The Covid-19 pandemic meant trading was rather limited in the two transfer windows this season, but in view of the talent that joined, re-joined or switched within the Bundesliga in 2020/21, it was most certainly a case of quality over quantity.
bundesliga.com analyses 10 of the best deals to have gone through in 2020/21, and the positive impacts they have had at their new clubs.
For a man who admitted his career, from leaving home at just 13 to join an academy and signing professional terms at Sochaux as a 17-year-old, "all went very quickly", it has hardly been a surprise how swiftly he has settled into the heart of the Wolfsburg defence this season. Lacroix only appears to know one speed: fast. That is reflected not only in the progress of his career, but his status as the fourth-fastest player in the Bundesliga this season, hitting a breakneck 22.2 mph (35.75 km/h).
When he arrived from the French Ligue 2 club in the summer, few would have predicted the impact Lacroix would have had in his first ever season in one of Europe's top leagues. It is very much down to his solid defensive partnership with John Brooks that Wolfsburg, who boast the second-meanest defence in the division with just 34 goals conceded in 33 games, have qualified for the UEFA Champions League next season.
There, Lacroix will continue his phenomenal progress by taking his bow in European football's elite continental club competition, and in view of the impact the 21-year-old has made in his debut Bundesliga campaign, the top-20 tackler will fear nobody as he prepares to hit the ground running in his inimitable style.
With already 74 Bundesliga goals to his name, Union might have expected that the experienced Max Kruse could help them avert the feared second-season syndrome, but the German forward has exceeded even the greatest expectations on a remarkable return to Germany's top flight.
The much-travelled former Werder Bremen, St. Pauli, Freiburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg forward arrived from a spell in Turkish football with Fenerbahce, and it did not take him long to reacquaint himself with goals, netting his first on Matchday 3 in the 4-0 win over Mainz. Five more followed before a muscular tear ruled him out from early December through to the end of February. Kruse missed 12 games, a run which saw Die Eisernen win just four and lose three. Four more goals in as many games after making his comeback ensured Union were having nothing to do with relegation talk this season, but could instead focus their efforts on an seemingly unlikely objective.
Watch: All of Kruse's goals so far in 2020/21!
Heading into the final round of Bundesliga fixtures, Union are masters of their own destiny. A win over RB Leipzig would see them qualify for the UEFA Europa Conference League, and in Kruse - who is into double figures for the sixth season of his Bundesliga career - they astutely sourced the firepower they needed to make 2020/21 a second season to savour.
The transfer of former Schalke winger Leroy Sane back to the Bundesliga with Bayern from Manchester City was one of the biggest moves of last summer, not just in Germany. It was a statement signing for the record champions, who were dead serious about adding to their Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League treble, and duly delivered a sextuple by adding the DFL Supercup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
A back-to-back English Premier League winner with Pep Guardiola's City side, Sane had plundered 30 goals and 36 assists in all competitions across his last two seasons in England before rupturing his cruciate ligament and effectively missing the entire 2019/20 campaign. Back on his feet again and ready to prove a point, Sane slotted straight into the Bayern attack, his versatility making him a prime choice both on the right and the left for Hansi Flick, and his debut was the stuff of dreams. One goal and two assists in an 8-0 win over his former club Schalke set the tone for his and Bayern's successful season.
"Bayern's a great club with big goals - and these goals suit me as well," he said following his arrival. "I want to win as many trophies as possible." How about three in your first season? With six goals and nine assists, Sane can certainly say he played a major part in Bayern's ongoing triumphs, and justified the record champions' faith in identifying him as their 2020 marquee summer signing.
Playing 28 games, scoring one and assisting three is some going for anybody in their debut Bundesliga season, but taking into account that Jude Bellingham is STILL only 17, then the English youngster's maiden year in Germany's top flight is nothing short of remarkable.
"I can't believe it, maybe he's a liar!" said Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola after his side ousted Dortmund in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. "He's so good for 17 years old, he's a fantastic player. There was one moment when he didn't get the ball from central defenders, how he shouts and demands that ball to him at 17 means a lot." Indeed, shyness is certainly not an attribute of the ambitious boy from Stourbridge, although humbleness is. He just lets his performances do the talking, and they - like Guardiola and his teammates - are speaking volumes.
"At Dortmund, he gives 110 percent, his performances are world class - I'm delighted for him," said BVB teammate Jadon Sancho after the pair shared a field for the England national team last November. "He's earned it."
Off the back of that performance, as his country's third-youngest senior debutant, and the consistency he has shown in the Bundesliga this term, Bellingham is on course for a place in the England squad for Euro 2020 - the ultimate reward for the hard work he puts in every single day of the week.
Don't believe us? Let Guardiola enlighten you: "I spoke to his manager, Edin, and he told me, 'Pep, what you've seen in these two games is what he does in every training session'," said the former Bayern Munich coach, as impressed as anybody at Bellingham's debut season in the big time.
Having shown glimpses of his natural talent and flair with Gladbach, Amin Younes was lured back from a learning curve treading in the footsteps of the late Diego Maradona to help the Eagles fly back into Europe next season.
While a succession of injuries and niggles blighted his time with Napoli, Younes did use the little playing time afforded to him wisely, scoring three and setting up three more in just 12 appearances in his first season in Serie A. After another season at the Stadio Diego Maradona, Younes admitted the prospect of a regular game at Frankfurt was part of the reason why he returned to the Bundesliga. "I've come from Napoli to play and to do what I love, to be on the pitch and enjoy myself," he said. Further to enjoying himself, he has given Frankfurt fans plenty to smile this season too, including a certain individual whose office is just a stone's throw away from the Deutsche Bank Park.
Watch: Younes' star performance against Bayern!
"Younes had a very good game. He's gradually finding his rhythm again," Germany coach Joachim Löw told Sport1 after witnessing his star performance as Frankfurt beat Bayern Munich 2-1. "His technique and orientation are great. He's a player who can resolve one-on-one situations in the best way."
That win crowned an 11-game unbeaten streak that had coincided with Younes' return to the team after three games out injured, and which, on reflection, laid the foundations for Frankfurt's return to the Europa League next season.
Whether Frankfurt make Younes' initial season-long loan a permanent move or not, they have benefited greatly from his contribution in one of the most productive and, crucially, continuous seasons of the 27-year-old's career.
When Bielefeld returned to the Bundesliga last season, their priority might understandably have been to add some experience to a young side which had earned promotion. Instead, they turned to a little-known 22-year-old from the land of the rising sun to help sustain their rise up the German football ladder - and what a move it proved to be.
Ristu Doan may only be 22, yet he arrived with a wealth of experience. In Japan he won the accolade of Asian Youth Player of the Year in 2016 and the nickname "the Japanese Messi", while in the Netherlands his first professional steps in Europe were particularly impressive. With nine goals and four assists in 29 appearances in his maiden Eredivisie season with Groningen, and a further five goals and seven assists in his second, he recommended himself for a move to PSV Eindhoven. That may not quite have panned out as he or PSV had hoped, but while on loan in Bielefeld, Doan has rediscovered his touch.
"Scoring my first Bundesliga goal against Bayern Munich, the best team in the world, is a great memory for me but I expect more from myself in terms of scoring many more goals in the future," Doan told bundesliga.com this season. "I think this was just one of them so I don't think this goal will be my best one."
With four goals and three assists overall, he is the East Westphalians' top goalscorer and arguably the main reason why they head into the final weekend of the season knowing a win at fellow promoted club VfB Stuttgart would earn them a second straight season in the Bundesliga, and make their gamble on Doan a winning one.
At the turn of the year, Mainz seemed doomed. No other club had survived with the seven points they had coming into 2021, and there was little to suggest things would be any different for the 05ers. A change in coach, with Bo Svensson taking the reins, sparked a remarkable turnaround in the club's fortunes, and one of the greatest of escapes in Bundesliga history was sealed with games to spare.
Much of the credit for that turnaround must also go to some of the tools Svensson identified as being necessary to craft his masterpiece, and that included da Costa. Having become only a bit-part player just a matter of miles up-river along the Main, the full-back jumped at the opportunity to help save a sinking riverboat, immediately becoming a key component in an escape act even Houdini would have been proud of.
It was his assist for Leandro Barreiro which earned Mainz a 3-2 win over high-flying RB Leipzig, and gave not only a glimpse of what Mainz could do, but also a chink of hope that survival could, after all, still be within the realms of reality. In front of Jeremiah St. Juste, who has himself been rewarded with a place in the Netherlands' Euro 2020 squad, da Costa has been menacing opposition full-backs in a way reminiscent of the marauding runs that earned him a place in the UEFA Europa League squad of the season for 2018/19.
While you cannot put a price on survival, Mainz know they have struck it rich by avoiding the drop, and the return on their investment in da Costa is equally priceless.
Stuttgart sought some stability for their first season back in the Bundesliga, and in Japanese defensive midfielder Wataru Endo, they got just that and more.
Having already impressed while on loan from Belgian club Sint-Truiden during the Swabians' successful promotion campaign from Bundesliga 2, and since he knew the club and how they operate under Pellegrino Matarazzo, signing him permanently last summer was a logical choice which Stuttgart will not regret. When the going started to get tough, with a nine-game winless streak threatening to suck Stuttgart into relegation danger, Endo timed his first Bundesliga goals to perfection to inspire them back to winning ways with a 5-1 win over Schalke.
Watch: Endo's brace against Schalke!
With three assists to go with his three goals, Endo has contributed in an attacking sense, though his real strength has been in the league-leading 476 tackles he has won and the 226.8 miles worth of grass he has churned up, ranking him third across the board for total distance covered.
With regular No.1 Mark Flekken ruled out with a serious elbow injury, Freiburg needed somebody else to guard their goal this season, and they hit the jackpot by signing Florian Müller.
The 23-year-old already had a sprinkling of Bundesliga experience, despite his young age, and he has risen to the occasion of being Freiburg's No.1. With 116 saves, only Arminia Bielefeld's Stefan Ortega (134) and Augsburg's Rafal Gikiewicz (122) have been tested more often this term. It can therefore be stated with quite a degree of confidence that Müller has made quite a tangible difference in the Black Forest.
A closer look at their results this season show that, in addition to the nine knife-edge draws, Freiburg have won four games by a single goal. In a game where marginals can make a difference, Müller's saves have helped ensure Christian Streich's men go into the final round of matches still in the hunt for European qualification.
Following the departure of Timo Werner to Chelsea last summer, RB Leipzig resisted the temptation to deviate from their values by splashing the cash in search of the goals lost by such a significant defection. Their steadfast reliance on sophisticated scouting, sticking to trusted parameters where age and potential trump tried and tested talent, led them in the direction of Norwegian giant Alexander Sörloth - and it was yet another inspired move.
The Trondheim-born striker was anything but a household name in European football, but 24 goals and nine assists in the Turkish Süperlig last season, making him the league's top-scorer, is not the worst way to gain attention. Being still under 25 meant he also fit the bill for a club who have a long-term vision behind all their recruitment.
Sörloth may not have played even half of the minutes he spent on the field for Trabzonspor last term, and his return of five goals is consequently lower, yet he has shown plenty of potential ahead of his second season in the Bundesliga, which will see him and his side play under a new head coach in the form of Jesse Marsch at the Red Bull Arena.