Dortmund are better of the remainder, however catching Bayern as robust as ever
On this version of his weekly column, ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae writes that whereas Borussia Dortmund are technically in with a shout within the league title race, nobody on the membership needs to talk boldly about catching all-conquering Bayern Munich. Squad plans for the long run are intriguing, however have a number of query marks hovering over them. All in all, it is an unsure time.
Admit it: a few of you have been ready for Borussia Dortmund to dwell as much as all of the cliches about them final Sunday. With Bayern having suffered a hair-raising and chaotic 4-2 reverse at VfL Bochum the day earlier than (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.), the stage appeared set for the Schwarzgelben to squander their likelihood to scale back the deficit on the high of the Bundesliga desk to 6 factors. In any case, it is occurred earlier than.
As a substitute, Marco Rose’s crew delivered one in every of their most assured performances of the season in accelerating away from Union Berlin in Kopenick. There was nothing flattering about the 3-0 triumph by which captain Marco Reus scored twice within the opening 25 minutes and performed a starring position (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.).
In most leagues, being six factors behind with 12 rounds left — and a head-to-head contest with the leaders to return — would symbolize a combating likelihood. Nevertheless, from a Dortmund viewpoint, the spectre of Bayern’s 9 successive titles looms massive and nobody dares get carried away based mostly on a single swing of the pendulum. In any case, Dortmund had spent final week at their Brackel HQ, digesting and attempting to take away from the collective reminiscence financial institution an error-strewn 5-2 defeat at residence in opposition to their closest pursuers within the battle for second place: Bayer Leverkusen. First issues first.
So what did BVB get proper within the southeastern outskirts of Berlin? It began with a way more efficient form in a 4-2-3-1 formation that allowed for considerably higher safety of a beforehand uncovered again 4.
Considered one of Dortmund’s issues this season has been getting caught by the opposition when in Aufbau (or “build-up”) mode themselves. The brand new form, with midfielders Axel Witsel and Mahmoud Dahoud appearing as windscreen wipers, enabled Dan-Axel Zagadou (who endured a nightmare in opposition to Leverkusen) to look significantly extra composed. Having Mats Hummels wholesome once more alongside him in defence additionally helped visibly.
The opposite benefit of this tactical tweak was that it put Reus in his favoured No. 10 place. At occasions in Rose’s oft-favoured 4-3-3, Reus has needed to shift extra to the best of the assault and he is by no means fairly the identical potent menace when not instantly behind the primary striker, from the place he could make well-timed runs and trigger havoc for these tasked with selecting up his motion.
Criticism has been levelled in opposition to BVB for being overly reliant on Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham, however Haaland was once more absent as a consequence of his muscular damage and Bellingham had one in every of his extra peculiar outings.
After the win, having closed the factors hole, Reus and Hummels refused to get drawn into discussions about what it would take to “cease” Bayern. Reus gives the look he is uninterested in such discuss, and he stated as a lot. Hummels felt it was extra vital to have moved 12 factors away from the groups occupying fifth place, together with Union.
Cementing a Champions League spot is precedence No. 1. Avoiding mishaps in that chase, versus looking down the Rekordmeister, one thing ex-Bayern centre-back Hummels views as a pleasant factor to dream about greater than a practical situation, represents the realpolitik of the scenario Dortmund are in.
Keep in mind: Dortmund needed to scrap from begin to end simply to get into Europe’s premier membership competitors. That they did not progress from what regarded like a manageable Champions League group this season goes down as a bitter disappointment. Membership CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has tried to offer the gamers motivation within the knockout stage of the Europa League, beginning in opposition to Rangers on Thursday. Win a trophy BVB have by no means lifted earlier than, the logic goes, and recoup a number of the cash misplaced by the Champions League misadventure within the course of. It is likely to be tough, however why not?
With 2. Bundesliga upstarts St. Pauli having knocked holders Dortmund out of the DFB-Pokal, there’s a sense that this can be a squad that feels it has one thing to show in each sport. Higher than the remainder, apart from Bayern, however nonetheless a way beneath their essential foes.
Trying forward, the summer season guarantees to be fascinating. Michael Zorc will vacate his sporting director’s chair after practically 1 / 4 of a century, and it’ll develop into Sebastian Kehl’s present. Kehl, a membership nice (like Zorc) on the pitch, has already pulled off one thing of a coup in securing Bayern’s Niklas Sule as a free agent for subsequent season, and he’ll do his greatest to signal SC Freiburg‘s Nico Schlotterbeck and FC Salzburg‘s Karim Adeyemi.
After all, there will likely be departures to face up to, and sure important ones if Haaland and Manuel Akanji resolve to name time on their respective stints on the membership. There’s additionally nonetheless a giant concern relating to an absence of depth; for instance, there’s nonetheless a right-back concern. Thomas Meunier has improved this season, however have been followers anticipating a extra full participant? I imagine so. The paucity of sturdy choices at each full-back positions is alarming.
Hand on coronary heart, has Nico Schulz exuded confidence when he has crammed in for Raphael Guerreiro? Not particularly. Schulz strikes me as somebody who actually must play each week, however for a membership barely decrease down the desk.
All that stated, there’s loads to be enthusiastic about. In Giovanni Reyna, Dortmund have the type of younger expertise who can gentle up any high league along with his dynamism. However Kehl’s problem lies find the best squad stability, not simply glowing people, one thing that has been elusive for BVB going again quite a lot of years,
The regulation of averages says one in every of these years Bayern will slip, even when solely marginally. Borussia Dortmund should make sure that they’re well-enough armed to make a fist of it when that occurs.