BERLIN — Borussia Dortmund has declared a challenge to end Bayern Munich's seven-year domination of the Bundesliga and is encouraged by signs of disharmony and unrest from the defending champion.
After pushing Bayern to the final day last season, Dortmund invested heavily over the summer to strengthen defensive frailties and give Swiss coach Lucien Favre more attacking options for his second season in charge.
Bayern's preparations have been overshadowed by the injury to Manchester City winger Leroy Sane, the club's No. 1 target to help fill the void left following the departures of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
Coach Niko Kovac spoke of his certainty that the German international would arrive, leading to a very public put-down from chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Meanwhile, reports suggest longstanding club president Uli Hoeness will not seek re-election in November.
Bayern players like Robert Lewandowski and Joshua Kimmich have been vocal in calling for significant reinforcements ahead of the new season and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic came under pressure when they failed to materialize.
It remains to be seen if Ivan Perisic's arrival on loan from Inter Milan will reassure Bayern's players. Fans were critical of the former Dortmund winger's signing and Kovac had to defend the move.
"Every player deserves the same respect. It's not a (plan) B, C or D solution," Kovac said.
Deals to sign World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard were agreed long before last season was over.
Hernandez was acquired for a Bundesliga record 80 million euros ($90.5 million) from Atletico Madrid and made his competitive debut in the 89th minute of Bayern's German Cup win over Energie Cottbus on Monday. Hernandez had been out of action since an operation in March to repair the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
It doesn't help Bayern's mood that Dortmund got most of its transfer business done early.
Dortmund coaxed former captain Mats Hummels back from Bayern and Germany defender Nico Schulz from Hoffenheim to stabilize a defence that was prone to collapse late in games last season.
Dortmund led Bayern by nine points at one stage but lacked the belief to declare a title challenge. That's supposed to change this time around, helped also by the arrivals of Germany midfielder Julian Brandt and Belgium forward Thorgan Hazard from Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Moenchengladbach respectively.
The 30-year-old Hummels is arguably the most important. The former Germany captain, who played for Dortmund between 2008-16, returns after three Bundesliga titles with Bayern.
Bayern has won seven straight titles following Dortmund's back-to-back triumphs in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
"It's my job to bring in a winning mentality," Hummels told Kicker magazine. "You have to admit, the winning mentality in Munich is not the worst. It can be seen over the last 40 years or more. The aim has to be to bring this attitude to Dortmund, too."
Hummels suggested there was greater hunger in Dortmund to lift the Bundesliga trophy than in Munich.
"Titles are worth more in Dortmund than elsewhere," he said.
While the top two are expected to battle it out for honours once again, Leipzig cannot be overlooked with new coach Julian Nagelsmann at the helm. The club also invested more than 50 million euros ($56 million) in player signings and is hopeful of finishing better than last season's third place.
Schalke also has a new coach, David Wagner, charged with rehabilitating the side after a poor year. Schalke eventually finished 14th in the 18-team division after flirting with relegation for much of the season.
Borussia Moenchengladbach (fifth last season), Wolfsburg (sixth) and Hertha Berlin (11th) are also looking for improvement after coaching changes, while promoted sides Cologne, Paderborn and Union Berlin will be battling for survival.
The league begins Friday when Bayern hosts Hertha. Union's first ever season in the top flight begins Sunday at home to Leipzig. Dortmund hosts Augsburg on Saturday.
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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP