Borussia Dortmund have been chasing the tail of Bayern Munich in recent seasons while looking over their shoulder at the teams pursuing them. With new coach Lucien Favre in place and last season's squad significantly improved upon with some astute dealing in the summer transfer window, optimism is high in the black-and-yellow half of the Ruhr Valley.
bundesliga.com takes a look at the changes that have given BVB an upgrade on 2017/18.
The arrival of Marwin Hitz to the Signal Iduna Park from Augsburg this summer looks like it might shake up the established order. With Roman Weidenfeller, most definitely the number two last season, now retired, the number one shirt has gone to Roman Bürki, but Hitz will certainly challenge his fellow Swiss for the starting role.
Although he calls Hitz "a good friend", Bürki knows the qualities of the man who actually turned down the chance to line up behind Yann Sommer and his new BVB teammate as Switzerland's third goalkeeper at the FIFA World Cup in order to begin pre-season training promptly.
"Once, during an international game in Greece, we had joked that Marwin might sign for us," Bürki said. "And suddenly there he is. I'm really happy about that. It's a funny story." Dortmund's Bundesliga opponents will not be quite so amused as BVB arguably now have the best number one-number two combo in the league.
The same, but different at the back for BVB, who will have familiar faces Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer — parts of the full-back furniture at the club — on the flanks of their back four once again. With Raphael Guerreiro coming back to fitness, loan signing Achraf Hakimi, who was training with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos & Co. at Real Madrid last season, and the fast-improving Jeremy Toljan, Favre has great cover too.
In the middle, though, there is a major change. Sokratis' departure for Arsenal and a chance to swap BVB stories with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan left a Greek god-sized hole. In Abdou Diallo, though, Dortmund have the man to fill it. The France Under-21 captain was sensational for Mainz last season, and Dortmund did well to shake off the rest of the chasing pack to sign him.
Watch: Dortmund's 2017/18 season was far from smooth...
Manuel Akanji's sure-footed FIFA World Cup showing with Switzerland will mean he comes into his first full Bundesliga season brimful of confidence. Dortmund fans will be hoping — with some justification — that their club has rekindled the sort of centre-back partnership Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic had as Jürgen Klopp orchestrated back-to-back titles.
With Ömer Toprak and Dan-Axel Zagadou also available, Favre will not only have cover, but also the option to play three at the back, particularly useful given the natural instinct his full-backs have to push forward. He used that tactic at Nice, and could do so still more effectively with the greater means he now has at his disposal.
Favre was not happy in pre-season. "When we lose the ball, we have a problem. We have to improve tactically. We have to anticipate better. Sometimes we have to play more simply instead of taking risks." The former Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach boss' concerns about balance and organisation in his side will surely be ironed out by Thomas Delaney.
The former Werder Bremen man could prove to be one of the most significant buys in Dortmund's recent history. The way the Denmark international immediately began straightening out a disjointed Bremen side when he moved from Copenhagen in January 2017 suggests he will do the same for Dortmund, keeping them on an even keel that will not only float Favre's boat, but allow them to sail through far less choppy waters than they had to navigate last season.
Delaney's quality and experience and that of late arrival Axel Witsel and veteran Nuri Sahin complements nicely the youth of Julian Weigl and Mahmoud Dahoud, who will be expected to deliver more this term than he did in his maiden campaign in Dortmund. Favre's main problem could be squeezing them all into his plans with just two places available in front of the back four.
Oh yes, the most exciting part of Favre's new-look side. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and each and every one is mouthwateringly promising. Where to start?
Favre's Swiss title-winning FC Zürich side was built of youngsters, so he will not hesitate to hand Christian Pulisic as much responsibility to create an attacking threat as Germany's 2014 FIFA World Cup hero Mario Götze, who is likely to occupy the central role in the three creators behind the striker.
Jacob Bruun Larsen made little impression during his loan spell at Stuttgart in the second half of last season, but the 19-year-old Dane stood out in pre-season, and provides Favre — along with Jadon Sancho, Shinji Kagawa and Marius Wolf — with a range of options should his pack require shuffling.
Since Aubameyang left in January, Michy Batshuayi has come, impressed and gone, and Dortmund have been said to be looking for a central striker. What if they never needed a new one?
Marco Reus played through the middle in Dortmund's final pre-season game against Lazio and scored the only goal. Surely a man with 63 strikes in 136 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund can brilliantly plug the gap, particularly given that — at 29 — he also has the big-game nous to bring the "patience" to the side his new boss is demanding, the same boss who moulded Reus' potential into devastating output at Mönchengladbach. Are we about to see the best of Reus? Let's hope so.
If Reus' injury gremlins knock his machine out of kilter — fingers crossed they don't — then Maximilian Philipp is a raw but potentially effective deputy capable, according to Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc, of scoring "15-18 goals this season". The former Freiburg man also played as a false 9 in pre-season, giving Favre another tactical switch up his sleeve, and one which he could be tempted to use given his squad's wealth of attacking midfielders.
Unlike Peter Bosz, Favre has been there and done it in the Bundesliga during his stints at Hertha and Gladbach, and those experiences, coupled with a wildly successful spell at Nice, mean he has more credibility than Peter Stöger. There is no doubt this is the biggest job of the Swiss tactician's career so far, but his track record hints at nothing that will stop him making a success of it.
Though there is more expectation on him than ever before, he also has the best crop of players he has ever worked with, and his ability to draw quality performances from lesser squads makes the mind wander dreamily at what he might achieve with this Dortmund vintage, which is one of the most talented and complete in recent memory.
He has worked successfully with youngsters before — great news for Sancho, Pulisic & Co. — and can handle big personalties, just ask Mario Balotelli at Nice. His emphasis on using attacking football to get results fits perfectly with not only Dortmund's squad but also the club's ethos and fans' expectations — this could be a marriage made in football heaven.