The series of exceptionally poor performances against Bayern, Paderborn and Barcelona appeared to be the end of the Lucien Favre era at Borussia Dortmund. The club was unable to stop hemorrhaging goals and there was absolutely no threat of scoring against Bayern or Barcelona. As much as the administration and players preferred to stand behind Favre, the team was just simply spinning out of his control with little hope of turning it around. Lucien Favre was well into his ninth life at Dortmund and running out of breath.
But, no other team was running away with the league, as Moenchengladbach remained on top but was prone to sputter, and Bayern only recently looked formidable. Similarly, with a good showing at home against Prague, Dortmund still had a chance of advancing out of the group stage of the Champion’s League.
Whether it was due to injuries to Delaney and Alcacer or some serious club self-analysis, Favre saw Berlin as the opportunity to reinvent the club, install new tactics, and find a way to get all of his attacking players involved. Berlin was in exceptionally poor form and recently fired Ante Covic, bringing in former German and American national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann to manage the club. The primary change came in the offensive tactics where Favre shifted away from the familiarity of the club with the 4-2-3-1 and moved to a 3-4-3. Defensively they fall back into more of a 4-4-2 with fairly tight lines of 4 at the back. The team would also be looking to exercise more possession in the 3-4-3 with more short passes, and more combinations. And the 3-4-3 got Brandt, Witsel, Reus, Hazard, Sancho and Hakimi all on the field at the same time and all in an attacking system.
Whether it was the change in tactics or Berlin’s own adjustment to its new manager, Dortmund was on top of Berlin early. Brandt, who is very familiar with his deeper role in the 3-4-3, having played in a deeper midfield role for the prior season at Leverkusen, successfully dissected the Berlin D, finding Sancho for the first goal. Shortly, thereafter, Hakimi was flying up the right with his phenomenal speed and slid one inside for Thorgan Hazard to finish. Dardai stole one back for Berlin in the first half, but it looked like Dortmund was just warming up. Shockingly, though, Hummels rightfully received his second yellow in the first half, and Dortmund would have to shift into survival mode down a man with an entire half to play. Dortmund survived, but it was ugly with Dortmund simply fighting to hang on for the entire second half.
Coming home for the Dusseldorf game, then, there was still incredible apprehension surrounding the current status of the club. Was management making a mistake giving Favre more time? Could Dortmund still turn it around this season? Or were Dortmund teetering on the brink of collapse? Would playing well against a Fortuna club that isn’t a shadow of being as consistent as it was last season even mean anything other than not falling any further behind?
Doubtful this match provided many answers from an academic perspective, but emotionally for the players and fans it certainly signaled a turning point in the season. It started with all of the pomp surrounding Dortmund’s 110th birthday as a club. To commemorate the occasion, Dortmund introduced a new, all black uniform that was so popular with the players and especially the fans that it sold out completely in less than half an hour. The team fed off the emotion of the occasion and just simply demolished Dusseldorf. While it took nearly a half before Dortmund would find the goal, Dortmund dominated possession and was creating chances from the start. Steffen did everything that he could to turn back Reus and company, but there was no question from very early in this game that eventually with time Dortmund was simply going to destroy Dusseldorf.
The first goal was magnificent. Brandt, turning on the ball to feed a perfect pass to Piszcek, who slotted a perfect through-ball to Reus. Reus with the easy finish as Dusseldorf believed they set a perfect offsides trap, but Reus timed it to perfection. Even though it was only 1-0 at the half, Dortmund was easily in control. In the second half, Dortmund simply ripped the Dusseldorf defense apart at will. Sancho pushed out of the Dusseldorf end with the ball and fed Hazard. Hazard simply sprinted the rest of the field, ran straight at goal and finished. Sancho and Reus, then, combined for a beauty as Sancho passed out to Reus who ran deep and just on the left side of goal and tapped it back to Sancho for the finish. Hazard, then, raced up the right side of goal and slid one across near the goal for Reus to finish. And, finally, Hakimi raced up the right and slid one back on the way for Sancho to finish. Dortmund simply made it look too easy.
Reus and Sancho both with extraordinary performances with 2 goals each, and Sancho with 2 assists as well. Sancho scored in his fourth consecutive game. Hazard scored a goal and added two assists. Brandt may not show up, as the others did with a goal, but his performance in the past two games is without question one of the primary reasons the club is on a two game winning streak. Favre has finally found away to start Brandt and put him in positions where he is most effective.
Now Prague comes to town and Dortmund has the opportunity to possibly advance out of the Champion’s League group stage. They are even on points with Inter, who host Barcelona. Barcelona, though, has already won the group. Dortmund trails Inter bye a goal differential of 3. This would seem to make it unlikely that Dortmund will advance, but should some Barcelona subs and youngsters feel inspired, or should Dortmund put a serious beatdown on Prague, it is possible.
Even if they come up short in the Champion’s League, though, a good showing against Prague will only bolster the confidence the club is currently feeling after 2 consecutive wins in the league and some reorganization that so far seems to have the right combinations on the field performing in an effective way. There are three league games remaining before the winter break, Dortmund is only 5 points in back of the other Borussia, and they are away at Leipzig on the 17th in a significant match for both clubs. Dortmund fans are cautious yet hopeful this four game stretch before the winter break will be the turnaround the club needs to climb right back into contention for meeting their goals this season.