There are still some visible reminders of a time when Bayern Munich didn't solely rule the Bundesliga.

Mats Hummels led Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund in minutes when they rolled to the 2011-12 title and now, at the age of 34, he's still semi-frequently roaming BVB's back line. Mario Gotze was emerging as a delightful, creative force; these days, he's serving as a catalyst for Eintracht Frankfurt. Robert Lewandowski was becoming one of Europe's best goal scorers back then; now at Barcelona, he continues to age like a fine wine. Ilkay Gundogan and Ivan Perisic were midfield dynamos in black and yellow, and they're still playing key roles for Champions League teams in the Premier League.

Of course, there are far more reminders of just how long it's been. A burned-out Klopp left nearly eight years ago. Gotze, Lewandowski and Hummels spent some or all of their prime years at Bayern. Also, the Bundesliga table from 2011-12 looks like an ancient artifact: Schalke, VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 all finished in the top seven, while current top-five sides Eintracht (then in the second division), Union Berlin (second division) and RB Leipzig (fourth division, only recently acquired and renamed) were nowhere to be seen.

In other words, 11 years is a long time. The past 10 have all ended with Bayern holding the Meisterschale.

Bayern still tops the Bundesliga table, but they head into March in an absolute dogfight with four teams within five points of the lead.

1. Bayern Munich (46 points, +43 goal differential)

2. Borussia Dortmund (46 points, +18)

3. Union Berlin (43 points, +8)

4. RB Leipzig (42 points, +18)

5. Freiburg (41 points, +3)

For now, it's an old challenger presenting the biggest new challenge. For the first time, Borussia Dortmund has won its first nine games of the calendar year, seven of those in league play. Bayern has only lost once since the post-World Cup restart, but BVB has still made up a nine-point deficit in little time.

While we wait for the first Dortmund blemish of 2023, let's look at how they got this hot in the first place and how they might — or might not — be able to keep it up moving forward.


Eliminate redundancies

The 2021-22 transfer windows didn't really work out as planned for Borussia Dortmund. BVB did bring in an outstanding goalkeeper in VfB Stuttgart's Gregor Kobel, but they let Jadon Sancho join Manchester United for an €85 million fee, bringing in only one attacker as a replacement: PSV Eindhoven's Donyell Malen.