After a weekend that saw a temporary end to this season's slew of upsets, a resurgent Borussia Dortmund find themselves top of the table. And the bookmakers are betting they stay there.
Sahin kept the celebrations going against Cologne
There are matches won on inspiration and those won on perspiration. Dortmund's most recent victory, a 2-1 away win in Cologne, was a bit of both.
For the first half, the men in yellow and black completely dominated, taking a deserved lead and leaving Cologne hanging on by the hairs hanging from club mascot Hennes the Billy Goat's chin.
But Dortmund also had to withstand a desperately aggressive comeback from their relegation-threatened hosts, only sealing the match in the dying minutes on a goal by midfield general Nuri Sahin.
The shot, which saw the Turkish national slamming the ball into his own leg before it found the net, was probably Sahin's clumsiest moment on the night. But it was also indicative of the determination and will that have sent Dortmund on a seven-game winning streak.
"It was remarkable how the team reacted to the equalizer," Dortmund's ever-enthusiastic coach Juergen Klopp effused after the match. "That's what you call mentality. We never lost faith, and that's why the victory is deserved."
There have been few reasons to believe in Dortmund for the past decade. But this season, logic as well as the conviction of the league's most passionate supporters says the Westphalians have an excellent shot at some silverware.
Klopp is a players' coach with a good sense of tactics
As mercurial as their rise might seem to outsiders, the 2010-11 Dortmund squad is the result of long-term planning and signals the club's recovery from a period of financial recklessness that almost saw it go broke.
Dortmund's greatest period of glory was 1994-97, when the club won two Bundesliga and one Champions League title. But in an attempt to maintain that standard, team bosses got caught up in the over-reliance on foreign talent and bidding wars that characterized football around the turn of the millennium.
In 1999, the club incorporated and became a listed company on the German stock market. That raised short-term cash, which helped the team to a further Bundesliga title in 2002, but was ultimately part of a financial downward spiral that left the club some 100 million euros ($140 million) in the red and on the verge of insolvency.
Since 2004, the club has been on a consolidation and rebuilding course that is now paying dividends. After nine years of mediocrity, Dortmund have reduced their debts and built up a well-balanced, young squad, led by one of Germany's better coaches.
Barrios is one of the Bundesliga's best strikers
Title-winning teams usually feature very different types of players, and Dortmund seem to have gotten the mix right this year.
Homegrown talent Sahin, who in 2005 became the youngest-ever Bundesliga player when he made his professional debut at just under the age of 17, has developed into a true rudder. The holding midfielder has arguably been the league's most valuable player in the first weeks of the season.
Tireless creative midfielder-winger Shinji Kagawa, acquired from Japan this summer for a mere 350,000 euros, has proved a massive bargain.
The same can be said for striker Lukas Barrios, who joined the club in 2009 for 4.2 million euros. The Paraguayan gives Dortmund an effective target man, who's also great in the air, scoring 23 goals in 41 games.
The squad has taken to the one-touch, attacking style favored by coach Klopp and are capable of advancing the ball up the pitch more quickly than the vast majority of Bundesliga sides. They also have the skill and size to exploit set pieces.
Opponents have found them very difficult to stop. A tally of 20 goals in eight games is just one reason why they're currently the odds-on favorites for the Bundesliga title.
No need for brilliance
Dortmund have already beaten Bayern this year
All the positives notwithstanding, Dortmund are still something of a diamond in the rough. The squad could definitely become more clinical with both their passing and finishing, and it remains to be seen how the youngsters will respond to inevitable setbacks.
But Dortmund don't necessarily have to be stellar, just very good, to launch a serious title bid. Bayern Munich's faltering start has opened up a rare opportunity that Klopp's men are best poised to seize.
After eight rounds, the reigning champs already have a 10-point deficit to make up. With Dortmund capable of going something like 18-4-4 for the rest of the season, Bayern's margin for error is slim.
The 75,000-plus fans who pack Dortmund's stadium for home games would probably be pretty happy if the team just returned to the Champions League after years in the doldrums. But Klopp and a lot of others who follow German football know that this season Dortmund should also be aiming higher.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Nancy Isenson