I neglected to write much of anything about BVB this season, as there just simply hasn’t been much to say. Embarrassing losses to Ajax and Sporting Lisbon in the Champion’s League led to a group stage exit, an even more embarrassing loss to Holstein Kiel in the Cup bounced them, and inexplicably being outplayed by Rangers over two games left them out of the Europa tournament to boot. Unorganized, listless, uninterested, and distracted are some of the adjectives routinely used in the media coverage of the yellow and black this year, which may not be entirely fair but is far from entirely false either.
From the very start this was going to be a challenging year. Sancho and Hazard were the only true wing players on the club last season, and Sancho was sold in the offseason. In addition to failing to add a new winger to replace Sancho, the club failed to add any new players at fullback, centerback or defensive midfield despite massive needs. Alex Witsel was easily two seasons beyond any significant ability to contribute in defensive midfield, and an ancient Hummels lacked the speed to play defense at a top level. Injuries to Zagadou were a given, leaving the defense scrambling to even find bodies, often turning to modestly talented midfielders like Emre Can to fill in. Akjani also struggled with injuries at times this season and more recently has been caught looking ahead to his summer move to Manchester. With the centerback position constantly being shuffled, Guerreiro’s defensive limitations on the left were badly exposed this season.
The parade of injuries, especially in the backline, led to many desperation moves including bringing in the often injured Pongracic from Wolfsburg on loan, who has provided few if any positive moments for Dortmund.
Meunier actually improved some this season at right back and can be passable much of the time, though he is not an elite player either defensively nor in attack. And Julian Brandt shows some glimpses of his excellent passing at times, but is too often played out of position on the wing or simply tries to force too much action with far too many turnovers. He also fails to contribute anything defensively.
On the positive side, Haaland was spectacular at times. Unfortunately, he has also been limited by injuries this season, and has not fully regained his form in his recent outings. When he is healthy and in form, though, he is a generational player and a prolific scorer at a level that will not be seen again at Dortmund for a very long time. He will be missed as he travels to Madrid or Manchester this summer. The other major positive is the emergence of Bellingham as an exceptional central midfielder. Often pushed into other positions, he is still effective at times. But when given his role in central midfield and some healthy players to accompany him, he emerged as an elite midfield talent. Hopefully, Dortmund can hang on to Bellingham for another season or two as they reload.
A forward in Donyell Malen was brought in with the expectation that he might be able to play some forward and some wing, but he has played nowhere near expectations at either position. He scored just 9 goals this season, despite often being the focal point of the attack. He definitely flashed elite speed and the ability to impact games on a few occasions, but with Haaland and Reyna having missed so much of the season, he lacks much support and has struggled to consistently make an impact.
As for the manager’s seat, it is warm to say the least. The club publicly backs Marco Rose, but the fans turned on him recently and the chants at a recent game for his removal were loud and possibly well deserved. The club may understand that he was not allowed to bring in the talent he needed at key positions to compete, and the absurd level of injuries, especially at defensive positions, certainly handicapped the club, but the defense is frequently a complete shambles with players oblivious to their assignments and failing to maintain anything resembling a proper shape. Far too many fans can point to the form of the club before he took over, when they won the German Cup and 8 consecutive league games under Terzic, and wonder why Rose fields such a mess. Perhaps he will prove himself a far better coach than this season’s record over time, but the fans remain skeptical to say the least.
Of course, much of this is a bit exaggerated on my part coming off a lackluster 4-1 drubbing by Leipzig. In nearly every game there are certainly large stretches where Dortmund’s individual skill and speed are apparent, and fans are deceived into believing the club is on the verge of turning the corner. But, the defensive failings routinely undermine any competent attacking moments.
Fortunately, this season is a transition year for most of the Bundesliga clubs, as teams were simply not able to buy what they needed in the midst of the pandemic the past few seasons, and Dortmund is in good position to finish second in the league and grab a Champion’s League spot for next year. Of course, the downside is that even Sebastian Kehl admits that his job is to basically find new players for at least five positions and they will not be able to accomplish all of that in one offseason, even with Sule coming in and Dortmund making seriously offers for Adeyemi and Schlotterbeck. This problem is exponentially compounded by the expected loss of Haaland this offseason, and the fact that the club has no consistent goalscorer to play up top, and will be especially hard to find in an offseason when everyone seems to be looking for number 9s. Akjani, Can, Hazard, Schulz and Witsel will all likely be sold this summer, Pongracic returned, and possibly Brandt sold. Hummels, similarly, is likely looking at a far reduced role at the club should both Sule and Schlotterbeck be brought in.
My conclusion is that it may be tough to be a Dortmund fan for the next season or two. Simply hard to explain how the club managed to squander two seasons with a generational talent like Haaland on the roster and very little to show for it.