Borussia Dortmund let a golden chance to win the Bundesliga slip through its grasp this season, but early transfer business indicates the Black and Yellow will be challenging for German supremacy again in 2019-2020.
Goals either side of halftime from Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus against Monchengladbach on Matchday 17 ensured that manager Lucien Favre's Borussia Dortmund went into the winter break with a six-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table.
Finishing the calendar year as the league's Herbstmeister - the first time they were top at Christmas since the 2010/11 season - there was understandably a lot of optimism about Dortmund's chances to end Bayern Munich's stranglehold on the title.
A ninth league title has slipped through the club's grasp, and, understandably this season has turned into a lot of finger pointing. But it isn't all doom and gloom for Borussia Dortmund, with its one true goal heading into the season–qualifying for the Champions League–having been wrapped up some weeks before the season ended.
"It’s important to me that Lucien isn’t overburdened with an unrealistic expectation," CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told bundesliga.com upon Favre's appointment. "We’re highly ambitious and we always want to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, but beyond that, we will discuss internally."
It's been mission accomplished for Borussia Dortmund this season, even if fans are preparing for the summer break with a cloud looming over their heads.
But things are set up very well at the Westfalenstadion to ensure that the club will be looking to be in the midst of a title fight at this stage again next season, although there are a few minor tweaks here and there which still need to be made.
The club's long search for new fullbacks is expected to continue this summer as Marcel Schmelzer and Łukasz Piszczek edge closer to the end of their careers at Borussia Dortmund, while Real Madrid aren't playing ball over Achraf Hakimi's loan deal being made permanent.
On the left side, Dortmund already ticked one box by signing Nico Schulz on a long-term contract from TSG Hoffenheim.
Coupled with its search for reinforcements will be shifting out players who have been unable to make the grade in North Rhine-Westphalia, including the likes of Sebastian Rode, Shinji Kagawa and others who are currently out on loan.
One returning player who could help take Borussia Dortmund even further next season is Alexander Isak, who scored 14 goals during the second half of the season on loan with Dutch side Willem II.
"I believe in [making my breakthrough] at Dortmund," Isak told Swedish outlet Expressen. "I’ve put on good performances here [at Willem II] and they’re satisfied with what I’ve been doing."
Isak could help offer Favre a pain relief to his current selection headache, as outside of Dortmund's impressive starting lineup the Swiss head coach is bereft of options, with Maximilian Philipp–signed for €20m–most notably failing to provide a goal or assist since October.
New signings will help to bolster Borussia Dortmund across all areas of the pitch and their two main targets heading into the summer window have already been confirmed.
Thorgan Hazard's arrival from Borussia Mönchengladbach was announced on Wednesday morning, and just a few hours later the club confirmed that Bayer Leverkusen star Julian Brandt would also be arriving before the start of next season.
On top of the natural development expected from players like Jadon Sancho, Manuel Akanji and Dan-Axel Zagadou, next season could be a chance for some new youth players to break into the first-team set-up at Dortmund.
For example, many expect that the 2019/20 campaign could see teenager Sergio Gómez finally break into the senior side following his switch from Barcelona in 2017.
"Sergio Gómez is undoubtedly one of the best players of his age in the world," sporting director Michael Zorc said after signing the Spaniard on a long-term contract. "We've been interested in him for some time and are happy that he has decided to join Borussia Dortmund despite offers from many top European clubs."
But Borussia Dortmund could also look to promote the next generation from their Under-19 side, which can win its respective league title this weekend. Top goalscorer Emre Aydinel, winger Alaa Bakir or midfielder Tobias Raschl could be next in line for a senior call-up.
While everything within the squad will be important in Borussia Dortmund's current long-term plan, Favre's future will be even more important to the club's fortunes next season.
Watzke has already confirmed that he's looking to give Favre an extension at the Westfalenstadion as Borussia Dortmund continues to look to close the gap on a Bayern Munich side that has already stocked up in anticipation of a transition from its veteran stalwarts to a new cast of stars.
But, in fact, Dortmund's biggest threat at the top of the table could come from below, as RB Leipzig will be appointing one of European football's most exciting managers.
Julian Nagelsmann has been an overachiever at Hoffenheim, but the 31-year-old will soon be given the riches on offer in Saxony to build a squad that can fulfill the club's long-term goal of dominating the Bundesliga–with or without Timo Werner, who will likely be sold this summer if he doesn't sign a new contract.
Regardless of the threat from other teams in the league, however, Borussia Dortmund can be confident that it's on the right track to challenge for the Bundesliga title again next season, as well as reach the latter stages of the Champions League.
With Favre at the helm and sticking to the philosophy that has helped turn Borussia Dortmund into a neutral fan's favorite club, bigger and better things appear to be just around the corner at the Westfalensdation.