Borussia Dortmund’s domestic disaster in the first half of the Bundesliga season has been well-documented, with Jurgen Klopp’s men going from title challengers to relegation fodder in the space of six months.
However, things are looking up at Signal Iduna Park, with Marco Reus’ new contract with the club and a run of four consecutive wins moving Die Schwarzgelben into the relative security of mid-table.
Although the likes of Reus, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan will be accredited for their roles in the recent renaissance in North Rhine-Westphalia, two unsung heroes also deserve to be lauded.
Both in their second stints at Dortmund after failed adventures in England, Shinji Kagawa and Nuri Sahin have started to remind the club’s fans of their former selves and look close to getting back to their best.
For Kagawa, the allure of becoming a global phenomenon at Manchester United was too good to turn down, with signs in his first season at Old Trafford promising if not conclusive.
The Japanese playmaker’s second campaign in England was supposedly set to be his breakthrough, but when David Moyes replaced Sir Alex Ferguson, Kagawa’s opportunities depleted.
Largely used out of position on a flank or not at all, the 25-year-old was not afforded a run of games in the Red Devils’ side and a summer return to Signal Iduna Park put the midfielder out of his misery.
It is fair to say that Kagawa has not been at his scintillating best since returning to Germany, but signs in recent weeks show that the Japanese schemer is regaining confidence and is ready to flaunt all the virtues that made him such a star in his first tenure with Dortmund.
Deployed by Klopp in his favoured number ten role in the 3-0 victory over Schalke in the Ruhr derby, Kagawa’s link-up play with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was superb, while the Japanese attacker’s range of passing and guile rolled back the years.
Although he still has work to do to rediscover the form that saw him net 13 Bundesliga goals in Dortmund’s 2011-12 title success, the signs are there that Kagawa is ready to put his turbulent Old Trafford experience behind him.
One of the key reasons that Dortmund were so dominant against Schalke was their complete command of the midfield battle.
Although Gundogan’s clever passing and neat touches caught the eye, much of the unheralded hard work was done by his boiler room partner Sahin.
The 26-year-old finished the clash having completed 43 of his 49 attempted passes, won four tackles and three headers and did the dirty work that provided his more forward-thinking team-mates the platform to shine.
Like Kagawa, having won the Bundesliga in 2010-11 and been voted the German top flight’s Player of the Season award, the allure of Real Madrid saw the Turk move abroad.
Unlike fellow Bundesliga stars Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, who went on to become household names in La Liga after thriving in Germany, Sahin found himself on the outskirts in the Spanish capital.
Jose Mourinho used the gifted midfielder sparingly, with two league starts for Los Blancos all Sahin had to show for his time in Spain before a loan move to Liverpool arose.
Many heralded this as a superlative piece of transfer business by Brendan Rodgers and by all accounts it should have been.
However, Sahin failed to settle on Merseyside and found competition for places at Anfield equally as intense as in Madrid.
Only seven Premier League appearances later and with a faltering reputation, Sahin returned home to Dortmund to re-salvage a career that had gone inexplicably sideways.
The Turkey international has had to work hard to fit back in at Signal Iduna Park, with a more withdrawn role this time round to accommodate the attack-minded Gundogan.
However, with Klopp’s confidence in him unwavering, the midfielder’s crisp passing, combative tackling and authoritative presence have returned, with Sahin starting all four of Dortmund’s most recent victories.
Sahin and Kagawa’s return to Dortmund has the potential to see two top-class players return to the form of old, with the grass apparently not greener on the other side.
With Anfield and Old Trafford now fading from their combined memories to some degree, the pair will play a substantial part in Dortmund’s ambitions of climbing the table further and posing a title threat again next season.