Hoffenheim escaped relegation last season, one that involved three coaching changes. Their situation appears much more settled coming into this season, and they may be ready to take a big step under their young coach.
Twenty-eight-year-old head coach Julian Nagelsmann stepped in to save the club last season. This season, he faces a different test and after some smart summer signings, Hoffenheim are keen to get their development back on track.
Transfers: Volland gone, depth improved
After a slightly disappointing season, Kevin Volland's departure to Bayer Leverkusen for a reported transfer fee of 20 million euros ($22.6 million) finally gave Hoffenheim the chance to move on from the Volland-Roberto Firmino attacking partnership that long defined them. The loss of Tobias Strobl to Borussia Mönchengladbach was also a surprise.
After his loan spell last season, Andrej Kramaric (right) is part of the attacking rebuild at Hoffenheim
But Hoffenheim have restocked well. Half of the Volland money was spent on the familiar face of Andrej Kramaric, but it was the acquisition of Sandro Wagner that could prove the shrewder deal. Kevin Vogt keeps the midfield tenacious, while Benjamin Hübner adds some power to the defense. Marco Terrazzino arrived on a free and looks tidy, while Lukas Rupp really is a smart signing. The former Stuttgart midfielder has been one of the most underrated and hard-working players in the Bundesliga in the last few seasons.
Hoffenheim have spent roughly what they got (22 million euros) transfer-wise this summer and the changes seem well timed for a squad that underwhelmed last season. Under their exciting head coach, it's time to overwhelm this time around.
Head coach: Julian Nagelsmann
Julian Nagelsmann believes in his work and after his heroics at the end of last season, it's hard to dispute that the 28-year-old is a man with an effective plan. Last season, Nagelsmann picked up 23 points from his 14 games in charge. The run saved Hoffenheim from relegation and proved the club's gamble on the youngest-ever Bundesliga head coach was one worth taking.
Over the summer, Nagelsmann has reveled in work time outside of the intense season schedule. Fitness tests throughout the season, not just at the start, are in order after a number of games last season were lost when legs were heavy and minds were tired. He has specifically recruited a lot of Germany-based players so as to speed up bedding-in periods and he's recruited height - Wagner, Hübner and Vogt - after Hoffenheim suffered both offensively and defensively in the air last season.
His work in the off-season appears impressive, as do his grand plans for the future. He wants Hoffenheim to be more comfortable in possession, to dictate games. Given the time - and that's often the question at clubs like this one - it's exciting to think what this youngster can achieve.
Key man: Sandro Wagner
It's easy to make a striker a key player, but given the man and given the squad, Sandro Wagner is undoubtedly a cog that must work if Hoffenheim are to be successful. Although a polarizing person, Wagner does guarantee goals and that takes the pressure off a team that for too long has relied on one source (Volland) for its goals. Kramaric may feel the weight of his price tag, so having Wagner there to share the load is a great option for Hoffenheim.
The season in Darmstadt appears to have changed Wagner. The 28-year-old looks braver, tidier, stronger and at Hoffenheim he'll get even more service than he did at Darmstadt. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him match or better his 14-goal tally from last season.
What to expect: Time for Europe
After last season's underwhelming performance, Hoffenheim will be better this time around. Nagelsmann has had more time to work with a group that is quickly becoming his to make sure they play the football he wants. The departure of Volland marks the end of an era as Hoffenheim seek to rid themselves - at least on the pitch - of the plastic nature that has long stuck to them. They are keen to finally become a team capable of both stable performances and attacking quality. If it all comes together like it should (famous last words), then a Europa League spot is in order.