On the 25th May last year, Borussia Dortmund came with an ace of taking the Champions League crown and being regarded as the best team on the continent. Just as with the final of Europe’s premier club competition, the same was true of the Bundesliga, as the Westphalian club had finished as runners-up to Bayern Munich. Their coach, Jurgen Klopp, was very much flavour of the month and was linked with a number of top jobs in the Premier League. Now, just over 18 months later, after 16 games of the new season, and Bayern again cantering to the Bundesliga title, Dortmund lie in a relegation spot at the foot of the table, a single point above the bottom club. It all begs the question: ‘What went wrong?
It’s a conundrum that Klopp is seemingly unable to solve. Yes, they lost the Polish goal-machine Robert Lewandowski to rivals Bayern, and World Cup hero Mario Goetze also also decamped to Bavaria. Certainly, such losses would be felt by any team, but it’s questionable if it would justify such a tumble from grace. Surely there must be more to it than that. Well, perhaps. There’s also the issue that key players Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have been injured and unavailable for a while and Colombian forward, Kloppp’s new signing, Adrian Ramos has yet to look anything like the part as he struggles to settle into the Bundesliga.
Dortmund’s last home game before the mid-winter break saw them achieve what on the balance of the league table, looks like a creditable draw with Wolfsburg. The VW-sponsored club are currently what is quaintly termed as Bayern’s closest challengers for the title. Why would I describe that as ‘quaint’ you ask? Well, although second, a gap of 15 points really means that ‘fresh air’ is both second and third in reality. Nevertheless, a draw against what can justifiably be described as Germany’s second best club on current form should be creditable enough. Shouldn’t it?
The league would suggest so, but the game almost served as a microcosm of Dortmund’s season, and why they find themselves languishing near the foot of the table. After Aubameyang gave them an early lead in the eighth minute, they looked set to move on and notch the victory. The second goal never materialised however and just before the half hour, what seemed a tame free-kick from former Chelsea player Kevin de Bruyne bounced a couple of yards in front of Austrian ‘keeper Langerak, who still managed to let the ball squirm through his grasp and apologetically roll into the net. Even then however, Dortmund should still have gone on and won the game.
Italian striker, Ciro Immobile failed to convert a series of opportunities to restore the home team’s lead, although a goodly chunk of the reason for this could be laid at the door of Wolfsburg’s ‘keeper, who denied the former Serie A forward on a few occasions. Eventually however, Immobile found a way through and with less than 15 minutes on the clock, Dortmund were ahead for the second time. Although it was the Italian’s only third goal of the season, it should surely have wrapped up the points.
This however is a team unused to winning, having achieved victory only four times in the league this season. No-one was therefore particularly surprised when central defender Ronaldo Naldo moved forward to net the equaliser with a mere five minutes to play. Two goals scored, a number of chances squandered, leads sacrificed twice and two messy goals conceded. It’s the Dortmund season in a nutshell.
Statistics can of course be manipulated to prove almost anything, but the fact that Dortmund have attempted more shots on goal than all but two of the Bundesliga clubs, the others being Bayern and Leverkuesen, and also have conceded the third lowest number of shots on their own goal, again behind the same two clubs, suggest that all is not lost
Their play remains dynamic and Klopp is not the sort of coach to abandon what he believes is right – and indeed has produced successful results over the past few seasons. The high-pressing game remains a feature of Dortmund’s play, and Klopp retains his belief that such an approach serves as “the best playmaker there is.” In fact, both of the goals against Wolfsburg came as a result of this ploy.
Is Klopp in danger of being shown the door unless things change? The answer is probably not. The fabled Yellow Wall still assemble well before a game starts and their support of both team and coach remains steadfast and enthusiastic. There could be a hint however that perhaps the coach is less than confident of staying in position.
At the end of the game, he doffed his cap and bowed to ‘the wall’ who cheered him back to the dressing room. In the post-match conference however, Klopp talked of how he would miss the fans if he left. It may be that the Dortmund romance with Klopp may just be coming to an end. Strangely, not because a series of poor results have meant the coach being eased out of the door, but perhaps because the man at the top just feels that this particular race has now been run. Sometimes you can be in a position where you feel that whatever you do, it will not make the changes you require. Jurgen Klopp may just be feeling that now.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for ‘theaspirer’ website).