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Postseason Roundtable Part 1: Grading Borussia Dortmund’s Season

The FTW crew assigns letter grades and their verdicts on BVB’s performances this season.

RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup Final 2021 Photo by Mika Volkmann/Getty Images

Another season has come and gone for Borussia Dortmund. The 2020-2021 season saw BVB suffer the lowest of lows and rise to the highest of heights, with plenty of controversy, tension, and lighter moments in between. Die Schwarzgelben looked dead in the water at the season’s midpoint, with manager Lucien Favre sacked and the club’s Champions League prospects looking dire.

As Spring came and the days got longer, things began to look brighter as well. Caretaker manager Edin Terzic not only righted the ship, but he outright thrived. Under his leadership, BVB crawled their way back into competition for the top four. They won a hard two-leg fight against Sevilla in the Champions League Round of 16 before giving eventual finalists Manchester City a run for their money. Last but not least, BVB marched to Berlin for the DFB Pokal final, and resoundingly defeated RB Leipzig to win their second major trophy of the last five years.

Now that the season is over, we, the writers of Fear the Wall, have gathered to give our overall impressions of the season and grade the club on its performance.

Sean Keyser: B

While the end to BVB’s season was outstanding, with eight straight wins in all competitions to secure a DFB-Pokal victory and a return to the Champions League, it’s important to put this success in context. The reason that Dortmund needed to be basically perfect down the stretch was because the first half of the season was a MASSIVE disappointment. Despite being largely healthy, and featuring a squad with plenty of attacking talent, Dortmund were utterly lackluster under Lucien Favre. They were sloppy and indecisive in possession, and overly-reliant on Haaland. It’s no wonder they barely scraped by what should have been an easy Champions League group, and were out of the race for the Bundesliga by January.

It took a while for Edin Terzic SZN to begin, and an injury to Jadon Sancho prevented the team from reaching full velocity at the time to beat Manchester City, but the club’s final stretch down the end of the season showed just what the squad is capable of. Most importantly, it gives fans a feeling of optimism headed into next season. So overall, if the first half was a D, the second half was an A, and the DFB Pokal win bumps the grade up a bit, I feel a B is about right.

Sarah Sekac: B-

The 2020-2021 BVB season was pretty typical of seasons past; the team managed to qualify for cup football while simultaneously squandering a chance at a league win. There are a couple personality traits, if you will, that emerged and were on display during their most recent turn: 1. their uncanny inability to win when it counts and 2. their inability to leverage the insane amount of talent within the squad.

Case in point, they failed to win their December matches against Eintracht Frankfurt and VFb Stuttgart which coincided with back-to-back ties for Bayern Munich. If any team is going to seriously contend for the league title, they must capitalize on those chinks in Bayern’s armor. When looking at the individuals, talent abounds! The team is not hurting for talent (see Sean’s comments above). They just need the right formula from the start of the season instead of figuring it out at the tail end.

There is a bit from The Simpsons that I felt compelled to tweet (at least once) which perfectly encapsulates this pattern of BVB’s. It’s a satirical rollercoaster “of broken dreams” which sums up how I and (surely?) players feel at times. But, like any rollercoaster enthusiast, I’ll keep coming back...looking forward to the next ride.

Mike Solak: A

Would you rather have a failed title run until late April or a trophy? Everyone seems to be downplaying the season because we were effectively out of the title race before the winter break with Champions League qualification looking unlikely. Lucien Favre was sacked and results didn’t really change for a bit, that is until they did. However, Edin Terzic did something only four managers have done before, win the DFB-Pokal while winning eight straight domestic games to finish the season in style. Additionally, the club advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League and gave runners-up Manchester City all they could handle despite not having Jadon Sancho due to injury (don’t bring up the Bellingham goal that wasn’t a goal).

Borussia Dortmund have won 8 Meisterschales, 5 DFB-Pokals, and 1 Champions League, which is only 14 pieces of major silverware in 112 years (okay 15 if you count the Intercontinental Cup). Yet this season, we added to that total and put in our best performances in Europe since 2017. I think it’s harsh to expect BVB to be the only team each season to put in a title challenge as if it is just our destiny to be the ones to chase down the mighty Bayern Munich every year. Leipzig put in a title challenge this year, but do you think they would trade places with Dortmund to have won the German cup? You’re damn right they would, but their Bundesliga season was ended by Die Schwarzgelben, and then five days later Dortmund crushed their dreams in Berlin as well. Given that BVB won silverware, and spanked Leipzig three times in three different cities across Germany, I don’t think second place and a “title run” feels better than Dortmund’s season, not even close. We all want to take down the Bavarians in the league next year, and I am no different. However, just because we didn’t do it this year, does not mean we didn’t have a wildly successful season, even if it was crazy as hell.

Zac Weilminster: B-

The 2020/2021 season was as rewarding as it was frustrating, beautiful as it was dreadful, and as resilient as it was toothless. The only reason we as fans can call this season anything other than an utter failure is down to the strength the Black and Yellows showed in the finals weeks of the season, but that effort was akin to a delicious icing on a stale cake. The BVB squad going into this season was undoubtedly one of the strongest we have ever seen. The balance of youth to age seemed in perfect equilibrium, and the squad needed to show that Bayern Munich would not be allowed to waltz through another hallmark season.

Despite the talent and the motivation, the holes in the squad and their strategy appeared as quickly as Robert Lewandowski’s goals. The Dortmund board were naive to ignore the writing on the walls about Lucien Favre’s long-term pedigree, and dysfunction in key areas consigned Dortmund to a campaign that under-served the potential of the season.

That said, winning a DFB Pokal is not a light achievement. It is excellent for BVB to finish the season with a trophy, and to show the level of fight it took to regain a top four finish. April and May saw Echte Liebe flow back into the turf at Signal Iduna Park, and the squad should be very proud of what they were able to achieve. Nonetheless, work must be done to prepare this team for another assault on Bayern Munich, and if they are to do so without Jadon Sancho, the board better be prepared not to foul this summer up with timid purchases.

Steve Zimmerman: A

There is no clear winner this season. Every team in the top 5 leagues of European men’s football ended the season with some level of disappointment. While we dream of a Bundesliga title, we cannot set that as our base level expectation. We have serious gaps in our squad, and even in our starting XI, with Meunier and Burki demonstrating that they were not up to the standard for a Championship push. Zagadou and Hazard would have been probable starters, but we lost them for most of the season. When Haaland was injured, we had no backup. We also lost Witsel, who has no real replacement in the squad. We relied heavily on youngsters Bellingham and Reyna to produce.

Despite our hopes and dreams, 538 projected our imbalanced team to finish a distant second in the Bundesliga at 63 points and and gave us only a 39% chance to make the Champions League quarterfinals. On top of all of our built-in problems, Sancho suffered a massive shooting slump, Reus started the season slowly and Brandt completely lost his way. The club must set a higher standard as we prepare for next season if we want to truly challenge Bayern. But the fact that we recovered to exceed pre-season expectations and win an historic trophy is a minor miracle that should be celebrated.

Your Thoughts

How would you grade Borussia Dortmund’s season?