Bayern Munich rebounded from the disappointment of coming third in 2001-02 by signing two of the best players from Bayer Leverkusen to help win the Bundesliga by 16 points.
Whereas the top five sides had all won over 60 points in 2000-2001, only Bayern Munich exceeded this mark two seasons later as they comfortably won the title.
Holders Borussia Dortmund fell to third place in the title, a point behind Stuttgart. The loss of Michael Ballack and Ze Roberto as well as injury to defender Jens Nowotny saw Leverkusen battle relegation, ending up in 15th, just four points clear of the drop zone.
Ottmar Hitzfeld was retained as Bayern Munich boss despite a poor campaign and immediately sought about improving his squad to ensure Bayern did not have another disappointing season. Sebastian Diesler was signed for €9 million from Hertha Berlin, with Ze Roberto (€12m) and Michael Ballack (€6m) both joining from Bayer Leverkusen.
Having guided Leverkusen to the Champions League final the previous summer, Klaus Toppmoller found himself out of a job by February. Udo Lattek was lined up to replace him, but was forced to decline the role due to health problems. Thomas Horster stepped in as caretaker until the second last game of the season, when former Nurnberg boss Klaus Augenthaler took over.
B04 spent over €30m during the transfer window, with Juan and Franca coming from Brazil and Daniel Bierofka and Jan Simak joining from 1860 Munich and Hannover respectively. They also signed a number of German players aged 21 or under, but could not replace the experience of Ze Roberto or Ballack.
Borussia Dortmund’s biggest expense was €8.5m for defensive midfielder Torsten Frings, who had excelled for Werder Bremen in the previous season. Head coach Matthias Sammer also brought in young goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller to challenge first-choice stopper Jens Lehmann.
Unlike the previous few seasons which went right to the wire, the 2002-03 Bundesliga season was over with four games to go. Bayern Munich took top spot after four games and never relinquished their lead.
The battle for second place proved more exciting as Stuttgart eventually finished a point clear of Borussia Dortmund. A 2-0 win at home to Wolfsburg in their last game sealed second place for Stuttgart, with Bulgarian midfielder Krasimir Balakov scoring from the penalty spot in his last game before retiring.
Stuttgart’s side was a combination of experienced veterans and exciting talents, with Ulf Kirsten and Michael Preetz also hanging up their boots at the end of the campaign. The club’s financial restraints meant that Felix Magath could not spend big in the transfer market, allowing young players like goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand, midfielder Alexander Hleb, and forward Kevin Kurayni a chance to shine.
Dortmund could have finished as runners-up, but already-relegated Energie Cottbus held them to a 1-1 draw. Cottbus finished bottom, with Nurnberg and Arminia Bielefeld also going down.
Bayer Leverkusen eventually finished four points clear of relegation, just a year after making it to the Champions League final. They only secured their survival on the last day of the season with a 1-0 win over Nurnberg, whose fate had already been decided.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Having helped Bayer Leverkusen to second place in the previous season, Bayern Munich signed one of the best midfielders in German football, and he did not disappoint in Bavaria. He scored 10 goals from midfield as well as four more on the way to lifting the DFB-Pokal.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
Stuttgart were not blessed with resources like their rivals at the top of the table, but still finished as runners-up thanks to the expertise of head coach Felix Magath, who had turned them from relegation candidates to genuine challengers within three years of taking charge.
GIOVANE ELBER & THOMAS CHRISTENSEN - 21 GOALS
Once again the top scorer race ended in a tie with Bayern Munich striker Giovane Elber and Bochum’s Thomas Christensen both finishing with 21 goals. Spanish striker Christensen had scored 17 goals in his first season with Bochum, and was even more prolific in his second campaign.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
HILDEBRAND; SAGNOL, HINKEL, REINHARDT; HLEB, ERNST, BALLACK, BALAKOV, MARCELINHO; ELBER, CHRISTENSEN
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
Leverkusen to Bayern
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Bayern Munich began their season with a dismal scoreless draw against Borussia Monchengladbach, leaving fans wondering whether they were in for another season of inconsistency from Germany’s record champions. However, a week later, they answered their critics with a 6-2 mauling of Arminia Bielefeld. Giovane Elber scored four times in the rout as Bayern started a run of five wins-in-a-row.