Champions League Fan Preview: Borussia Dortmund

17/18: nothing short of a parlous season for Borussia Dortmund packed tight with uncertainty, inconsistency and a gradually thickening smoke of dissatisfaction around the Westfalenstadion.

The black-yellows flew into the season with Dutchman Peter Bosz handling the joystick, going seven Bundesliga matches unbeaten in a thrilling run that boasted spectacular results such as a 6-1 victory at home against Borussia Mönchengladbach, a 5-0 home win against FC Köln and two 3-0 triumphs on their travels to Wolfsburg and Hamburg respectively. It was however, after a 2-3 result against RB Leipzig in front of the ever-devoted 81,000 that things started to become sour in a defeat that brought an end to a 41-game unbeaten run at home. BVB then went seven more fixtures without a win and went crashing out of the Champions League, finishing third in the group and going on to put up an equally underwhelming attempt at the Europa League. This provoked a general air of displeasure around the club, with fans and media questioning Peter Bosz’s “suicidal” formula of football and the lineups he selected. Despite being a consummate professional and a gentleman of the highest order, Peter Bosz was quite simply out of his depth at a club of the stature of Borussia Dortmund and couldn’t quite make things jog quickly enough to keep with the sprinting expectations that the job came with. He stumbled off of the plank shortly after. Peter Stoger then took over in a six-month caretaking role which would see him *somewhat* steady the reins, ushering Borussia Dortmund into a fourth-placed finish and most importantly, securing a direct ticket into Europe’s most prestigious footballing competition.

Fast-forward to August of 2018 and Borussia Dortmund enter a new season, with a new man in charge and a new lease of life. Former Nice coach Lucien Favre now leads what die Schwarzgelben will hope is a revolution, one which tirelessly pursues the identity and values that Borussia Dortmund as a club, wish to stand for and represent. Instilled with a pleasant melange of core footballing values and tactical venture, the Swiss has calmed waters around Dortmund and injected a budding hope that those very waters could soon become glistening and pristine. Following a massive summer reshuffle which saw seven new signings and the perish of much of the fan-labelled “deadwood”, Borussia Dortmund undoubtedly boast the best squad they’ve had in a while and enter an inevitable period of transition that certainly has the potential to go spectacularly smoothly given the quality they now possess.

Lucien Favre intends on playing a fluid style, one that consists of the exploitation of space, composure on the ball, and slick interplay designed to creatively pierce an opponent. Labelled by his players as a perfectionist, Favre demands mastery of the ball and the use of it in possession. Now despite being the coach of a team that is expected to hold most of the ball in most matches, he still places a great focus on counter-attacking, something which brought him success during his tenures at smaller clubs that are expected to be dominated by better opponents and something that’ll be of great importance against greater opposition in the Champions League. A distinctive feature of a Favre-counterattack is seen in the triangles where Player 1 will receive the ball and offload to a nearby teammate (Player 2), who will then play a one-two with Player 3 (who has his back to goal) to disturb the mechanics of the opposing press and open up space for Player 1 to run into while the opposition are occupied by Player 2 and 3. Upon receiving the “two” from Player 3, Player 2 will tend to thread or dink a pass over to Player 1 who then finds himself in an extremely menacing position. It’s a formula that had his Gladbach side coined as “Borussia Barcelona” and one that is as pleasing to the eye as it is dangerous.

Borussia Dortmund now sit in a group with Atletico Madrid, AS Monaco and Club Brugge. A group that is by no means a stroll in the park, but one that the German giants will expect to qualify in (quite probably in 2nd place). The Spanish capital club, brimming with brilliance and following an excellent summer window will arguably go down as one of the contenders to win the entire competition, making them clear favourites to top the group. A plus for Dortmund is that Atleti are the last club they play, giving them the opportunity to lay down a cushion and accumulate some points against AS Monaco (who no longer hold the same star-studded firepower they did when the sides met in the 16/17 season) and Club Brugge (who BVB will be expected to beat) before their meeting with the La Liga giants.

One of the many signings Borussia Dortmund made during the summer was the acquisition of European superstar, Axel Witsel. A player that is known for his ventures to clubs in unorthodox locations outside of Europe’s top 5 leagues given his fantastic quality i.e Zenit St.Petersburg of Russia and Tianjin Quanjian of China. Despite a career that has earned him the nickname of “Marco Polo”, Axel Witsel has amassed almost a century in appearances for the Belgium National team and still possesses undeniable, fantastic quality. Capable of playing at both the #6 and #8 positions, Witsel is able to dictate play from the base of a midfield three with safe, smart passing and impressive ball-winning skills aided by his physicality. He can also act as the link between defence and attack, where he can pick the ball up from deep and drive further up the pitch where his excellent technique and imposing strength make him extremely difficult to dispossess. Now 29 years of age, Axel Witsel immediately looks to be a mainstay in Dortmund’s midfield. The leadership, composure, technique, physicality and calming presence that he offers gives Borussia Dortmund something they’ve sorely lacked in recent years and makes him Lucien Favre’s key man once the competition of Europe’s Königsklasse kicks off for another inescapably thrilling campaign.

By: Moa Essop

Photo: Reuters