The dwindling form of Borussia Dortmund

by Sam Mills

Klopp DortmundInjuries? Squad depth? Defensive frailties? FC Hollywood?

What has happened to Die Borussen? Why are they floundering in third place? Why do 17 points divide them and table-toppers Bayern Munich? Why am I watching an uninspired Dortmund trail 2-0 to a struggling Hamburg outfit as I write this very piece?

Such matters are divisive and the answers vary. Many factors have been cited as the cause of such a slump; including the injury crisis Dortmund have endured, the rise and rise of Bayern Munich, and the desperate lack of squad depth.

I’ll be dissecting and diagnosing the problems of the faltering Die Schwarzgelben.

Jurgen Klopp, Dortmund’s charismatic gaffer, has, unsurprisingly, reached the conclusion that unavoidable bad luck is the source of the club’s problems. On learning that Jakub Blaszczykowski’s, informally referred to as Kuba, injury will mean that the Polish talisman will be a mere spectator for the remainder of the season, Klopp lamented: “For us this is a disaster … It’s in keeping with our season. We’ve only had bad news.”

Downbeat; Klopp has every right to curse his luck. Currently three indispensible members of Klopp’s first team have been resigned to the sidelines for the entire season: Ilkay Gundogan, Sven Bender and Neven Subotic. Moreover, fellow injury-stricken stars Marco Reus and Kuba are major losses having contributed to over 40% of Dortmund’s goals this term.

Yet, such a scenario is inevitable; you only have to play a season on Football Manager to understand that an injury crisis beyond comprehension could only be a week away. Surely the manager that guided a team to consecutive Bundesliga titles and embarrassed Bavarian juggernaut Bayern Munich in the domestic cup final by a three goal margin is adept enough to construct a squad with adequate talent in reserve.

This view alludes to the idea that Klopp is responsible for the slouch in Dortmund’s form: as a manager, he must anticipate such misfortune and secure the services of apt deputies. Granted, Dortmund may have had “only had bad news”, but such bad news has been compounded by the fact that there is a dearth of talent in reserve, only youth and inexperience.

The extent to which Borussia Dortmund lack squad depth was illustrated last year, when, while on sunny pre-season, Klopp inadvertently exposed the depth deficiencies as he substituted his entire team at half time. The gulf in ability in the initial line up in comparison to the eleven that finished the game was drastic. Reus off, Hoffman on; Hummels off, Sarr on (me neither).

Specifically, some fans have voiced concerns over the scarcity of defensive calibre. In reality, the ability of the rearguard at Dortmund is not the problem; the tangible depression in their performance levels is. The last time BvB won the coveted shield, they conceded a meagre 25 goals, yet, a year on, they finished the season having watched the ball hit their own net an almost laughable 42 times. This term, their porous defence has seen the figure reach three times that of Bayern’s miserly record at the time of writing.

Nonetheless, squad depth cannot be recognised as the chief issue at Westfalenstadion: many believe a certain Bayern Munich is the source of Dortmund’s underachievement. Munich is unbeaten this season, winning a staggering 19 games and drawing twice. The side are in flawless form: they haven’t lost since mid December, while the last time they failed to collect all three points was in early October. Few clubs can rival the Bavarian outfit, evidently.

By this token, perhaps the sagging performances of West German side are not the fault of the aforementioned suspects, but simply the inevitable succession of the irrepressible Die Roten at the apex of the volatile Bundesliga. Injuries or not, Dortmund are powerless to halt the ‘Stars of the South’.

Conversely, I believe such a notion is somewhat defeatist. In my opinion, the primary factor in the dwindling form of Borussia Dortmund is the unrelenting exodus of key players. Since the club hit the proverbial headlines and became every hipster’s favourite team, invaluable members of the team have strolled out of the door. Despite reaching unprecedented heights since Klopp’s arrival, making shrewd acquisitions and winning the once unwinnable encounters, an array of players have decided to “move on to bigger things” as they couldn’t turn down “their dream move”.

Without slipping into the endless moaning monologue of the middle-aged fan who liked the good old days of terraces and player loyalty, such an exhibition of disloyalty typifies the modern game. The first was playmaker Nuri Sahin, once dominating the back pages in Germany, who moved to Madrid to represent Los Galacticos. After a turbulent time in the capital, the Turk endured an unimpressive loan spell in Merseyside before crawling back to Dortmund.

Some would contest that the former Bundesliga player of the season opened the floodgates, as next year; Shinji Kagawa would leave after earning the same accolade as his former Turkish teammate. The Japanese headed to the red side of Manchester. Last summer, Mario Gotze headed to arch rivals Bayern Munich, strengthening the already strapping side. Pole Robert Lewandowski is next to exit, destined to join Gotze at Bayern in an unceremonious and undignified departure.

In conclusion, I opine that Borussia Dortmund’s dip in form is almost entirely due to the fact that they have suffered an incessant stream of players leaving the club for bigger things, despite once being regarded as the biggest thing. Had the likes of Kagawa, Gotze and Sahin not left, Dortmund would be an imposing force, with no shortage of talent in reserve.

Thus, I can summarise that the source of the slump is the exodus of stars. To a lesser extent, the ineptitude of Klopp managerially, in that he has not assembled a squad with adequate depth, is a factor while I acknowledge that the ascension of Bayern Munich as the best team in Europe is a reason.

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