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Dortmund Season Review: A Glorious Mess

Borussia Dortmund v Inter Milan: Group F - UEFA Champions League Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

The season is over. In a year where a global pandemic stopped all football, we got time to appreciate what it means to watch this fantastic/infuriating team year in and year out. Dortmund finished the season in 2nd place 69 points. Our leading goal scorer and assist leader was Jadon Sancho with 17 goals and 16 assists.

Throughout the season we saw two different Dortmund squads. The squad who came out and played to the game plan perfectly, eviscerating any team in their wake and the squad who came out, had their gameplan fail, and got played of the field as they stood around without a clue. The season started with a win over Bayern Munich in the Supercup. After that Dortmund took the first round of the Pokal vs Uerdingen. then demolished Augsburg and Koln in the first two Bundesliga matches of the season. Our first warning flag was a loss to newly promoted Union Berlin. Nothing went our way that match but we all couldn't possibly think that this team was gonna play like that often. We bounced right back in our next game against Leverkusen, hammering them 4-0. It was after this game the bad times started. Over the next moth BVB had 3 draws, two loses and a win. Drawing lesser teams like Frankfurt, Bremen and Freiburg made BVB far behind in the race for the title. They aren’t games a championship wining team should give up. Every single game was the same story. BVB would come out with a good gameplan, have the plan ruined then would be hopeless. We did manage to bounce back in the Hinrunde, getting a win vs Inter to get us to the group stage of UCL. We also lost to Bayern 4-0 and tied Paderborn 3-3. Overall the Hinrunde made it feel like Favre’s time at the club was over. The team looked out of their element too often and our title hopes vanished.

In the Ruckrunde we saw an entirely new BVB. We lost Paco Alcacer, but BVB picked up Salzburg striker Erling Haaland. Haaland immediately made a huge impact scoring 7 goals in his first 3 games. We saw some of the Hinrunde BVB vs Werder to get eliminated in the Pokal but generally went on a tear until the world football was put on hold. Our last pre-covid game was a disappointing exit to PSG in the UCL. After the Bundesliga restarted we looked red hot. We clowned our eternal rivals Schalke 4-0 in the first game back. We then won all but three of our games. 1 loss to Bayern where the ref had more of effect then the Bavarians, then two losses to Mainz and TSG where it didn’t look like we wanted to play at all.

So what went wrong and what went right this year?

A lot of things went wrong. First we had another year plagued by injury. Reus, Sancho, Delaney, Schulz, Aknaji, Witsel and Paco all missed important games due to injury. More than the health issues and what I think fans will remember most about this season, is all the games we blew against poor teams. It seems that wherever our game plan didn't work this team would shut down. There are at least 9 games you can point to this season where BVB looked hopeless once they either were scored on or had a goal disallowed. The great debate of the season was whether this was a mentality issue on the players, or a failure of the manager in planning for set backs. I honestly think its a little bit of both. You can’t convince me that our both our losses to TSG or blown tie to Freiburg weren’t the cause of this team quitting on themselves. Other games like our back to back Pokal loss to Bremen and loss to Leverkusen were clearly the team not knowing what to do when the pace of the game was against them. That is a failure of the manager more then the players. Favre was irresponsible with his use of subs and almost never shifted our formation unless we had a big lead. It is something that must be corrected in 20-21.

The back 3 was the catalyst this team needed to right the ship after a disastrous October. Running the back 3 unleashed all the strengths of the team. Using Raphael and Hakimi as wing backs was a no-brainer move in hindsight. Both are so fast and so good at both dribbling and chance creation it was a waste to have them play as classic fullbacks. On the flip side, Piszczek is a little to old to play a classic fullback, so having him a defender in a back 3 let us keep one of our best vets in the starting rotation without much sacrifice. Going into next season the back 3 needs to continue to be the go-to formation baring any big transfers. When this team played to Favre’s gameplan they annihilated their opponents. We had so many 4 and 5 goal scoring games where we made our opponents look like youth league teams. If they can get more consistent at playing to our strengths BVB can take on any team in the world.

So what should we take away from this season? We have no silverware to show for the season, no big wins or triumphant moments. There were many bad memories; our losses to Bayern, all the blown matches, Werder in the Pokal, TSG to end the season. However, there are still some good things to take away. The spine of Hummels-Witsel-Haaland is something we can build on for next season and hopefully the season after. Hummels has redeemed himself through play, without him we aren’t close to a UCL spot this year. Haaland was a gift for us the second half of the year. I never imagined we would need to replace Paco going into the season, and I definitely didn’t think that if he was replaced we’d find a player much younger and more talented. Brandt found his place on the team playing in the central midfield rather then the wing. A Brandt that gets to play centrally more often will help this team substantially. Can showed that while we can still slot him up in a central mid position when needed, he will fill in the backline in place of/along side Hummels. Even though Can isn’t crucial in a back 3, in a back 4 he is a much better option then Akanji or Balerdi. Gio Reyna earned himself a spot in the first team and preformed great for the second half of the year. As he grows we will have a good option for rotation on the wings, as not to exhaust Hazard and Sancho.

Barring any big transfers or managerial changes this summer, I think this season shows Dortmund are heading in a good direction. Most players on the squad will still be in their footballing peaks or before their peaks with room to grow. While Favre had his problems as manager, having a 3rd season with the team means this squad will more closely resemble a vision he wants to put in place. Managerial upheaval is not what this team needs to beat Bayern. If we want to take the league over one of the richest and biggest clubs in Europe, we need a multi year project.

What are your take away from the season? Was this the best we could expect with current players and staff? Are we heading in a positive direction or is this the beginning of a team imploding that will need to be rebuilt yet again.