By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) – Champions Bayern Munich are preparing for their toughest Bundesliga season in years with title rivals Borussia Dortmund looking to avoid another mid-season slipup and break the Bavarians’ seven-year Bundesliga stranglehold.
Bayern, who last failed to win the title when Dortmund were champions in 2011-12, kick off the season against Hertha Berlin on Friday, having bolstered their defence with World Cup-winning French duo Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard.
Overall, though, they have been less successful than Dortmund in the transfer market, having failed to sign several players of their choice, including Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.
The arrival this week of 30-year-old winger Ivan Perisic as a replacement for departed veterans Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben was seen by many as a desperate Plan B before the transfer window closes on Sept. 2.
Coach Niko Kovac, who led Bayern to the domestic double in his first season, knows very well what it is like to be considered second rate.
His arrival last year as a relatively young coach after big names, including Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti, had led Bayern over the previous seasons was seen by many as a cheap option.
Kovac was desperately clinging on to his job in December when Dortmund were nine points clear of Bayern but a recovery after the winter break and a slump in form from their title rivals helped secure the double.
“I was also a plan B (last season),” Kovac joked this week. “And then I won the double. (On Perisic) we acted within this short time frame.”
Perisic was signed after City’s Sane needed surgery for cruciate ligament damage and a potential move to Bayern fell through.
“We will make sure that until Sept. 2 we will hopefully welcome another player,” said Kovac.
Dortmund do not need to wait until September, having locked up many of their transfer targets before they hit the beach for the summer holidays.
The moves of Germany internationals Julian Brandt and Nico Schulz as well as Belgium’s Thorgan Hazard were all announced within days of the end of the season in May.
World Cup winner Mats Hummels then returned to Dortmund after his spell at Bayern with all four of coach Lucien Favre’s transfers having instant starting potential.
“We had the clear strategy to quickly wrap up our transfers so as not to get pushed into bidding for players,” Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said.
“We wanted clarity early. I think (sports director) Michael Zorc did it really well.”
Having beaten Bayern to win the German Super Cup earlier in August, Dortmund will be brimming with confidence when they host Augsburg on Saturday.
“Obviously Bayern are best placed for the league title but we want to be a strong challenger and fight for it as well,” Favre said.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Nick Mulvenney)