May 9, 2012 by Sean Charles
Thanks to a 4-0 home thrashing of Freiburg, Borussia Dortmund extended their domestic unbeaten streak to twenty eight games, their last loss in the league dates back to a 2-1 away defeat at Hannover on September 18th. They also recently claimed their second successive Bundesliga title thanks to a 2-0 home win over Champions League spot contenders Borussia Munchengladbach on April 21st. With the league sewn up, Jurgen Klopp’s boys had some history in their sights. They were on the cusp of finishing the season as the team to gather the highest ever points tally at the end of a Bundesliga season. The record they set their sights on to was one set by Bayern Munich in the 1998/99 season, in which they mustered an impressive total of 78 points.
And, with that recent win over Freiburg, Borussia Dortmund surprassed that previous record and entered themselves into the history books.
|Bayern Munich (1998/99)||34||24||6||4||76||28||48||78|
|Borussia Dortmund (2011/12)||34||25||6||3||79||25||51||81|
After BvB’s rocky start to the season, picking up only four points from their opening five games and falling eight points behind Bayern Munich, many pundits pointed at the loss of influential midfielder Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid during the summer and (what was deemed at the time) the failure to adequately replace him. The man bought in to fill his boots, İlkay Gündoğan, had a shaky start to his BvB career. As the season went on, Mats Hummels grew into the role of the deep-lying playmaker. During certain games he was playing as though he was a quarter-back, zipping long diagonal passes here, there and everywhere with stunning precision. When BvB would take the lead and the opposing team would start to press and play with a higher defensive line to chase the game, it was not uncommon to see Hummels split open the opposing back-line five or six times with passes from inside his own half. The relationship Hummels has established with his central defensive partner Neven Subotic and goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller has become the Holy Trinity of BvB’s success. Anyone in world football would be hard-pressed to find a trio of players who function so effectively together, each player complementing the other. Although Weidenfeller may not attract the praise his compatriot Manuel Neuer garners, he is nonetheless a terrific goalkeeper who undoubtedly brings a more calming influence to his defence than Neuer does.
In Borussia Dortmund’s midfield, Klopp’s own personality is characterised by Sebastien Kehl and Sven Bender. Kehl’s measured, thoughtful approach to anchoring the midfield stands in sharp contrast to Bender’s battling box-to-box mentality, covering every blade of grass and then some. Klopp himself is very animated on the touchline, oozing passion and intensity but also a tactical nous that has earned him numerous big scalps. Kehl also works neatly with Hummels as he is comfortable in the centre-back role, at times giving Hummels licence to come forward with the ball to join the attack. Throughout the season BvB have relied on various players filling the midfield positions due to either injuries or dips in form. Gundogan, a new arrival from Nurnberg, started the season unconvincingly. However, as the squad hit its stride, Gundogan himself grew into his role within the team and finally vanquished any fallacies that BvB still miss Sahin as the midfield link.
In the attacking trident behind the striker, Mario Gotze started the season strongly and was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak opening period for Borussia Dortmund. His season was severely hampered though due to a persisting injury caused by an inflamed cartilage in his hip, causing him to miss most of the second half of the season. Shinji Kagawa started the season very slowly with some pundits quickly jumping on the ‘second-season syndrome’ bandwagon. Kagawa soon put those doubts to bed, finishing this season even stronger than the last – 16 goals and 11 assists compared to last season’s 12 goals and 2 assists. Although he doesn’t get the headlines and fantasy links that Gotze and Kagawa attract, Kevin Großkreutz played a pivotal role in BvB’s success, and his value cannot be understated. Großkreutz is the quintessential tireless worker and he must be a full-back’s dream – constantly tracking back and never neglecting his defensive duties. Sides have found it so difficult to penetrate BvB’s left-hand side when Großkreutz plays as the left-midfielder because he practically folds on top of Schmelzer, the left-back, to double up on any threat that dares to trespass down that side. BvB fans will also have found re-assurances this season of the strength in depth of this area of the squad due to the strong performances of Ivan Perisic and Jakub Błaszczykowski (aka Kuba) along with fleeting glimpses of highly rated youngster Moritz Leitner.
For many, the way Borussia Dortmund’s strikers have progressed this season has been somewhat surprising. Last season, Lucas Barrios was very much the first choice centre-forward. Robert Lewandowski struggled to get any time in the centre-forward position and often had to contend himself with makeshift performances on the left-hand side of the attacking midfield three. This season however, Lewandowski has exploded, giving a scintillating return of 20 goals and 8 assists in 32 league games. Barrios on the other hand has endured a miserable season. Numerous injuries hampered his fitnes levels and Lewandowski’s red hot form meant he struggled to get any game time. Persistent rumours of him leaving Dortmund for China continue to surround the player. Lewandowski on the other hand is reportedly being closely monitored by some of the biggest clubs in Europe, with his price only expected to rise even further after the Euro 2012 Championships this summer.
Let’s not forget the crazy conductor leading this orchestra, Jurgen Klopp. When Borussia Dortmund secured the title, Klopp told journalists that only a madman would’ve predicted they could do it again after last season. His achievements over the past two years are nothing short of astounding. He keeps this relatively inexperienced side so hungry and works hard to prevent any signs of ego creeping into the picture. Klopp consistently emphasizes the importance of the collective and everyone pulling in the same direction. Despite being regularly linked with possible managerial positions at clubs such as Chelsea and Liverpool, Klopp has made it clear he has no intention of leaving Borussia Dortmund for the time being.
To summarize Borussia Dortmund’s season, here are my pick of the five key matches that characterized this success:
1) Mainz 1-2 Borussia Dortmund:
After a shock defeat at home to newly promoted Hertha Berlin, everyone expected BvB to get their season back on track with an away win at Hannover. This wasn’t the case and Borussia Dortmund fell eight points behind Bayern Munich early in the season. The next game was absolutely essential to win if they still had serous ambitions of defending their Bundesliga title. Mainz hadn’t read the script though and took the lead on the 33rd minute before Perisic pulled it back to equalize for Dortmund in the second half. It looked as though a draw would be the best they could get out of this until Pisczek struck a 89th minute winner with a very fortunate volley from outside the box and picked up their first win in three games.
2) Bayern Munich 0-1 Borussia Dortmund:
This was a very disciplined display by Klopp’s men. The sole intention here was the smash and grab. Bayern dominated possession and territory but created very little of note. Only a Mario Gotze goal separated the two sides. Mats Hummels put in one of the finest individual displays of the season in this match, impeccable from start to finish.
3) Hertha Berlin 0-1 Borussia Dortmund:
BvB weren’t at their best in this game and both sides had chances to change the scoreline. A second half Kevin Großkreutz goal was enough to walk away with all three points. As the saying goes, “it is one-nils that win you league titles.”
4) Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Bayern Munich:
Bayern Munich had to win this to revive any hope of winning the league, a BvB win would go a long way to securing the title. The game started at an incredible speed with both goalkeepers making important stops. It finally settled and looked to be heading towards a 0-0 until Lewandowski delightfully flicked in a Großkreutz shot with his heel past the helpless Neuer. The drama was not over though. On the 84th minute, Weidenfeller bought down Arjen Robben and the referee deemed it a pentalty to Bayern. Up stepped Robben who blasted it low to the goalkeeper’s left. Weidenfeller guessed right and made the save. Then came the reaction of a gutted Robben being berated by Subotiic who thought the Dutchman had dived to earn the penalty. BvB managed to see out the game at 1-0, with Lewandowski coming close to a second goal right at the death. This win extended Klopp’s superb run of domestic results against Bayern Munich since the start of the 2010/11 season, as illustrated in the table below:
Borussia Dortmund’s head-to-head record against Bayern Munich in the league since August 2010.
5) Schalke 1-2 Borussia Dortmund:
The second Revierderby of the season. Schalke took the lead early with a right-footed volley from Jefferson Farfan. Dortmund replied within minutes though thanks to Lukas Pisczek. Then, to seal the fightback, Sebastian Kehl blasted home a very scrappy goal in the second half for Borussia Dortmund to win 2-1. A very fitting moment for club captain Kehl who had enured a torrid couple of years due to injury and missed almost the entirety of BvB’s league title win the previous season. This win more or less meant that Dortmund would win the league, barring some catastrophic collapse in the last few remaining league games.
For the Borussia Dortmund fans, everything is looking rather peachy. Last season the club recorded the highest average attendance of any team in Europe, Marco Reus will be joining them in the summer and Jurgen Klopp doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere. There are some worries though as the influential Kagawa is not tied down to a long term deal and his agent supposedly hasn’t responded to BvB’s attempts to enter into negotiations with him. Losing Kagawa seems like a real possibility at the moment. The agent of Robert Lewandowski has also done nothing to quell any rumours linking his client with a move away. Lewandowski is on a long term deal though and BvB would have more power in that scenario than they have in the Kagawa one. If Kagawa does not want to sign an extension then he will have to be sold this summer or the club risk losing him for free. Whatever happens with these players, Borussia Dortmund are sitting on the edge of something special. After the disappointment of their Champions League run , they will look to make their mark in that competition next season and the acquisition of Reus, one of the best players in the Bundesliga this season, will serve only to make Klopp’s side even more formidable than they already are.