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Digital Dortmund: Chapter Three

A thrilling title chase

Borussia Dortmund Bus Explosion Injures One Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Where we last left off, Dortmund were a point off Bayern Munich for the top spot in the Bundesliga, had advanced to the quarterfinals of the DFB-Pokal, and breezed through to the knockout stage of the Europa League with ease.

Clearly, Marcelino has everyone on this team fired up and wanting to play at their highest abilities and in the right place with the right tactic, as evidence by his (on a scale of 1-20) 14-rated man management, 13-rated motivation, and 16-rated tactical knowledge. What’s weird is that he’s not too different from old manager Peter Bosz (15 man managing, 11 motivation, 13 tactical knowledge), but it appears that the differences in tactical knowledge and motivation make all the difference. It also could be that Marcelino is a better defensive manager that Bosz, with Dortmund’s goal differential of 23 (31 GS, 8 GA) in the first half of 2018-19 compared to their differential of 15 (34 GS, 19 GA) at the same point last season.

However, championships aren’t won in the first half of the season (unless you’re Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, or PSG), so let’s get going with the Ruckründe!

Winter Transfers

The winter break was upon Dortmund and a few of their players were looking to cash in on their excellent fall performances. Leander Dendoncker, who appeared in 21 games and scored three goals and five assists with an average rating of 6.91, moved to Sporting CP of Portugal for $12.5 million up front with the possibility for the price to go up to $16.7 million. Dortmund also moved on from Erik Durm, who hadn’t been seeing much time in the starting line-up with the addition of Bernat. And even when he had been playing, he was less than impressive (four games, 6.61 average rating), so he was sold to Hoffenheim for only $3.5 million, a massive discount considering he played 26 games and finished with a 6.89 average rating for Celtic last season. Jadon Sancho, who made only a few appearances in early cup matches and later Europa League matches and scored two goals total with one assist, was loaned out to Premier League midtable side Bournemouth for the rest of the season.

With Durm on the outs, Dortmund needed a solid back-up option to Bernat. And Marcelino found his man in Juventus left back Leonardo Spinazzola. Spinazzola, who is currently on loan at Atalanta in real life, came over to be the rotational left back and a back-up left midfielder for Dortmund in Football Manager for $11 million.

After a loss of $5 million in the winter period, it looks like Dortmund are $3 million in the red. Considering what the team lost through the previous season’s transfers, I think I speak for everyone when I say I’d take it.

Ruckründe

With the winter break concluding after a 1-0 friendly win over Feyenoord (managed by Peter Bosz, no less), Dortmund started off the winter season with four points in January. A 4-0 dismantling of Schalke, with a second half brace by Alexander Isak leading the way against Die Königsblauen was followed up with 1-1 draw against Hoffenheim. After playing the whole 2017-18 season for Dortmund II and making the most of his starts in preseason, Isak is finally starting to develop into a capable attacking player for BVB. He scored his first goal for the club in a hat-trick against Balingen, and his first league goals against Wolfsburg in December. With Marcelino favoring the two-striker system, I would expect big things from our young Swede as fixture congestion certainly becomes prevalent.

Isak would continue to score with three goals in the next three games, helping Dortmund pick up two wins against Hamburg (4-0) and Bielefeld in the Pokal (3-1) and a draw against RB Leipzig (2-2). Unfortunately, it was Bayern Munich who once again put a hurting on the boys as they banged in three consecutive goals to cancel out a Marc Bartra (yep, he’s still here) goal and won 3-1 over BVB.

So that makes two bad losses to the league-leading team, and a bitter rival with your club’s best manager leading them to boot. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially in a tight title chase. But Dortmund took out their frustrations on Braga twice and Freiburg in three straight wins. BVB won 4-0 on aggregate over Braga, winning both legs 2-0, while they easily beat Freiburg 2-0 to keep themselves close to Bayern should the Bavarians slip up.

A shocking 2-0 defeat to Hertha Berlin got Dortmund off on the wrong foot to start March, and they were given another tough blow when they were drawn against AS Roma in the Europa League Round of 16. Following a 2-0 win over Gladbach, Dortmund drew at home to Roma with a second half Radja Nainggolan strike to cancel out Guido Carrillo’s goal in the fourth minute. Considering Dortmund went down to ten men following Sokratis’ sending off for a straight red in the 61st minute, I would be ok with the result moving forward against a tough yet underperforming Italian side (they were just outside the Europa League spot in Serie A).

Dortmund looked like they were more focused for their away leg against Roma instead of their next opponent, and it showed when they went down 2-0 in the first half against Frankfurt. Luckily, Marcelino inspired the troops because they came out storming in the second half. Goals by Pulisic, Isak, and Aubamayeng powered Dortmund to a 3-2 comeback win. The Black and Yellows used that positive momentum to shut out Roma in a 3-0 win with goals by Carrillo, Schürrle and Kruse. Inter Milan would be their next Europa League opponent, as I guess the Soccer Gods wanted Dortmund to have as tough a run the Europa League final in Azerbaijan as possible.

Despite wins over Leverkusen (3-1), Bielefeld (3-0), and Wolfsburg (1-0), Dortmund remained two points behind Bayern with five games to go in the Bundesliga season. With a schedule remaining of Köln, Heidenheim, Stuttgard, Mainz, and Bremen for Dortmund (compared to Hoffenheim, Schalke, Hamburg, Leipzig, and a Leverkusen for Bayern), it doesn’t look that far out of question for Dortmund to overtake Bayern and hoist their first Deutsche Meisterschale since 2011-12.

Once again, Dortmund got off on the wrong foot in their Europa League draw against Inter Milan following a 2-0 win over Köln. In a back-and-forth first half, Bernard and John Guidetti to score in late off of counter attacks. Milan controlled the rest of the match and it looked like it was a clean sheet for Samir Handanovic, but Kruse saved Dortmund’s bacon in stoppage time and gave them an important away goal in a 2-1 loss. Going back home chasing two goals with none for themselves would be all the more difficult against an Inter Milan sitting second in Serie A despite being out of the competition for the Scudetto.

After an easy 4-0 win against bottom-feeder Heidenheim, Dortmund hosted Inter in the home leg needing at least one goal to advance in the continental competition. It started off poorly for BVB, with I Nerazzurri getting an away goal of their own from Guidetti twelve minutes into the match, so that was bad. But Yarmolenko pulled Dortmund back with a goal not too long after before Christian Pulisic evened the aggregate score after finishing off a through-ball from Marco Reus, so that was good! Dortmund dominated their Italian competition in the second half, winning possession 60-40 and taking ten shots to Inter’s two. With Dortmund attacking into the South Stand, Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng scored his eleventh goal of the competition in the 82nd minute to pull them ahead on aggregate in a dramatic penalty opportunity. The club bunkered down for the remaining time and saw out the 4-3 win to see themselves through to the next round, where they drew Liverpool in the semis.

Following a dull 2-1 win over Köln, Dortmund faced off at home against Stuttgart in the Pokal Semi-Final. Unfortunately, a Marcel Schmelzer goal in the 29th minute was cancelled out by a late Terrence Boyd goal to send the match to extra time. Dortmund thought they found the winner when Reus pounced on a rebound, but he was ruled offside. Eventually the match went to penalties, but it was Stuttgart who emerged victorious, knocking Dortmund out of the Pokal.

The two faced off again in the league, and once again Die Roten scored two late goals to force a draw at the Westfalenstadion. Berkay Özcan and Boyd again cancelled out early goals by Isak and Aubamayeng, causing Dortmund to drop points and possibly jeopardize their chance at winning the Bundesliga. Even though Bayern were also knocked out of the DFB-Pokal and the Champions League, they won all three league matches to pull four points ahead of us.

At historic Anfield, Dortmund hammered Liverpool to a 3-1 win in the first leg of the Europa League Semi-Final. Goals by Yarmolenko, Aubamayeng, and Mahmoud Dahoud (his first for the club) gave Der BVB a massive advantage going back to Signal Iduna. Roberto Firmino got things going with an early goal in the sixth minute, but Luis Enrique’s men were quickly overwhelmed by Marcelino’s men and Dortmund are now returning home with three away goals and all the momentum.

Back in the Bundesliga, Dortmund absolutely destroyed Mainz 5-2 at the Opel Arena, but the better news was fifth-place Leipzig shocking the Bavarians with a 2-1 victory. With these two results, Bayern and Dortmund sit on 78 and 77 points, respectively. With Dortmund hosting Bremen (16th place) and Bayern hosting Leverkusen (6th place), Dortmund need a win and Bayern to either lose or draw. A Bayern win and its Bayern for the seventh year in a row.

In Europa League semifinal, Dortmund went defensive as Luis Enrique went full throttle to try and pull off a dramatic win. And things couldn’t have started off worse for Dortmund when Mohamed Salah scored in the eleventh minute to give Liverpool a chance. Mario Götze evened things up on a free kick at the top right of the box to make it 1-1 and 4-2 on aggregate, but James Milner scored off a counter-attack just before halftime to put Liverpool one goal away from sending things to extra time.

Once again, Marcelino rallied the troops and despite an injury to Götze, BVB held off a furious Liverpool attack while ceding majority of possession to the Reds. The clock would strike midnight on Liverpool in the 84th minute after Bartra headed away a cross into the box and launched a counterattack that ended with an Aubamayeng goal. The squad bunkered the rest of the way plus stoppage time, and despite a few nervy moments, Dortmund were able to celebrate after the final whistle.

Dortmund’s opponent at Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan would be…

*Drumroll*

Arsenal! Arsene Wenger and the Gunners earned their spot in the final after earning 14 points in their group and earning wins in the knockout stages against Fenerbace (3-2), Olympic Lyon (3-3 on away goals), Galatasaray (1-0), and Villareal (4-2). Arsenal currently sit sixth in the Premier League, outside the European qualification spot, so they need this win more than we do for the sake of Champions League qualification.

On the last day of the season, Dortmund hosts 17th-place Werder Bremen and Bayern are home against sixth-place Bayer Leverkusen. If Leverkusen could just hold Bayern to a draw or beat them and our guys can pummel Bremen, then we’ll be champions. They kick off at the exact same time, so there would be a lot of phone checking and flipping the TV channels back-and-forth all day Saturday for this one.

Dortmund got things started off right with an early goal by Marco Reus off a rebounded shot from Aubamayeng, while Bayern-Leverkusen remained drawn. Aubamayeng and Bartra put BVB further ahead before the match ended 3-1 in favor of the Black and Yellows. They’d done all they could, now it was up to Leverkusen to hold off Bayern.

Entering the dying stages of the match, the score was still 0-0 in Munich and it looked like Dortmund were actually going to win the title. But then, in the 89th minute, David Alaba floated a perfect free kick into the penalty area and Jerome mother-effing Boateng headed it home past Bernd Leno for the match and title winner. The Allianz Arena erupted into a frenzy, while Signal Iduna fell dead-quiet.

If I had to pick a point in the Ruckründe where we lost the title, it had to be the 2-2 draw against Stuttgart. If the defense didn’t let in that 78th minute goal against Terrence Boyd, we might be looking at Dortmund hoisting the trophy on their own pitch instead of Bayern hoisting it on theirs. That 2-1 Bayern loss against Leipzig was such a tease, and we all knew that kick in the nuts was coming that next week, but dammit I wanted to believe!

Still reeling from having the title coldly ripped from their grasp, Dortmund came out flat against Arsenal in the Europa League Final and dound themselves down early after allowing Leon Bailey to find a streaking Alexandre Lacazette at the far post for the easy tap-in. Dortmund woke up and finally went on the attack, but each time they were denied by the Arsenal defense or Gerónimo Rulli. In the 38th minute, Pulisic slipped a low cross to Aubamayeng that hit off the left post but it was rebounded back in my Yarmolenko for the equalizing goal. Dortmund caught a bit of luck in the 62nd minute when Francis Coquelin came through Marco Reus from behind and received a red card.

Unfortunately, no one was able to find the net with the player-advantage (despite plenty of opportunities) in regular time or extra time, so the match went to penalties. Yarmolenko went first and had his saved by Rulli, while Lacazette buried his past Horn. Carillo leveled the score with his goal, and Olivier Giroud skied one to Mars on the next shot to keep it 1-1. Max Kruse, who came in for a limping Aubamayeng, had his shot saved by a fingertip, while Jesse Lindgard sent Horn the opposite way. Juan Bernat scored for Dortmund, and Jack Wilshere scored to put it at 3-2 and force Dortmund to make their shot or else the match was over. Nuri Sahin, a defensive sub for Götze at the start of extra time, came up and had his low shot saved, giving Arsenal the trophy.

Around the World

In the DFB-Pokal, Leipzig cruised past Stuttgart with a Timo Werner brace to win 2-0, earning them their first major piece of silverware in club history. Heidenheim (19 pts.) and Bielefeld (20 pts.) were relegated down to the 2. Bundesliga as quickly as they were promoted, while Augsburg and Darmstadt will replace them. Bremen (23 pts.) took on Bochum in the Playoff, and won 5-4 on aggregate (3-1, 2-3) to stay up for another year.

Pep Guardiola won his first Premier League title as Manchester City finished the season with 88 points. Chelsea finished second (82 pts.), while Manchester United took third (78 pts.), Tottenham finished fourth (74 pts.), and Liverpool took fifth (68 pts.). Leicester lifted the FA Cup trophy with a 2-1 win over Arsenal, and Tottenham won the Carabao Cup with a 1-0 win over City.

Real Madrid dominated everyone in their path to another La Liga title, earning 98 points and finishing well ahead of rivals Atletíco Madrid (84 pts.) and Barcelona (81 pts.), while Valencia (67 pts.) and Celta Vigo (65 pts.) finished fourth and fifth, respectably, and earned Champions League berths. Barcelona hammered Real Sociedad 3-1 in the Copa del Rey final, and destroyed Real Madrid 6-2 on aggregate (3-2, 3-0) in the Spanish Super Cup.

In Italy, Juventus ran away with their eighth straight Serie A title with 91 points, finishing well ahead of Inter Milan (75 pts.), AC Milan (72 pts.), Napoli (69 pts.), and Lazio (65 pts.). Juve also won the Supercoppa Italia with a 2-0 decision over AC Milan. AC Milan did win the Coppa Italia, a 2-1 result over Juventus.

Paris Saint-Germaine finished the season undefeated after finishing second to Monaco the season prior, earning 102 points to dominate in their sixth Ligue 1 title. AS Monaco (87 pts.) finished a distant second to the Parisians, while Lyon (80 pts.), Marseille (68 pts.), and Nice (62 pts.) rounded out the top five. PSG also won the Coupe de France, beating Angers 3-1 in the final. Monaco came away with trophies this season, too, winning the Trophée des Champions 3-0 over Nice and the Coupe de la Ligue 3-1 over Nantes. For the record, I have no idea what the difference is between the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue, so I’m not sure which of those are more significant.

In the Champions League, Atletíco Madrid won 2-0 over Paris Saint-Germain in their own stadium, which had to be one of the more incredible atmospheres of the year. Bayern made it the farthest of out the three German teams (Leipzig and Leverkusen), going to the quarterfinals before being eliminated 4-1 on aggregate (1-1, 0-3) against Juventus.

In international football, Spain defeated Germany 2-1 in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, while Chile made it three Copa América’s in a row with a 1-0 win over Uruguay. The USA won the Gold Cup with 3-1 result over Costa Rica in the final, and Brazil won the U20 World Cup 3-0 over France.

Alright, and that wraps up the 2018-19 season for Dortmund, where they improved by leaps and bounds over last season’s team. Can they continue to improve and potentially overtake Bayern for their first title since 2012? Find out next time on Digital Dortmund!