Season Preview 2014-2015: Borussia Dortmund

Nickname: die Schwarzgelben (The Black-Yellows)

Founded: 19 December 1909

Club colors: yellow and black

Primary Rivals: FC Schalke 04 (traditional) and Bayern Munich (recently),

Fan Friendship: 1.FC Köln

Trophies:

  • Domestic Champion (8): 1955-56, 1956-57, 1962-63, 1994-95, 1995-96, 2001-02, 2010-11, 2011-12.
  • DFB Cup Winner (3): 1964-65, 1988-89, 2011-12.
  • DFB/DFL Supercup (5): 1989, 1995, 1996, 2013, 2014.
  • UEFA Champions League (1): 1996-97.

Stadium: Signal Iduna Park (81,264 capacity), formerly Westfalenstadion.

2013-14 Finishes:

  • Bundesliga: 2nd
  • DFB Pokal: runner-up
  • UEFA Champions/Europa League: quarter-finals (lost to Real Madrid 2-3 on aggregate)

Top Goal Scorer: Robert Lewandowski (28 goals in all competitions)

2013-14 Season Summary

Club Reputation

Borussia Dortmund has become known not only as one of Germany’s most attractive clubs, but also one of the world’s most attractive clubs, thanks to die Schwarzgelben‘s easy-on-eyes system of high-pressing, ceaseless ball pressure, and inter-lacing passing and running through the opponent’s box. This style owes everything to the charismatic, yet shrewd coaching of Jürgen Klopp, whose philosophy requires stamina, discipline, and collective intelligence of the highest order from his players. The whole effect is exciting, as BVB almost never play a boring match.

Reality

Much of the above paragraph is actually true – BVB deserves its hard-earned reputation as an attractive football club. And, yes Klopp’s boys play in a breathless gegen-pressing system. However, this aggressive system sometimes leaves Dortmund open to counter-attacks (the club doesn’t keep many clean sheets). Furthermore, BVB was devastated by injuries last season, as almost every position was impacted multiple times (at one point, the entire starting backline was out). These injuries prevented BVB from even dreaming of catching up with Bayern’s torrid pace last season. Moreover, BVB lost its top goal-scorer from the past two seasons, Robert Lewandowski, to hated rival Bayern Munich. Do not fear! Just about everybody, except midfielder Ilkay Gündogan (he’s training again, at least!), has recovered from injuries. The squad is healthy. And deeper than ever. Despite the loss of Lewandowski, Klopp hasn’t had this much depth before at Dortmund for mounting a challenge in all three competitions (Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, and Champions League). Dortmund is a serious title contender this season.

Philosophy

As I’ve already suggested, Dortmund play an attractive game of high pressure (“gegen-pressing”), in which the goal is to win back possession as soon as it’s lost. They execute this plan in a dynamic 4-2-3-1 formation in which the attacking midfielders (e.g. Marco Reus) and the forward are required to intelligently hunt down the ball. The holding midfielders, Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin, are indefatigable box-to-box runners; the former being incredibly effective at breaking up play, while the latter is an aerial/through ball play-maker. The back four is anchored by four excellent options at fullbacks: Lukasz Piszczek, Kevin Großkreutz, Erik Durm, and Marcel Schmelzer – all four are manifestly contemporary fullbacks in their versatile functions. The centerbacks, Mats Hummels and Nevan Subotic – among the finest pairings in the world – are not only world-class defenders, but also capable of penetrating deep into the midfield and distributing the ball. Oh, and the keeper, Roman Weidenfeller, is a current die Nationalmannschaft regular. Not bad. Thanks to relative squad continuity and this group plays football like an organism on amphetamines.

Plan B

Been there, done that. In fact, much of last season was “Plan B” for BVB, because of all the injuries, as the midfield and back four were totally remade. For Klopp’s boys, Plan B is simply slotting new players into the system and training the hell out of the unit. How else would the club survive his best players (Sahin, Kawaga, Götze, and Lewandowski) constantly getting picked off by Europe’s super rich clubs? This phenomenon sparks debate about the extent to which BVB is a simply well-oiled machine with replaceable parts. With the loss of Lewandowski, this debate looms larger than ever. If a “Plan B” will be needed for BVB, I imagine it will involve Klopp switching to a 4-4-2 formation to accommodate two scorers on top in Lewa’s absence.

Strengths and Weaknesses

For strengths, let’s start with depth. BVB has an entire starting XI on the bench that could – by itself – compete for a Europe slot in the Bundesliga: Sokratis, Matthias Ginter, Erik Durm, Kevin Großkreutz, Sebastian Kehl, Oliver Kirch, Milos Jojic, Jakub Blazczykowski, Jonas Hofmann, and South Korean Dong-Won Ji. Don’t forget about the existing talent + new signings already competing for starting attacking midfield slots: Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Adrian Ramos, and Ciro Immobile. Next, this squad always seems to wholeheartedly buy into Klopp’s system, which requires hard work and intense bursts of running. They are a committed bunch. On the other the hand, weaknesses appear (still!) to be transition defense, which sometimes gets exposed due to over-commitment in the pressing game. Furthermore, despite all the depth, we still don’t know if the quantity of attacking options replaces the consummate quality of Robert Lewandowski’s goal-scoring acumen. A big question, indeed.

Takeaway from 2013-14

BVB learned how to play its signature pressing game while weathering boatloads of injuries. We also learned that Marco Reus is probably the best player in the Bundesliga. We also learned about Kevin Großkreutz‘s ability to do anything on a pitch.

Trivia

Borussia Dortmund’s home matches have the highest home attendance average (80,000+) in the entire world.

Verdict

After Bayern’s back-to-back titles from 2012-13 to 2013-14, Dortmund are back to seriously challenge Bayern for the title this season. Winning at least 1 of the 3 big trophies up for grabs is very realistic result for Dortmund. This team will be fantastic.  

The Boss

Jürgen Klopp is one of the most beloved and most popular coaches in all of football – not to mention one of the most highly demanded. Klopp’s tactical system and 4-2-3-1 formation are among the most distinctive strategies in football. And Klopp is certain the Bundesliga’s leader for bear hugs and fist-pumping-back-straining-celebratory jumps.

Odds to win league:

13/2 (according to Ladbrokes.com)

“60-second dossier”

  • Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals: 13
  • Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 9
  • Number of Matches drawn: 5
  • Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 4
  • Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 3
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in loss: 2
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in draw: 2
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 2
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 4

Top Scorers in 2013-14 (in all competitions):

  1. Robert Lewandowski (28 goals)
  2. Marco Reus (23 goals)
  3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (16)
  4. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (13)

Five-Year Record: 5th (2009-10), 1st (2010-11), 1st (2011-12), 2nd (2012-13), 2nd (2013-14).

Q & A with a club fan: Stefan Buczko (@bvbawesome)

  • Which player should we watch out for? I have a feeling Henrikh Mkhitaryan will run the show this season. He will step up.

  • Who is the terrace favorite? Going by the BVB family fest, it is a close tie between Mats Hummels and Marco Reus

  • Player you’d happily drive to another club? None. So far they are all needed and welcome

  • Any advice you’d give your manager? Who am I to give Klopp advice? But a few earlier substitutions wouldn’t hurt from time to time.

  • Opposition player you secretly admire? Thomas Müller, but that isn’t really a secret.

  • Opposition player you despise? Franck Ribéry without a doubt. Good player, but not a nice player on the pitch.

  • Where will you finish this season? Second, at least… I hope.

  • After Lewandowski’s departure, who will score the goals? Reus, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Immobile, Ramos, Ji, Hofmann, Kuba…. you get the idea.

Fixture list:

Hinrunde:

  • 23.08 Leverkusen (H)
  • 29.08 FC Augsburg (A)
  • 13.09 SC Freiburg (H)
  • 20.09 Mainz 05 (A)
  • 24.09 VfB Stuttgart (H)
  • 27.09 Schalke 04 (A)
  • 04.10 Hamburg SV (H)
  • 18.10 FC Köln (A)
  • 25.10 Hannover 96 (H)
  • 01.11 Bayern (A)
  • 08.11 Mönchengladbach (H)
  • 22.11 Paderborn 07 (A)
  • 29.11 Eintracht Frankfurt (A)
  • 06.12 Hoffenheim (H)
  • 13.12 Hertha Berlin (A)
  • 17.12 VfL Wolfsburg (H)
  • 20.12 Werder Bremen (A)

Rückrunde:

  • 31.01 Leverkusen (A)
  • 04.02 FC Augsburg (H)
  • 07.02 SC Freiburg (A)
  • 14.02 Mainz 05 (H)
  • 21.02 VfB Stuttgart (A)
  • 28.02 Schalke 04 (H)
  • 07.03 Hamburg SV (A)
  • 14.03 FC Köln (H)
  • 21.03 Hannover 96 (A)
  • 04.04 Bayern (H)
  • 11.04 Möngladbach (A)
  • 18.04 Paderborn 07 (H)
  • 25.04 Eintracht Frankfurt (H)
  • 02.05 Hoffenheim (A)
  • 09.05 Hertha Berlin (H)
  • 16.05 VfL Wolfsburg (A)
  • 23.05 Werder Bremen (H)

Crucial Schedule Stretch:

It’s pretty simple: in both the Rückrunde and Hinrunde, Dortmund have back-to-back matches against Bayern and Gladbach. Also, the Hinrunde back-to-back will occur during Champions League season craziness, should Dortmund still be in the competition. At least matches against Hannover and Paderborn book end these tough back-to-backs. Otherwise, Dortmund’s schedule is relatively balanced in spreading out tough and easier opponents.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and sports are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Howler magazine, 11Freunde, America Magazine, The Short Pass, Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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