league-high five long-range goals, as well as a joint-best three direct free-kicks.
The verdict: "Paco has surpassed expectations. No one expected him to settle in so quickly, and his finishing has been on another level." - Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc
5) The unsung hero: Mario Götze
Only a resurgent Mario Götze prevented Alcacer from making more than his 11 season starts. The man Franz Beckenbauer once hailed as "the German Lionel Messi" battled back from a debilitating muscle disorder to win over new coach Lucien Favre, starting 14 of Dortmund's 17 matches during the second half of the season and coming up with some big goals, notably taking the title race to the final day with his effort against Fortuna Düsseldorf on Matchday 33. If Götze was drinking in the last chance saloon at the start of 2018/19, he's earned the right to do a few cartwheels at the bar at the end of it - even if the champagne is on ice for another year...
Götze in numbers
- Seven goals and as many assists in 26 appearances is his best return since 2014/15 (nine goals and four assists in 32 games for Bayern).
- Scored three goals in five appearances at the tail-end of the campaign.
- Made 18 appearances in the false nine role.
The verdict: "I wanted to convince the coach that he was making a mistake [by leaving me out], at least at the start! I just worked hard, but it was tough to win him over!" - Götze