Saturday's curtain-raiser to the new season could see €250 million of talent make their debuts. Mats Hummels is expected to line up against the club that sold him and there are some intriguing tactical questions.
The return of Mats Hummels
On February 16, 2008, a 19-year-old Mats Hummels made his professional debut for Borussia Dortmund while on loan from Bayern Munich. The youngster played right back in a 2-0 win over Energie Cottbus, now languishing in Germany's regional leagues.
That was the start of a relationship that would eventually bring two Bundesliga titles and a German Cup before the center back engaged in a three-year affair with his childhood club in Bavaria that bought him even more silverware and the disdain of BVB fans. Now he's back, to the annoyance of some, but coach Lucien Favre and captain Marco Reus expect a defender of his caliber to bring security, leadership and knowhow to a young defense who faltered at crucial points last season.
"We hope for a lot from Mats," said Reus recently. "It is always helpful to have several players in the team who have a certain personality." With his Germany career seemingly over and Bayern happy to let him leave, Hummels has plenty to prove. Saturday seems a decent time to start.
The new faces
While every major transfer brings with it endless summer talk, it's on the pitch that purchases must ultimately be judged, and Saturday is a chance for new men on both sides to show what they've got in a match with genuine meaning.
Bayern Munich's biggest buy, Lucas Hernandez, hasn't played since February and is unlikely to feature despite returning to training but Benjamin Pavard's familiarity with the league should enable him to slot in straight away.
For Dortmund, Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, Nico Schulz and Hummels were all signed early in the summer and are all experienced Bundesliga campaigners. Lucien Favre may well trust all four on Saturday in the hope of accelerating their integration. While their season won't by defined by what happens at the Westfalenstadion, a good start certainly can't hurt.
The make up of Bayern's back four
Hummels' departure offers opportunities for Bayern defenders old and new. The 30-year-old started in 13 of the last 16 Bayern games he was available for, including the title decider and cup final, as Niko Kovac seemed to have settled on Hummels rather than Jerome Boateng as Niklas Süle's partner.
But Bayern have struggled to offload Boateng and so, suddenly, until Hernandez is back at least, Boateng is back in the picture. Though Pavard is equally comfortable at center back, he's made his name at right back and with Rafinha having left, Pavard and Hernandez will presumably also offer fullback cover. As such, Kovac may be tempted to field the Frenchman on the right on Saturday, potentially opening the door to Boateng.
Favre's favored midfield structure
There's similar intrigue around Dortmund's midfield setup. Brandt, long considered a winger, often played in a more central role for Bayer Leverkusen last term while Hazard is a natural in the left wing role favored by Reus. With Mario Götze, Jadon Sancho and Jacob Bruun Larsen among those also vying for the three roles behind the striker in Favre's favored 4-2-3-1 formation, competition is fierce.
With Dortmund hoping to go deep in three competitions, their Swiss coach will be delighted to have more options this season than last. But Sancho, Reus, Brandt and Hazard are all used to being first choice. With plenty of options deeper in midfield, how Favre shuffles his pack will be important. But we may get a clue to his first choice-lineup on Saturday.
Kingsley Coman's fitness
With Pavard, Hernandez and Jann-Fiete Arp's signings wrapped up before the Bundesliga title, Bayern gave themselves the whole summer to replace Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Despite much public flirting with Leroy Sane and reported late interest in Leon Bailey, they've so far failed to do so, putting a lot of pressure on Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman.
Though both impressed last year, Coman's injury history will surely be of concern to Kovac. The French flyer has missed 36 league games through illness and injury in the last three seasons and broke down shortly after coming off the bench in a preseason friendly on Wednesday.
"We hope it's not too bad and that he'll be back in the next few days," Kovac said.
With teenager Alphonso Davies the only other natural wideman in the squad, the Croatian coach will have to decide whether there's too much risk in starting Coman. This may become a familiar theme in 2019-20.