Back from the ashes: Borussia Dortmund are right where they belong
Image under the license of Creative Commons. Flickr/Jim Larrison.
It took them a few years and a disappointing 2017-18 season, but it seems Borussia Dortmund are back not only in the Bundesliga’s upper echelon but Europe's top tier as well. Quite frankly, it's a place they should have never left. But how did this happen? How did the German giants go from being nothing more than average, by their standards, to looking dominant in only a few months?
Let’s start analysing all the changes within the club over the past 18 months because we need to go back to last season to determine the fall, and subsequent rise, of BVB.
Before the start of the 2017-18 campaign, Dortmund appointed Peter Bosz to replace Thomas Tuchel. The Dutch manager was coming off an impressive stint with Ajax, reaching the UEFA Europa League final in the 2016-17 campaign, but he couldn’t replicate that success and only lasted six months in the role. Bosz was fired during an eight-game winless run in the Bundesliga while also getting eliminated in the UEFA Champions League’s Group Stage.
Peter Stöger replaced Bosz during the season’s second half and while there was a marked improvement, it wasn’t enough to turn the season around. They were eliminated in the UEFA Europa League’s quarter-finals, but at least they ended the Bundesliga in the Top 4, clinching a spot in this year’s Champions League as a result.
Dortmund needed a change and appointed Lucien Favre before this term got underway. Even though we're not even a third of the way into the campaign, there is no question Dortmund look like a completely different team from the one that used to struggle a few months ago. Through the first nine games in the Bundesliga, Dortmund remains undefeated (W6, D3) and topping the standings, while also winning their first three Champions League’s Group Stage matches.
Favre has not done anything out of this world when it comes to tactics, since he’s maintaining the 4-2-3-1 tactical system that used to exit under Bosz’s and Stöger’s periods. However, there are some noticeable changes, while new players have been enjoying new roles. Jadon Sancho has emerged as a first-team player, Raphael Guerreiro is now playing as a winger, and some new signings – such as Achraf Hakimi and Axel Witsel – have been playing better than expected.
Speaking about new signings, one player that MUST be mentioned is Paco Alcácer. The Spanish striker has filled the void left by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Michy Batshuayi, and he has been a core piece of the team’s successes during the current term. Through five games across all competitions, the former Barcelona striker has eight goals in just five matches. That’s not a typo, but it's also not sustainable, which leads us to...
How do they keep this run going? This seems to be the biggest question for Dortmund, because this is not the first time the club has lived through this kind of period. It already happened a few years ago, when the squad led by Robert Lewandowski, Ilkay Gündogan and a younger, healthier Mario Götze carried them all the way to the UEFA Champions League final.
We don’t know if this Dortmund team can reach the same heights, but they certainly have the potential to do so, especially if we consider that the squad’s core is either very young, or years away from reaching their peak. But the best thing Dortmund fans can do is to sit back and enjoy the ride. We don’t know how long it might last, but it’s certainly a situation everyone involving the club should simply enjoy.