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Bundesliga Return: Can Dortmund overcome the four-point gap on Bayern?

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The Bundesliga title race is close once again

Just like any of the big five leagues across Europe, winning the Bundesliga is no easy feat. The prospect of winning the title in Germany’s top tier is even more of challenge considering the vice-like grip Bayern Munich have had on German football over the past few decades. The fact that no team have managed to overthrow the Bavarians since the 2011/12 season goes to show just how much of a hold the 28-time Bundesliga champions have on the German division.

Last season, Borussia Dortmund came ever so close to repeating the coup they managed nearly eight years ago; falling just two points short of Bayern and pushing them right to the wire. Lucien Favre has received some criticism for the way his Dortmund side surrendered a title that was seemingly theirs after spending more than half of the season at the top, as well as opening up huge gaps between themselves and the defending champions, before ultimately being narrowly pipped at the post.

Many also argued that it was one of the weaker Bayern teams of recent times and that the title was Dortmund’s to lose, especially because of a depleted Bayern team that had the likes of ageing superstars Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery close to the end.

Dortmund looked to build upon their ever-so-close challenge last season, using it as a springboard to fight for the league again as they hoped to end the Bavarian dominance. They went about their business the right way, bringing in Bundesliga talents such as Nico Schulz, Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard in the summer for just a combined price of just under £70 million.

They also spent around £27.45million on bringing back former player Mats Hummels from Bayern, an experienced defender that was part of the famous squad that won the domestic double in 2012 – even reaching the final of the Champions League before being beaten by rivals Bayern in the Wembley final.

The business in the summer window provided optimism that this season could be the year Dortmund finally knocked Bayern off their Bundesliga perch. Now, they are just four points off the leaders once again.

A disappointing start was soon recovered

Favre’s men failed to get off to a good start in the league this season and their title challenge looked flat. Dortmund found themselves with just five wins from their opening 12 Bundesliga games, as RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach continued to impress and stake a claim as surprise contenders for Bayern’s throne. The champions themselves were having their own troubles but the Black and Yellow's failed to capitalise.

A key factor in the poor start was the form of their forwards. Spanish striker Paco Alcacer was there only recognised number nine, with elite attacking midfielders Marco Reus and Mario Gotze being played up top and not in their favoured roles.

The lack of a talisman meant Dortmund suffered. Before the winter break, just 13 goals of the 41 accumulated in the league were netted by a forward, with Alcacer bagging five of them.

Favre also had to tinker with the system to change fortunes at the Signal Iduna Park as the lone attacker deployed in the 4-3-2-1 formation was not having much luck. Ever since a 3-3 draw at home to struggling Paderborn – a match in which the eight-time league champions ought to have won with relative ease- Favre has switched from the usual 4-3-2-1 system into a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 formation. The change allows attacking wingers to push further forward, getting the most out of the incredible Jadon Sancho.

Following the tactical tweak, Dortmund have lost only two of the following 13 games in the league, winning ten. This has helped them regain a foot in the title race, thanks to the new formation that gets the best out their incredible young talents. Especially since the addition of certain special Norwegian striker that reignited their flame - Erling Braut Haaland.

Their star quality is as good as any

Over the past few decades, BVB have become synonymous with fresh, young and exciting talent. Now, a new era of talented youngsters are ready to propel Dortmund as they push to finally overcome Bayern for the first time since the Jurgen Klopp era in the early 2010s.

One of the star players is undoubtedly the young English winger Jadon Sancho. The former Manchester City youth star is attracting serious interest from around Europe following his extraordinary performances in a Dortmund shirt.

The 20-year-old has managed an incredible 30 goal involvements (14 goals and 16 assists) in his 23 Bundesliga appearances this season, which is more than anybody, including the 25-goal man, Robert Lewandowksi.

The change in this tactical setup has aided Sancho, with his position being more central and amongst the attacking play. It’s no wonder that both Manchester clubs and many other European heavyweights are said to be plotting a move for the England international whose presence has given Dortmund their best chance of winning the league in just short of a decade.

When Haaland arrived in January, very few predicted the former RB Salzburg man would have the unbelievable impact he’s had since his £18m move. The 19-year-old has been a revelation for Dortmund, firing nine goals and two assists in just 512 minutes (eight appearances) of Bundesliga action. In truth, his goals to game ratio has been far from touched all season long in both Austria and Germany.

The transfer is easily the bargain of the year. His technical ability matched with his pace and power have set the league and Europea alight, famously scoring twice against Paris Saint-Germain, including a long-range wonder strike.

Haaland’s stunning performances have caused Real Madrid to take note, with Los Blancos reportedly looking at trying to lure him to the Bernabeu just months after he signed for Dortmund. The 6ft 4 centre forward has been a key contributor to the German outfit’s re-emergence as title challengers, and you can count on him being the difference

Favre’s men were criticized for not securing the Bundesliga last season, but this season could be just as good an opportunity. The club have improved, in both tactics and personnel, since the last campaign and the added experience of players like Hummels will be a boost if they were to get into a similar position they found themselves in on numerous occasions last year.

Signs also indicate this could be the year Bayern are there for the taking, with a poor start from them that saw them sack manager Niko Kovac earlier in the season. Dortmund do not look a million miles away from bringing the Bundesliga back to the Yellow Wall once again and overcoming the four-point deficit is certainly obtainable.

How can they overcome the deficit then?

When the action returns in May, it begins with an absolute cracker, as Dortmund take on RB Leipzig, who are just a point behind them in third. A win will distance them four clear of the rising Leipzig, and keep up the positive trail on the leaders Bayern.

Naturally, Dortmund must hope the table-toppers drop points, regardless of their own results. Bayern will face Freiburg when the Bundesliga returns, hosting the eighth-placed club at the Allianz Arena.

The comeback match against Leipzig will be arguably the biggest match of the season so far for Dortmund, and it is an absolute treat that it comes so early on. A defeat for Black and Yellow and their title chances are at serious risk. A win, and a charge for a league triumph over Bayern is well and truly on.

After the second versus third clash, the Signal Iduna Park will see their side host Hoffenheim, who are down in ninth. The same weekend, Bayern have a tough trip to Wolfsburg, who have lost at home just three times this Bundesliga season and may not be as easy as the clash with Freiburg.

More fixtures will be announced in due course, but Dortmund can take a giant leap towards Bayern at the top by winning against Leipzig. This title race is far from over and with the addition of Haaland alongside Sancho and Reus, BVB are in a fantastic place to snatch their ninth title.