As of today, there are exactly two weeks until Borussia Dortmund’s season kicks off against RB Leipzig at the Westfalenstadion. With BVB’s transfer saga largely over, with one possible exception, the squad is set, all there is to do now is wait and attempt the completely pointless exercise of predicting what will happen during the season. During the next two weeks, we’re going to be rolling out our season previews for the various Bundesliga clubs. Before we make our preseason predictions, I thought I’d take the time to pose one question: when we look back on this season in May, will have made it a successful one?
The expectations for Borussia Dortmund coming into the 2018-19 season, generally speaking, are pretty low. Over the past couple seasons, there have at least been some suggestions from the punditry that BVB could challenge for the Meisterschale. This season, I haven’t seen anybody arguing that Dortmund have much more than a fleeting chance. For what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight gives Borussia Dortmund a 5% chance of winning the league. In my opinion, that might even be a little generous.
Personally, I don’t think it would be fair to Lucien Favre or the players to expect a title challenge. For Favre to arrive in Dortmund and lead this striker-less team of mostly prospects and B-listers to a trophy would be a borderline miracle. For the players, many of whom haven’t had time to gel into the squad, and are years ahead of entering their primes, an expectation of a title challenge would also be unfair.
So, what would be an acceptable result? I think it’s fair to say that a minimum top-4 finish is expected. With the talent this squad has, second place should also be in the cards. While Schalke have had an unimpressive transfer window, Leverkusen have made some shrewd moves, picking up Mitch Weiser and Lukas Hradecky. RB Leipzig will be reeling from the loss of Naby Keita, but they also have lots of quality. Second place won’t be guaranteed this season, but it’s definitely something that BVB can (and should) be gunning for.
Borussia Dortmund will likely find themselves in Pot 2 during the champions league draw, meaning they’ll have to face one league champion from across Europe. Whoever that club ends up being, whether its Real Madrid or (hopefully) Lokomotiv Moscow, I want BVB to take at least two points from them: whether that means two draws or a win and a loss.
Results-wise, I want BVB to return to relative European success. As high-caliber a club as BVB are, a return to the round of 16 should be a bare minimum. As Roma and Liverpool demonstrated last year, once you’re in the round of 16, anything can happen. How far BVB go will largely depend on their squad health and how lucky the draw is. If BVB draw someone other than the top clubs like Real Madrid or Manchester City, I would hope that they at least put up a fight.
Of the three major trophies that BVB can gun for, the DFB cup is, in my opinion, the most winnable. Dortmund are arguably the second best club in the running behind Bayern. Anything can happen in the DFB, and I can definitely see BVB reaching the final, barring an upset. Dortmund do have the squad depth to rotate, and I expect players like Hakimi and Zagadou to see a lot of time in the cup. Hopefully the rotation players who start in the cup can take the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. If everything goes right, a trophy would not be too far out of reach.
Challenging the Best
Another hallmark of BVB football that I’d like to see return is the club’s ability to beat anybody, anywhere. During the days of Jurgen Klopp and even Thomas Tuchel, no opponent was considered “too good” to beat. Even during seasons when Bayern were running away with the title, BVB were more than capable of taking the game to them and beating them on any given day. Last season, that all went away. Bayern brushed Dortmund aside every chance they got, as did Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, two clubs whom BVB had stared down during Thomas Tuchel’s reign. I’d like to see BVB return to their role as potential upsetters to anyone, even the best.
BVB have lots of young players who haven’t quite established themselves as Bundesliga starters yet. This season, I’d like to se the likes of Sancho, Isak, and Zagadou take steps to establish themselves as legitimate, first-XI players. I expect Sancho and Akanji to break out big-time. Christian Pulisic has already established himself, but I’d like to see more end-product from him. I’d also like to see Isak net a few goals, if only to show that he can score at the professional level. Zagadou also has potential, but I’d like him to show that he can bring more than just physicality to the table. These guys are going to be BVB’s core for the near future, and should demonstrate that they have the potential to bring silverware back to Dortmund within the next few years.
Being Fun Again
This might be the most important goal of all. I’d be fine with a trophy-less season, as long as BVB can bring some real entertaining football to the Westfalenstadion on a consistent basis. The entire reason I started watching BVB in 2013-14 was because, even when they weren’t winning, heck even when they were struggling, they fielded an immensely dynamic, breathtaking product that could score goals by the bucket and beat anybody on any day. That’s the club I want to see this season. No more Stögerball, no more... whatever the heck Peter Bosz was doing. Let’s see some football that will make the yellow wall bounce, and bring Dortmund back into to the limelight.
What would you like to see out of BVB this season? Am I being too pessimistic or optimistic? Leave your thoughts below.