I always do my best to avoid the radio on Saturdays, and not because German radio is awful – although it is. The reason is that I don’t want to hear the football scores before I watch Sportschau. This has turned into an obsession and I often find myself diving for the radio in the car to switch the channel, or cutting someone off mid-conversation when I notice it’s heading towards football. Sometimes, a simple ‘Did you see the VFB result today?’ will be enough to give the game away.
This Saturday I managed it, and as I sat down to watch the day’s highlights I had no idea what was going to happen. Well, almost. When it came to Paderborn at home to Dortmund I knew what was coming – at least I thought I did. I fully expected BVB to pick up their third win on the bounce – after hammering Galatasaray and scraping past Mönchengladbach – and start their climb up the table, or what the German’s call an Aufholjagd. Paderborn were promoted from the second division last season and, although they have been performing beyond expectations, this was a game that Dortmund should be winning.
It started well. A well-worked move in the 12th minute saw Aubameyang make it 1-0, before fit-again Marco Reus doubled the lead just before half-time. The difference in class was clear to see. As the teams headed into the changing rooms, Jürgen Klopp was seen smiling with the referee. The second half would be a different story.
Paderborn made it 2-1 on the hour, but what happened next was arguably more damaging. Reus latched onto a loose ball in the centre of the pitch and was clattered by the Paderborn midfielder and ex-Dortmunder, Marvin Bakalorz. The challenge left Reus writhing in agony and the perpetrator aghast at having received a yellow card. However, the reply showed the severity of the challenge. Bakalorz had flown into Reus, studs up and caught him square on the inside of the ankle. On the sideline, Klopp was apoplectic, screaming at the referee and player as Reus left the field on a stretcher.
Shortly afterwards, Dortmund gathered themselves and continued to press for the third goal. Kevin Großkreutz rolled a shot past the post before having an effort harshly disallowed for offside. A goal was coming.
And it did come, but it went to the home side. Substitute Mahir Saglik headed in with less than 10 minutes to go sending the majority of the 15,000 fans packed into the sold-out stadium into delirium. Dortmund continued to huff and puff, but to no avail. Final score: 2-2. Two more points dropped.
Klopp confronted the referee again and this time wasn’t smiling. Not only had his side been denied a valuable win, but it looked like Reus was facing another lengthy layoff.
Dortmund’s problems this season have long gone beyond the slow start and blip phase and have now become worrying. They’ve had bad luck with injuries this season, but this starting eleven was, aside from Bayern’s, arguably the best in the league on Saturday. Granted, they were missing Mats Hummels, but still started with Subotic, Gündogan, Kagawa, Mkhitaryan, Reus, and Aubameyang as well as two of Germany’s most promising young defenders, Erik Durm and Matthias Ginter. And in Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos, Klopp had around €30 million worth of strikers warming the bench.
Few teams are immune to poor form, but Dortmund’s troubles are puzzling. In a Champion’s League group featuring Anderlecht, Arsenal and Galatasary, they sit top of the tree, four wins from four and only one goal conceded. Aside from Arsenal, they haven’t faced any of the European heavyweights, but certainly teams that are comparable with many Bundesliga outfits. The feeling is that in Europe they are given the chance to express themselves. Teams only have six games to get out of the group and can’t afford to shut up shop and go for a draw, especially at home. In contrast, for most teams in the Bundesliga, a point at home to Dortmund is a point gained.
It seems that BVB have become victims of their own success. In re-emerging as a ‘big’ team, they may be respected in Europe, but they’ve become a potential scalp domestically. Would Brussels have been rocking if Anderlecht had scraped a 2-2 at home against them? Probably not.
Jürgen Klopp now finds himself as close to a crisis as he’s been with BVB. With only 11 points from 12 games his team are just two points from the foot of the table.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully expect Dortmund to kick on and climb the table. A cursory glance at the majority of teams above them in the league shows they’re punching below their weight. The problem is momentum. Just as it looks as if they’ve turned a corner, they let a lead slip, suffer an injury, or simply don’t turn up. The longer this continues, the heavier the monkey on their back becomes.
There is no question in Germany that Klopp’s position is under pressure, and nor should there be. He has turned Borussia Dortmund from a sleeping giant to many people’s second team. However, he needs to string together some decent results, and fast. The ship has sailed on the title – it’s merely a question of when Bayern win it and what records they can break along the way. But surely they have to be looking to get back in the Champion’s League. They may only be 9 points off at the moment, but the teams at the top are going to take some catching.
Dortmund return to action against Arsenal at the Emirates on Wednesday. The pressure is off as they have already qualified for the knockout stages, and they may already have an eye on the weekend’s match against Frankfurt. But despite a clear need to pick up points in the league, Dortmund cannot afford to take their foot off the gas in the Champion’s league – after all, if they want to be dining at Europe’s top table again next year, winning it this season may be their only hope.