Eliminated from the quarterfinals of the Champion’s League and struggling at times in the league, such as poor showings against Cologne and Frankfurt, Dortmund fans were losing hope.
The club, though, are still alive in the Cup, but the club needs Champion’s League qualification or there will likely be many substantial changes in the roster with young stars moving on and the club jettisoning salaries. While Bayern will ultimately win the title this year for the umpteen millionth time in league history, the war for Champion’s League spots and the battle at the bottom is what can make a Bundesliga season great and this year is no exception. Mathematically there are still possibilities of a team catching Leipzig (playing as I write this), or Leverkusen somehow grabbing a Champion’s League spot, though those outcomes are remote and very highly unlikely. As it stands now, Dortmund is just 1 point behind Frankfurt and two points behind Wolfsburg with 3 games left to play.
The war is on. Dortmund has won 4 straight since its disappointing loss to Frankfurt. And Moenchengladbach and Leverkusen, fortunately, shredded Frankfurt’s defense recently to keep it close. Despite the easiest schedule (Mainz, Schalke, Freiburg) and a potent offense with Silva and Jovic, Frankfurt is one of the less predictable teams in the league. They have some impressive performances but inexplicable losses, like Bremen, and draws, like Stuttgart, as well. It doesn’t help that Sporting Director Fredi Bobic and Manager Adi Hutter already bailed on next season, with Bobic taking over control of Hertha and Hutter replacing Rose as BMG’s manager. And it also doesn’t help that Mainz and Freiburg are two teams that are more than capable of springing upsets despite their lackluster season, as Mainz showed with their 2-1 win over Bayern Munich on Saturday. More than likely, and then some, Frankfurt will coast to three wins, but they best be prepared for battle as Mainz and Freiburg won’t simply hand them the W (Schalke will-they are a disaster).
Wolfsburg has a tough road with Union, Leipzig and Mainz. Union Berlin has for the past two years been the surprise package in the Bundesliga. They lack the high end talent of the clubs fighting for European spots, but somehow fight their way in there. Union played them to a draw in January, Union are a bizarre collection of castoffs from other teams and leagues that somehow, magically, find a way to frustrate the heck out of nearly everyone in the Bundesliga.
The loss this weekend to Dortmund was a huge blow for Wolfsburg. Had they won, they would have been 8 points clear of Dortmund with only three games left to play (9 points potential). That could have been a nice cushion. Dortmund, though, just had superior individual talent and Wolfsburg made the more costly mistakes. Baku’s backpass to Brooks missed him by a mile, and there is nothing any team can do when Haaland pounces on a loose ball. He hit hyperspeed in an instant and neither Brooks nor LeCroix was going to catch him. One on one with the goaltender-goal Haaland. Casteels, though, came up with some great saves, as did Max Arnold with his header off the line of an excellent Akjani header from a corner. Wolfsburg had slightly more possession, and created twice as many chances as Dortmund, but they weren’t quality on goal chances and they couldn’t get their star Weghorst involved. Dortmund’s chances, conversely, required great saves.
Of course, Dortmund’s defense and midfield were all over the place. Can did an excellent job on Weghorst at times, and kept him out of the scoresheet, but there were plenty of “what the heck was that” moments. Such as late in the game, when Can sent a backpass six feet out of bounds (seriously Emre-what was that?) or early in the game when the always controversial Octavio was just simply left wide open in the box. What should have been an opening goal for Wolfsburg was fortunately taken by the a player least likely to hit it straight, and from a Dortmund perspective-he didn’t disappoint. With his errant shots and untimely bans, Octavio is far from a favorite in Wolfsburg.
And, of course, the whopper of bonehead moves in this game for Dortmund was committed by Bellingham, who managed to get himself sent off with his second yellow in just 58 minutes. Somehow, this Dortmund defense with Emre Can starting for the suspended Hummels, and 35 year old Piszczek reclaiming the starting right back spot as his career winds down with just three games left before his retirement, managed to keep a clean sheet. Credit to them, as it wasn’t easy and involved plenty of poorly taken shots by Wolfsburg. Yet, even shorthanded for over 30 minutes, Dortmund was the far more dangerous team.
The second goal came when Dortmund was shorthanded. Dahoud, who has played so well this season, jumped a telegraphed Brooks attempt to pass into the box. Haaland saw what was happening and perfectly timed a run, knowing that Dahoud was going to launch him. Dahoud stepped in front of the telegraphed pass, and launched a long ball through Wolfsburg’s backline, where the entire Wolfsburg team was in the Dortmund 1/3 pushing for that goal to even the game, and Haaland was off to the races. Dortmund 2-0 on the counter and it was over. If anything, Dortmund might have grabbed a third, as Wolfsburg just lacked the creativity to give Dortmund any type of scare at all as time ran out.
Wolfsburg is the team that Dortmund fans are the most hopeful of surpassing. A tough game against Leipzig, and a battle with Union, and, then, the enigma that is Mainz. Mainz have gone from a sure bet to get relegated this season, flirting with the relegation zone much of the season, to winning three straight including that Bayern win this weekend. Credit to Bo Svensson, as they were able to turn their season around.
Dortmund don’t have an easy schedule, but the return of Sancho will hopefully make them that much more lethal in front of goal, especially with a healthy Hazard and Reyna getting back into form. They need Haaland to stay hot, and, then, they have a shot against anyone. Kiel in the Cup, and, then, Leipzig at the weekend.
Leipzig will be the test, if they can grab the 3 points from Leipzig, which is possible given that the League title is out of reach for Leipzig and Leipzig’s Champion’s League position is fairly safe. Leipzig won’t roll over, but they also won’t have the same level of motivation as Dortmund, who are going to fight hard for that Champion’s League spot. They will have to be careful with Mainz, and then play local rival Leverkusen for bragging rights. Dortmund have won 4 straight in the league, but they need to turn it up a notch on the offensive end with the return of Sancho. The defense is simply not reliable enough to expect any more clean sheets, they need to score goals, goals and more goals.