Just less than a month ago, after suffering a 1-0 defeat to FC Augsburg – courtesy of Raúl Bobadilla’s second-half winner – Borussia Dortmund sat bottom of the Bundesliga table, licking their wounds. Critics were calling it a crisis, the players looked devastated despite the relentless positive comments being voiced from manager Jurgen Klopp, and the Champions League places seemed a mere pipe-dream.
Despite the knee-jerk reactions – and even some ridiculous suggestions of a relegation battle from some corners – there had been signs throughout Dortmund’s difficult patch that they would weather the storm. In particular: their form in Europe. Die Schwarzgelben blitzed through Group D, winning four of their games while drawing and losing one (their only loss coming in a dead rubber against Arsenal in their penultimate game of the Champions League group stages). Strangely, it was not Europe’s toughest competition that was causing them problems, but Germany’s tough top flight.
Sure enough, Klopp’s side have turned a corner, winning their last four Bundesliga games. Alongside champions Bayern Munich and their nearest rivals, the highly-entertaining Wolfsburg, over the past month they have had the best Bundesliga form. Encouragingly, they have scored 13 goals in those four fixtures – dispatching SC Freiburg (0-3), Mainz 05 (4-2) and VfB Stuttgart (2-3) in the process.
More importantly though, was last weekend’s 3-0 demolition job over Schalke 04 in the Revierderby last weekend. Dortmund finally looked back to their best and if it wasn’t for Schalke’s defence – and goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther – the deadlock would have been broken much earlier, as Klopp’s side looked like they were set to rue a number of missed chances.
To much relief from the Dortmund fans inside the Signal Iduna Park, eventually their relentless pressure paid dividends as they found the net on 78 minutes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the man who opened the scoring, after the Schalke defence failed to deal with a long ball forward. For some bizarre reason, out came a batman mask – Marco Reus proving to be his partner in crime, Robin.
Moments later the fans had something else to cheer, and the stadium erupted as Henrikh Mkhitaryan poked in a Güdogan cross – finally ending his long drought in front of goal. Reus, so often Dortmund’s saviour this season, topped the game off with a tap-in after a mistake from Wellenreuther to send the fans into raptures.
Dortmund are now tenth, and eyeing up the Champions League places, just eight points adrift. It is both indicative of how tight the Bundesliga is this season – its competitive nature throwing up many strange results – and highlights the problem with making knee-jerk decisions in the middle of the season. Klopp’s Dortmund have rallied as the unit they are, and are now looking forward to further successes.
A tough first leg in their Champions League last 16 game against Juventus ended in a 2-1 defeat, but do not be surprised to see them qualify with a solid home performance next time out. Meanwhile, the DFB Pokal awaits, with a game against Dynamo Dresden on Tuesday night.
Die Schwarzgelben have picked themselves up and now once more look like the force they one were. Teams in the Bundesliga and in Europe will be sure to watch their backs.