Last season, Borussia Dortmund started like a train in the Bundesliga. Six victories and a draw from their opening seven fixtures saw them topping the table with 19 points. There were early whispers of a title challenge under manager Peter Bosz, newly arrived from Ajax. But watching their games, it never felt quite right.
The ‘Black and Yellow’ had a haphazard look about them, resembling a runaway train – smashing obstacles out of their way, but barely on the rails as Bosz in the cab stared dumbly at the controls.
Ultimately, the train wreck to come was no surprise. BVB, wide open and ragged, failed to win any of the next eight, and the Dutchman was relieved of his duties in early December.
This season talk of a title challenge surrounds Dortmund again. But this time it feels different. This time, it feels like there’s a plan. This season they are unbeaten after 11 league games – the latest, a stunning 3-2 comeback win over Bayern Munich.
This season, the champions chasing a seventh title in a row are shaky. And this season, Lucien Favre, who has a history of improving clubs as fans at Borussia Monchengladbach, Hertha Berlin and Nice will testify, is driving a Black and Yellow train packed with quality, verve and steel. So, this season could be the one.
Gone is last year’s erratic and haphazard football, replaced by more measured and patient build up play, midfield structure, defensive solidity and rapier like attacking. Favre-ball, if you will.
And gone, it would appear is the brittleness of recent seasons. Saturday night’s come-back win was not the first Dortmund fans have witnessed this season – the ‘Black and Yellow’ having recovered from 1-0 and 2-1 down against Augsburg to win 4-3 back in early October, only days after turning a 2-0 deficit against Bayer Leverkusen into a 4-2 victory. But thrilling as those results were, coming back and then overcoming the daddy of them all, Die Roten, could have a psychological impact that may shape the outcome of the title race.
BVB lead the Bundesliga by four points from Borussia Monchengladbach – but critically, they now hold a seven-point lead over Bayern. The champions, who appeared to have overcome recent wobbles by putting together a run of five wins and a draw across all competitions in their last six outings, have now only picked up only eight points from the last 21 on offer.
But then perhaps Favre’s men needn’t be entirely reliant Bayern’s inconsistency. On the evidence of the season so far, and on the evidence of Saturday night, they appear to have what it takes to win the title, regardless of what the Bavarian giants, or anyone else for that matter, throw at them.
And while the visitors may not be at their best, they nevertheless presented a serious test of Dortmund’s credentials at the weekend. In fact, for the first 45 minutes, it looked as if Niko Kovac’s men were about to teach the home side something of a lesson.
Bayern were ferocious in the first half, time and again creating overloads and space out wide before eventually taking the lead through Robert Lewandowski’s header. Favre appeared to have instructed his men to play counter attack and try to expose Bayern’s high line and the recent leaden-footedness of Boateng and Hummels. But his charges found it hard to even get on the ball. Surprise starters Mario Gotze in attack and Julian Wiegl in central midfield, in particular, struggled to get to the pitch of the game.
Wiegl was replaced by Mahmoud Dahoud at the break, emphasising the depth of talent available to the BVB manager, and Dortmund gained a proper foothold in the second period. Marco Reus, so brilliant in the new central attacking role Favre has challenged him with this season, equalised a minute in from the spot. And although Lewandowski pounced again just five minutes later to restore Bayern’s lead, the German international responded by sweeping home Lukasz Piszczek’s right-wing cross in the 67th minute.
And then on 72, the decisive blow, as substitute Paco Alcacer scored his eighth league goal of the season, expertly chipping Manuel Neuer and giving Axel Witsel’s wonderful run and through ball the finish it deserved.
The Westfalenstadion was rocking and the champions were rocked, as Favre’s BVB locomotive thundered on down the track.