If you take a look at the betting markets every time a top club sacks their manager, there is one name you can guarantee will be among the favourites to take over. Jurgen Klopp has been building his reputation over the past five or so years, combining his excellent managerial abilities with his enigmatic and entertaining off the pitch persona, making him a favourite for most football fans around the world. The 47-year-old has gained legendary status with the fans of Borussia Dortmund, having guided the side to back to back Bundesliga titles in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons. He has also gained their affection having never been shy of airing his views on rivals Bayern Munich. Yet, now for the first time in his Dortmund tenure, Klopp may be feeling some pressure.
Dortmund have started the season in disappointing fashion. While their Champions League form has so far been imperious, they have been poor on the domestic front, currently sitting in 13th place on just seven points after as many games. While pre season previews had them rivalling Bayern for the title, the reality is that they are much closer to the bottom three, sitting two points ahead of 16th place Stuttgart, and already an unassailable looking ten points behind Bayern. It could be argued that with the exception of a couple of results, Dortmund have been on a downward spiral ever since the ninth second of their season opener.
While it remains early days in the campaign, everyone at the club will be concerned about the team’s start to the season. Die Schwarzgelben last tasted a league victory over a month ago and are yet to keep a clean sheet all season. Recent statistics also revealed that their efficiency in front of goal is also very low, having had just 39 shots on target, despite taking 127 shots in total. While Adrian Ramos has taken to life at Dortmund relatively quickly, fellow new signing Ciro Immobile has taken longer to settle in. The case study of the Italian provides a good example to symbolise the side’s start to the campaign. In the league he has found the net once in six league games, while in Europe it has been a different story, scoring twice in two matches.
There are three main reasons why Dortmund have struggled so far. The first is the aforementioned efficiency in front of goal. Dortmund have completely dominated possession in the large majority of their games so far this season, yet the ‘shots on target’ statistic above illustrates that while they are having a lot of the ball, they are not doing much with it, and they are certainly not finding the net enough. This much was clear even in a game where the team performed exceedingly well. While they were very impressive in defeating Arsenal, the 2-0 margin of victory was not a scoreline that reflected just how dominant Dortmund were. In truth had players not wasted chance after chance, the German side could easily have delivered a real hiding to their English opponents.
Additionally Dortmund have looked ropey at the back, and the fact that they are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league tells you all you need to know. Last year Dortmund conceded just over a goal a game, now they are letting in on average nearly double that. This statistic is all the more worrying when it is considered that four of their seven games have been against sides in the bottom eight.
The third and arguably most important factor behind their struggles though has been the large number of injuries they have suffered. In the opening seven games Dortmund have at one point or another been without the likes of Mats Hummels, Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ilkay Gundogan and Nuri Sahin. In that group alone there is a possible first choice midfield, while the absence of Hummels, Reus and Gundogan has hit the team particularly hard. The loss of Hummels, so crucial to Germany’s summer success, has left the team without their first choice centre back, but also inspiration and leadership. Reus meanwhile is rapidly becoming one of the most sought after players in Europe and his creativity and innovation in midfield has been sorely missed. With him on the pitch there is no doubting that Dortmund’s accuracy in front of goal would be much better. It is also plausible to suggest that the likes of Immobile would be faring much better with the creative spark of Reus behind them.
Recently, an excellent article was written about Ilkay Gundogan’s influence on Dortmund, highlighting just how much he has been missed and so there is not much need here to go into too much depth about what his long absence has cost Klopp’s team . But it is no surprise that in the year he has been out injured Dortmund have not scaled the heights that they had with him in the team.
The international break will have come as a relief and welcome break for Klopp and Dortmund. It has allowed the manager the time to return refreshed and full of new ideas for when Dortmund take to the pitch on Saturday against FC Koln. It has also given those players out injured the chance to return to fitness. Dortmund fans will have been delighted to see the return of a number of stars in a friendly victory on Tuesday. They will have been greatly encouraged to see Reus and Gundogan back in action, while the returns of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Sebastian Kehl will also be welcomed. The problem for Klopp and Dortmund has not just been the injuries to first team players, but also to their replacements, often resulting in players not fully fit still starting in games. The international break has allowed those players to return to fitness and now injuries can no longer be a reason for any possible struggles the team may experience.
Klopp recently made two interesting comments, both in the aftermath of defeats. After the loss against Hamburg he was quoted as saying “Today is October 4 and this is rock bottom, and the starting point for the remainder of the season.” Just a week earlier, after the derby defeat to Schalke he had announced “We will go home now and have a crap evening. But believe me. We are coming. It may take a moment longer but we are coming.” There is certainly an air of prophecy in both quotes. One wonders whether Klopp was acknowledging the injury woes Dortmund were suffering at the time, while simultaneously recognising that the woes were coming to an end, with players returning to fitness. With the international break allowing recovery time, injuries can no longer be a factor. As Klopp has recognised, the season starts now. Dortmund are coming.
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