After winning an unprecedented triple, Bayern Munich have added even more quality. Can you have too much talent? Main competitors Dortmund hope that this year's Bayern will lack last season's chemistry.
Among the least reliable indicators about how teams will fare in any given campaign is their pre-season form. So no one should overestimate the importance of Borussia Dortmund 4-2 victory over the reigning champs in last month's German Super Cup - an event that deserves its name about as much as an anthill merits comparison to Mount Everest.
Yet as a bit of a psychological pick-me-up that result was just what Dr. Freud ordered for Dortmund, who were bested in all three major 2012-13 competitions by the resurgent Bavarian giants. It also provided a bit of hope for German football fans, most of whom don't want to see a repeat of Munich's title cakewalk.
Make no mistake: Bayern remain the overwhelming favorites to win the league this year, and anyone who bets against them should recall the old adage about a fool and his money. Heck, on paper, this Munich squad looks capable of blasting off into space and conquering faraway galaxies.
Still if only for the fun of it, there are a few arguments for why Dortmund might be able to defy the odds and add another title to their 2011 and 2012 crowns. The first – and perhaps best – is that the top team in the world last season is trying to top a performance that's basically unbeatable.
Heynckes' long shadow
New coach Pep Guardiola not only has Bayern playing a new 4-1-4-1 system. He's also bucking the trend among most clubs of having two defensive midfielders to protect the back and allow for aggressive forechecking.
That's coming off a season under veteran Jupp Heynckes in which Bayern conceded a least-ever 18 Bundesliga goals. So it's not surprising that Munich have looked somewhat disoriented in their pre-season matches – not just against Dortmund but also versus Manchester City in a come-from-behind 2-1 win in their home tournament, the Audi Cup.
After that match, Philipp Lahm admitted that the team was still finding its feet under a new boss – a sentiment his teammate Thomas Müller seconded.
"We can't be expected to learn everything Guardiola wants us to in just one month," the gifted youngster told reporters.
Heynckes stressed solidity. Guardiola has been preaching variability, an idea that has included line-ups without a traditional center forward.
That tactic paid off so handsomely for Pep's former club Barcelona. Nonetheless, there are no guarantees that the Barca model can be transposed onto Bayern, and the atmosphere in Munich could get very charged very quickly, if it seems that Guardiola is messing too much with Heynckes' winning formula.
And there's already a certain amount of friction within the squad.
No one can accuse Bayern of resting on any laurels after their historic triple. No sooner had the silverware been stored at Säbener Street, then striker Mario Gomez was shipped to Italy, and midfielder Thiago Alcantara imported from Barca. Munich had already signed Mario Götze from Dortmund late last season, and they're trying to bring in another Borussia mainstay, striker Robert Lewandowski.
Conventional wisdom says that the lack of Götze and Lewandowski's badly concealed disgruntlement at being made to stay in Dortmund will hurt the challengers. But the personnel changes could boomerang back to bite Bayern in the keister.
One of Heynckes' greatest challenges last season was to get everyone in Bayern's crowded midfield, in particular Arjen Robben, to accept shared playing time. That midfield now features two more big-name aspirants, and young Swiss talent Xherdan Shaqiri has also been making a major case for himself.
The battle for playing time in midfield also seems to have unsettled forward Mario Mandzukic. Guardiola tried the Croatian out on the wings, but he didn't take to it, and having Lewandowski, who reportedly has already signed a contract with Bayern for next season, breathing down his neck, may damage his confidence – as well as providing Dortmund with motivation.
Sending a signal
The usual logic holds that if a club can't resign a top player, it should at least pocket a transfer fee rather than letting him go for free. Dortmund's refusal to deal Lewandowski after losing Götze makes a powerful statement that they aren't writing off the title this season.
The tone between the Ruhr Valley and the Bavarian capital has been very testy, and it will be interesting to see whether the Polish striker will be able and/or willing to turn in top performances for a club he would have preferred to leave this summer.
If so, Bayern's "poaching" of Dortmund players could prove an excellent motivational tool for the men in yellow and black. Borussia re-invested the millions they earned from the Götze transfer well in forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan. And they shored up their defense with Sokratis.
Moreover, Dortmund aren't trying to transition to a new system. Coach Juergen Klopp isn't about to change his style of high pressing and quick shifts from defense to offense. Moreover, it's worth recalling that Bayern failed to beat Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season and that their victories in the Champions League and German Cup were narrow ones.
To return briefly to planet Earth: Dortmund go into the 2013-14 campaign as heavy underdogs. Still, they remain the only team realistically capable of stopping Bayern intergalaticos. And if they need proof that anything not impossible is indeed possible they need only look as far as the most recent additions to their own non-too-shabby trophy case.
The season kicks off on Friday, August 9 at 18:30 UTC with Bayern playing Mönchengladbach. Be sure to follow us on twitter @dw_sports for the action. And go to www.dw.de/sports for background on the teams and more.