Borussia Dortmund took a big step towards second place and Champions League qualification with a win over Hertha Berlin. But if they want to win Germany's biggest prize, one more change is neeeded, says DW's Matt Ford.
Since they last won the Bundesliga in 2012, Borussia Dortmund have finished second on four occasions. On Saturday, a 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin set them on course to be runners-up for a fifth time.
Top spot, of course, is once again out of their reach. Bayern Munich, currently seven points clear, revealed the gulf which still exists between the perennial champions and the perennial pretenders two weeks ago.
Despite significant investment and progress in key areas in recent years, Dortmund are still trailing.
With Bayern making a habit of poaching their best players, Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has focused on boosting the club's commercial power so they would no longer be obliged to let players head south – successfully.
Unable to compete with Bayern financially for top transfer targets, Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc has turned his attention to markets rich in emerging talent – also successfully.
And when that young talent showed its inexperience in forfeiting a nine-point lead last season, the squad was bolstered with almost €150 million ($170m) of proven Bundesliga quality in Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard and complemented by international level class in Mats Hummels and Emre Can.
When they beat some of Europe's biggest clubs to Erling Haaland's signature in January, it looked like Borussia Dortmund were ready to achieve this season's stated aim of winning the league, especially with Bayern enduring a tumultuous first half of the season and a change of coach.
However, in draws against Frankfurt, Bremen, Freiburg and Paderbon, and defeats to Union Berlin and Hoffenheim, the damage had already been done.
Favre in focus
Inevitably, attention must turn to head coach Lucien Favre. The Swiss technician who had enjoyed success with Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach was himself hired in summer 2018 as an upgrade on his predecessors, the one-dimensional Peter Bosz and the conservative Peter Stöger.
The 62-year-old has undeniable qualities and is, in many ways, the ideal man to get the best out of a young, highly gifted team. The perfectionist in him shone through for all to see when he highlighted Brandt's neat header down into Can's path for the winning goal against Hertha: "Fantastisch!" he smiled, appreciative of the quality.
But Favre has now overseen two seasons in which Borussia Dortmund have wasted two golden chances to end Bayern's "Meisterschaft" monopoly, with blown leads, dropped points and questions over the team's mentality.
His cryptic, monosyllabic answers have also frustrated reporters at Dortmund press conferences for 18 months. Just last week after the defeat to Bayern Favre was asked whether would ever be able to win the league with BVB. His response? "No comment at the moment, I'll speak in a few weeks."
Watzke might have been quick to insist that his colleague, a native French speaker, had been misunderstood, but there was no mistake in Favre's words. He is too experienced and his German too good.
Favre has one more year left on his contract, but he will also suspect that the one last major upgrade Dortmund need to stop Bayern winning again is in the head coach position.