What’s The Problem With Borussia Dortmund?
Borussia Dortmund’s fairy tale ascent back to the top table of European football over the last few seasons has lent Jurgen Klopp’s team a cult-like status amongst football supporters all around the world.
Indeed, BVB have become a sort of second team for many fans, beguiled by the story of a club that could so easily be their own.
You’d be forgiven for your disbelief if you looked at the Bundesliga table now to see BVB rooted to the bottom, Paddy-last, for the first time in 29 years. From 13 games, Dortmund have taken just 11 points with only 14 goals scored and a massive 21 conceded. The Ruhr-based club have entered new ground in the Klopp era and they’re not dealing with the terrain very well. So what exactly is the problem?
Well, it’s a combination of things, really. For years now, Signal Iduna Park has been plundered for their best players. The big name sales started with Nuri Sahin’s departure to Real Madrid in 2011. The following season it was Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. Mario Goetze was next to go with Bayern Munich swooping in 2013. Robert Lewandowski joined him at the Allianz Arena in the summer and, arguably, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
With each summer exodus, Klopp was always able to replace one star with another and did so with relative ease. In came Gundogan for Sahin. The side improved. Kagawa left. No problem. Marco Reus returned to his boyhood club and BVB came back roaring. Mario Goetze was replaced with the effective dual signings of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
At every turn, Klopp had an answer. Up until this summer, that is. Replacing Robert Lewandowski, arguably the jewel in the crown, was always going to be extremely difficult. Playmakers, even as good as Mario Goetze, can be replaced, but when a player as talented and fundamental to their team in Robert Lewandowski leaves, it becomes an entirely different problem to solve.
The Pole’s superb ability to hold up the ball as well as play on the shoulder encompassed his sides’ capacity to attack from all angles, making them incredibly difficult to stop. Replacing him with Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos, to date, hasn’t worked. Neither player can replicate that lightning rod-ability to base attacks off that Lewandowski was able to produce on his own. Klopp has tried to find a way to incorporate his new signings and adjust the style accordingly but struggled to find a balance.
After a number of seasons using their high-energy ‘gegenpressing’ style, it’s possible the Dortmund squad is banjaxed. Injuries have bitten hard for two seasons now. Marco Reus has had three ligament injuries in the last eight months. Mats Hummels can’t stay fit for more than four games. Ilkay Gundogan, Neven Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Nuri Sahin and Jakub Blaszczykowski have all suffered with long term absences, too. No side could deal with such blows and keep performing at such a high level in all competitions.
He would be loath to contemplate the idea but there is the increasing feeling that, like all great cycles, Klopp’s is coming to an end. Still a great manager, and wholeheartedly revered by the BVB fans, he is also universally acclaimed by the majority of the football world. He has won all he can win in Germany with one of the most admired clubs in Europe. One last crack at the Champions League this season, steer ‘Die Schwarzgelben’ as high up the table as possible and start a new chapter in one of the most intriguing managerial journeys in many a year.