With smart signings in the transfer market and a consistent coach now entering his third season with the club, Bayer Leverkusen and Roger Schmidt are ready to push on and challenge Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
Bayer Leverkusen may not be one of the most obvious teams to keep an eye on in this coming Bundesliga season, but behind closed doors sits a quietly confident squad and club with high expectations for this coming league campaign.
Despite a few stumbles along the way Leverkusen finished third last season with relative ease, opening up a five-point gap on Borussia Mönchengladbach by May. Such a feat should be possible again this season, perhaps even with the chance really making the top two sweat.
As Roger Schmidt enters a third season with the side, there's little doubt that this team has now been well and truly sculpted to his demands and needs, boasting an imposing starting 11 and strong options on the bench.
Transfers: Upgrades where they matter most
The most notable addition to Leverkusen's squad this summer has been Hoffenheim forward Kevin Volland, who joined the club for a reported 20 million euros ($22.6 million). Although the 23-year-old didn't have a great season last year, he still offers a huge amount of potential as well as proven ability, with over 140 Bundesliga appearances to his name. Volland can play on either wing as needed, or even at the tip of the spear if Javier Hernandez were to pick up a knock.
Similarly, snaring Julian Baumgartlinger from Mainz should not only bolster the middle of the park but also offer some much-needed experience in a squad bursting with youthful exuberance. Baumgartlinger was one of Mainz's key players last season and could prove to be a great signing if he can replicate the form he showed at his previous club.
Leverkusen have also done an exceptional job of holding on to key players. While Borussia Dortmund and Schalke have seen stars walk out the door this summer, the BayArena club have locked their stars down, which could prove just as important as bringing in new talent.
Christoph Kramer - a talented player but by no means a first team necessity - has returned permanently to Gladbach, the club where he blossomed on a loan spell two seasons ago. But aside from him, the squad that walked to third place is still very much intact.
Head coach: Roger Schmidt
Having finished in the top four over the course of his first two seasons, there's no denying that Schmidt is in a very comfortable position at Leverkusen right now. There are always younger, exciting coaches emerging in the German top division but the club likely consider their own to be among the best in the league.
However, that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. Although Leverkusen did well to win the points expected of them last season, they struggled against the other top four teams.
Against Gladbach, Dortmund and Bayern, Schmidt's side won just one of six encounters, losing four. If he and his squad are to push on and challenge Dortmund for second place, then they'll have to get a lot better at winning these table-topping clashes.
Key man: Javier Hernandez
Leverkusen have a squad that can quite legitimately go toe-to-toe with some of the best in the Bundesliga in terms of quality, but there's no denying that their best player at this moment in time is Mexican striker Hernandez.
Chicharito became a Bundesliga sensation last season, and now he is a key part to Leverkusen's success
Signed specifically to bridge the gap between Leverkusen and the top two, "Chicharito" has been nothing short of a revelation since joining the Bundesliga, netting 17 league goals in 28 games last season. That equates to 33 percent of his team's league total.
When Hernandez is on form Leverkusen usually are too. If they can keep their Mexican goalscorer fit and happy then there's no limit to what he could achieve this season.
What to expect: Top three
With Dortmund likely to initially struggle after the departure of key players and the need to implement new, young talents, there's no reason why Leverkusen shouldn't throw everything they have at displacing Thomas Tuchel's side from second place. However, this is only likely if Leverkusen can up their standards against sides like Dortmund and Bayern.
Still, Leverkusen clearly have the third best team in the Bundesliga just now, so another top three finish should not only be the target this season, but also a comfortably within reach.