A Special Season?

Whether Dortmund can overtake Bayern this season and clinch the Bundesliga title is a far different question from whether the Yellow and Black will have a very special season. Bayern put together a juggernaut that may be hard for any team in Europe, including Liverpool, Manchester City, PSG or Real Madrid to slow down. The reigning Champion’s League winners started right back up where they left off in destroying hapless Schalke 8-0, sending a strong message to the league that adding one of the fastest players on the planet in Leroy Sane to an already loaded Championship Team raises the bar for even the best teams in Europe.

Still, in a year in which the World is still hobbled by a worldwide pandemic currently beginning its second tour in Europe, the lesson that anything can happen can’t be repeated too often. Injuries, hubris, complacency and luck can all play a part in a yet unknown future. And Lucien Favre and his crew will have some say in that future. Saturday went a long way in confirming that Dortmund are going to make Bayern earn that ninth consecutive title, if not snatch it away.

While Bayern feasted on a bankrupt and feeble Schalke team, who were winless in their last 16 league games and last won a league game on January 17, Dortmund faced the first power matchup of the season. Borussia Moenchengladbach finished fourth last season, and return a strong roster with the definite expectation of another top four finish. BMG somehow managed to hang onto young French stars Plea and Thuram, while adding former Salzburg star Hannes Wolff to an already solid midfield. Though BMG was more than a bit injury depleted, with Thuram and Plea recovering from injuries and Zakaria out, they were able to play Dortmund even for much of the game.

The difference between BMG and Dortmund came to primary the individual quality of the Dortmund players. BMG actually had more possession, created the first good chance, were extremely well coached and disciplined, and played evenly with Dortmund for much of the game. This BMG team will be very good this season and did nothing to make Bundesliga fans believe they will not be a tough opponent and won’t easily finish top 4 again.

But, despite having the first good scoring chance, BMG didn’t put the first opportunity past Burki, and didn’t create enough other good chances to really even make Burki sweat after that first save. Dortmund imposes far more stability than the past few seasons with three at the back. There is also a tremendous fluidity to Dortmund’s attacking structure, as Sancho, Reyna and Haaland are so comfortable interchanging any number of roles. The individual skill level of those three along with the youngster Bellingham is simply impressive, and Favre had the confidence to start two 17 year olds along with his two 20 year old stars. They even got the nod over German internationals Marco Reus and Julian Brandt. Favre, though, is known for sticking with a starting roster when things are going well, and Bellingham and Reyna impressed pre-season.

The first goal came from the American teen Gio Reyna after more than a half an hour of Dortmund looking dangerous in possession but not creating goals. Emre Can, playing as one of the three in the back, knocked one in the air into the box. Reyna initially mishit the ball in attempting to get control knocking it straight onto a defender, but the defender couldn’t get control and Bellingham did. Bellingham, then, easily slid a ball through into the path of Reyna, who was starting a short run with the defender Elvedi lunging to stay with him. Reyna fired the ball between Elvedi’s split legs and far enough out of the reach of Sommer for the quick goal. Reyna scored his first Bundesliga goal for Dortmund, and Dortmund never looked back.

Unlike past years, when Dortmund with only a one goal lead looked shaky in defense and there was the constant fear of an opponent capitalizing on one golden moment to climb back into the game, this season and this team appear far more disciplined and confident. That Dortmund would add a second or third always seemed far more likely than BMG evening up the score. Perhaps it was Plea and Thuram not being in top shape, or BMG just not moving the ball around quickly enough to really break Dortmund down, but it actually appears this team and the current roster is far more experienced and comfortable with what Favre wants to do. Especially, late when Dortmund was loaded back into their own end and playing counter-attacking football. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the game developed into 2-0 and, then, 3-0. A 1-0 or 1-1 game would, likely, have been an entirely different animal.

Dortmund shifted to a counter-attacking game early in the second half. Aside from that early opportunity, BMG’s tempo just wasn’t fast enough where it was really creating any problems for Dortmund. Eventually, Reyna broke into the box, and a take-down led to the a penalty. It was tight, but the defender was just a fraction late to make contact with the ball and caught Reyna’s right foot. Haaland beat Sommer on the penalty.

The third goal was simply a beauty, as Sancho was off on the break and covered three-quarters of the field at a full sprint after being fed the ball by Hummels. As he entered the box, Haaland had sprinted straight up the middle of the field, and Sancho lightly tapped it into his path for the all too easy nail in the coffin.

The only downside of Saturday was the early injury to Hazard. With Schulz, Guerriero and Hazard all capable of playing the left wing at a high level, one could certainly not have foreseen having to rely on Passlack to play there so early in the game. Fortunately, Passlack, who spent the past 3 seasons out on loan to Norwich, Hoffenheim and Fortuna something, was more than up to the task. While some of his passing was errant, overall he played well above average with a lot of energy, a good handle on the ball and few, if any, major mistakes. Hopefully, Passlack can continue the good play until one of Schulz or Guerriero is back, as Hazard is likely to miss more than a month.

Whether Dortmund can catch the unstoppable juggernaut that is Bayern Munich remains to be seen. This Dortmund team, though, appears to be an upgrade over the Dortmund of the past few seasons, and certainly is going to give it a shot and put on a great show.

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