With Erling Haaland banging them in, Bayern Munich knackered and Jadon Sancho kept out of Man United’s reach, this should have been Borussia Dortmund’s year… but their title dream could die tonight, so where is it all going wrong?
- Everything seemed to point to Borussia Dortmund winning the Bundesliga title
- They successfully rebuffed interest from Man United in £108m Jadon Sancho
- Erling Haaland was devastating in attack and their team had a nice blend
- But it hasn’t gone to plan as Dortmund trail Bayern Munich by seven points
- More dropped points in two crucial games this week could end their title hopes
- Interim coach Edin Terzic may even struggle to hold down a top-four place
It really did look like the stars were aligning for Borussia Dortmund at the beginning of the season.
Erling Haaland had been every bit as devastating as they’d hoped he would be, they’d resisted the advances of Manchester United for Jadon Sancho and seemed to have a team nicely blending youth and experience.
What’s more, Dortmund had enjoyed the luxury of a decent pre-season, unlike their title rivals Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig, who’d been engaged in Champions League commitments well into August.
Jadon Sancho’s dejection (left) sums up the disappointment of Borussia Dortmund’s two dropped points against bottom club Mainz on Saturday
Marco Reus missed a second-half penalty in the 1-1 Bundesliga draw at the Signal Iduna Park
Two dropped points against Mainz left Dortmund seven adrift of Bundesliga leaders Bayern
So surely 2021 was destined to be the year that the Bundesliga’s chronic nearly-men finally claimed their first title since 2012.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out quite as they’d hoped.
Numerous disappointing defeats, innumerable recurring problems and a managerial sacking later, this talented Dortmund team face the prospect of being bundled out of title contention at the season’s halfway point.
How immensely frustrating it must have been for interim coach Edin Terzic and his team to follow up brilliant wins over Wolfsburg and Leipzig with a 1-1 draw at home to bottom club Mainz on Saturday.
Next up are far tougher assignments against third-placed Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday and Borussia Monchengladbach – who came from two down to beat Bayern last week – on Friday.
Dortmund are already seven points behind leaders Bayern and any dropped points this week will pretty much kill off any lingering title hopes.
Dortmund’s interim coach Edin Terzic looks on from the sidelines as the positives from recent wins over Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig dissipated against Mainz
Terzic was assistant to Lucien Favre, who was sacked in November following poor results
Even the prolific Erling Haaland was foiled on an afternoon of frustration for Dortmund
Dortmund’s young English midfielder Jude Bellingham reacts during Saturday’s draw
Some will be quick to argue that Terzic, as a stand-in coach, is expected only to secure a top-four finish, ensuring another season of Champions League football, and then step aside gracefully for the new manager, probably Gladbach’s Marco Rose.
But merely finishing in the top four marks a drastic revision of pre-season expectations. Dortmund really should be genuinely challenging Bayern for the title; their current situation isn’t good enough.
In his six games since Favre was sacked on December 13 in the wake of a 5-1 thrashing by Stuttgart, Terzic has sought to address some of the many issues within the team.
One of the first things he did was switch Dortmund to a settled 4-2-3-1 system, dispensing with Favre’s ill-suited three in defence set-up.
But Terzic was Favre’s assistant and it will take the new broom of a new manager to properly address all the issues. That won’t come until next season.
Haaland is one of the players who can’t be blamed for Dortmund’s funk. With 19 goals in 17 matches this season, the 20-year-old Norwegian hasn’t missed a beat from the last campaign.
Haaland was excellent in the 3-1 win against Leipzig and averages a goal a game for Dortmund
The Norwegian striker (top) is far and away Dortmund’s leading goalscorer this season
Bundesliga unless stated
Tuesday Bayer Leverkusen (A)
Friday Borussia Monchengladbach (A)
January 30 Augsburg (H)
February 2 Paderborn (H) German Cup third round
February 6 Freiburg (A)
February 13 Hoffenheim (H)
Haaland has scored at the rate of one goal per game since signing from Red Bull Salzburg a year ago and Europe’s heavyweight clubs will form an orderly queue when his £66million release clause kicks in next year, although there is talk of Chelsea lining up an earlier. bigger bid.
Dortmund will enjoy his goals in the meantime but the abiding memory of Saturday’s draw with Mainz was Haaland in various poses of frustration after missed chances or when the ball didn’t come his way in good positions.
He didn’t look too impressed when Jude Bellingham ignored him in a tap-in position to shoot in search of his first Bundesliga goal. Bellingham hit the post.
As for Sancho, there are signs the England star is beginning to find his best form again after a sluggish start to the season, responding better to Terzic than Favre.
He scored a breakaway goal to seal the 2-0 win over Wolfsburg and was then outstanding in the 3-1 win at Leipzig, scoring Dortmund’s opener then teeing up Haaland for their second.
Sancho races past Wolfsburg goalkeeper Paulo Otavio to score at the start of January
The England star also netted against Leipzig as Dortmund claimed a landmark 3-1 victory
Sancho may yet match last season’s 20 goals and 20 assists (he has six and 11 respectively) but the feeling half a season has been lost persists.
There was a certain smugness about Dortmund’s hierarchy when United chief Ed Woodward balked at their £108m asking price in the summer and walked away. After all, Dortmund had no cause to sell him.
But Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke admitted earlier this month that Sancho had ‘subconsciously already prepared a little for a change’ of club and was expecting to be wearing United red rather than Dortmund yellow.
Had Sancho not had all this drawn-out off-field distraction during the summer window, Dortmund could well be leading the Bundesliga right now.
Ed Woodward balked at Dortmund’s £108million asking price for Sancho back in the summer
Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, seen leaving early against Mainz, admitted that Sancho was distracted by the collapsed move to United at the start of the season
For all their attacking verve, Dortmund are shockingly slow to get going in games. Only five of their 32 Bundesliga goals so far have come in the first half.
They certainly passed up lots of opportunities against Mainz but it has become a running theme. They seem to too often lack the drive to get games won before half-time, sometimes needing the kick up the backside of a conceded goal to hit their rhythm.
Energy should not be a problem here. A last-16 exit from the Champions League in March meant Dortmund’s 2019-20 season ended when the Bundesliga did on June 27.
By contrast, title rivals Bayern played on until their victorious Champions League final on August 23 and started this season on September 18, a turnaround of only 26 days.
The Bavarians do look knackered already amid a frantic fixture list that still sees them have to go to Qatar for the FIFA Club World Cup next month. And yet, there they are, four points clear at the top.
Bayern Munich had virtually no pre-season but still remain the team to beat in Germany
Dortmund should have been primed to capitalise when the fatigue kicked in – likewise for Leipzig, who went out the Champions League in the semi-finals on August 18 – but they’re too far back.
Defensive vulnerabilities have hindered Dortmund time and time again this season. Favre’s insistence they play out from the goalkeeper was a gift for teams that deployed a high press.
The likes of Mats Hummels, Lukasz Piszczek and Manuel Akanji at the back are often left with split-seconds to find a pass. When pressured into giving the ball away, opponents often have men spare to capitalise.
Terzic has tried to firm up the defence by partnering Hummels and Akanji, with Thomas Meunier and Raphael Guerreiro as more orthodox full-backs in a back four.
Mats Hummels (second left) and Manuel Akanji try and keep Mainz at bay on Saturday
But Dortmund are often vulnerable on the counter, which is ironic given their strength attacking other teams with speed and incision.
Set-pieces have also been an Achilles heel. Five goals have been conceded from corners this season, the kind of recurring theme that infuriates coaches.
Terzic can only do so much to address these problems while still picking up enough points to ensure a top-four finish.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League raises the prospect of rivals picking up Haaland, Sancho and other talents for a deflated price this summer.
That’s why this week, with games in quick succession against top-four rivals, could make or break them.
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