Could Borussia Dortmund Actually Win the Bundesliga?

Could Borussia Dortmund Actually Win the Bundesliga?

It is not often that a club who has spent the last 2 years almost entirely reshaping its squad with youth and a new manager can be talked about in serious title contention. Despite being German giant Bayern Munich’s most consistent challenger to Bundesliga dominance over the last decade, Borussia Dortmund today look almost entirely different at most positions than they had just 2 years ago. Outside of the veteran spine of the team, a core that contains Marcel Schmelzer, Lukasz Piszczek, Nuri Sahin, and (when healthy) Marco Reus, Dortmund are barely recognisable from the team that won the league in 2011/12.

Though manager changes are made with the intention of improving a team, the evidence does not favor first year managers in their attempt to win the league. Even Jose Mourinho, a legend amongst modern managers, usually takes until his second year at a club before he gets his team into title contention. At the beginning of this summer, Dortmund took a big risk by letting their young and ascendant manager, Thomas Tuchel, leave the club. A big admirer of Pep Guardiola, and just about as demanding, Tuchel was, and still is, viewed by many as an elite managerial talent. His unique training sessions and exciting attacking ideas led to a team that for 2 years had little trouble scoring goals.

Disagreements with club hierarchy on the transfer policy eventually led Tuchel to his unceremonious exit and Dortmund back to the drawing board in search of the right successor. Enter Peter Bosz, a Dutchman who, despite lacking top level managerial experience, had shown great strides last season with his Ajax team. As a big believer in the Dutch style of play and the power of youth, Bosz was seemingly the perfect fit for the high powered but defensively lacking young squad.

Having played in Jurgen Klopp’s high energy/high press system for years, several of the club’s veterans should recognise many of the concepts that Bosz brought with him to Dortmund. His Dutch 4-3-3 places an emphasis on playing with the ball and winning possession back high up the pitch. For those once drilled in the ways of Klopp’s famous Gegen-press, the goals are very similar. The style also suits the players currently in the squad, with young and eager legs available to Bosz at almost every position.

Despite their youth, Dortmund have managed to assemble one of the greatest collections of talent in Europe. Once upon a time, a long term injury to Marco Reus would have ensured a slide down the table, but Dortmund now have so much attacking talent that the team’s talismanic homegrown winger is hardly missed these days, despite his talents and those of the departed Ousmane Dembele. The return of Mario Gotze to the club last year and to good health this year has given Bosz a world class playmaker in his midfield to run the attack through. Having played so sparingly in the last two seasons, it will be a while yet before Gotze returns to his special heights, but he looks at home once again back in the yellow and black shirt.

Despite all of the rumours this summer, Dortmund were crucially able to hold on to their star striker and last year’s Bundesliga scoring king, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Still one of the world’s fastest players at full bore. Aubameyang has flushed out his game impressively of the last few seasons and has now become one of the most complete scorers in the world. His presence is vital to Bosz’s team, as he is the only proven out and out striker still in the side. He now spearheads an attack full of players capable of burying the ball in the back of the net, including young American wunderkind Christian Pulisic and veteran Ukrainian captain Andriy Yarmolenko. Taken as a whole, with or without a healthy Reus, die Schwarzgelben have assembled one of the most varied and exciting attacks in Europe.

Not to be outdone, the former Achilles heel of this team, the defence, has also seen some recruitment. In addition to some classic Watzke/Zorc layering of youth into the group, Dortmund also captured one of the best values in the summer transfer market, signing Omer Toprak from Bayer Leverkusen for under €12 million. Though he has not yet supplanted Marc Bartra or Sokratis in the backline, there is no doubt that the classically conservative centre half will be an important player for the club in tight defensive contests.

As we all know from the disastrous 2014 season, a squad full of talented players is not enough to compete for a title. Consistency over the course of a 34 game season is key, as well as quality depth to deal with injuries and poor form. The results so far this season, at least in the league, have been promising, as Dortmund have raced out into the lead in the Bundesliga. After winning the first two matches easily, by a combined score of 5-0, the team came back down to earth slightly last weekend in their match against Freiburg, a 0-0 draw. That the attack has looked good so far is no surprise, but what has fans most excited by the way the team have started is the number in the goals conceded column: nil. This is exciting news considering last season the team looked capable of shipping multiple goals no matter how feeble the opponent.

Peter Bosz undoubtedly has his side playing well right now. Despite a crushing defeat at the hands of a very talented Tottenham Hotspur in London midweek, Dortmund still look likely to threaten in the Bundesliga. The opportunity is there for the taking, especially with Bayern Munich already slipping up in their third match and their star striker, Robert Lewandowski seemingly unsettled at the club after a lacklustre summer window compared to some of Europe’s other elite teams. With the German giants perhaps not being at their best this season, and also looking to replace one of the world’s best ever managers with Carlo Ancelotti, the door could be open for another club to take home the Bundesliga title this season. Of all the teams remaining, surely Borussia Dortmund is as well situated as any to challenge their Bavarian rivals for the top spot?

Time will only tell, but one thing has already been made abundantly clear: Dortmund are not a team to sleep on in the Bundesliga this season.