The Bundesliga is back! After the doldrums that was two weeks of international friendlies, fans can finally look forward to competitive football this weekend. With 7 games left on the schedule, and no more inconvenient breaks in the action, we have officially reached the business end of the season. Dortmund sit in third place, just behind Schalke, but one has to like their chances at second place following their recent run of unbeaten football in the league under Peter Stoeger. As we get back into the swing of things once again, it’s time to take a quick look at some of the biggest stories surrounding the club this past week.
Der Klassiker First On The Docket
For club football supporters that find the international break to be torturously long and tedious, few could ask for a better return to Bundesliga action than a matchup between the two biggest clubs in Germany. Borussia Dortmund returns from their nearly 2-week reprieve with a showdown at the Allianz Arena with hated rivals Bayern Munich. The Bavarians will be hoping to clinch their 6th consecutive Bundesliga crown with a victory on Saturday, the first time ever doing so against Dortmund. It has been more than a decade since they have clinched a title at their home ground, so die Borussen will look to fight like mad to keep it that way.
Former Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski is currently level with former Bayern great Gerd Muller on 14 Der Klassiker goals, and he will be looking to take the top honours for himself on Saturday. Meanwhile, die Roten manager Jupp Heynckes is in search of his 4th league title as manager of the club, his first since 2012/13. The Bavarians will also be receiving a boost ahead of the clash, as Arjen Robben has trained this week and looks fit to play.
Reus, Toprak Doubts For Saturday; Kagawa, Yarmolenko Still Out
While Bayern look to be in pretty good health heading into the weekend, only expecting number one goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to miss this clash, but Dortmund are facing the absence of multiple key players in the return to action following the international break. Marco Reus, who has been struggling with an adductor problem since a week before the break, is likely to miss out on the all-important match, while Omer Toprak is set to miss out as well with a similar issue. Meanwhile, long-term absentees Shinji Kagawa and Andriy Yarmolenko remain out of contention while they battle for a return to fitness.
For Dortmund, missing Marco Reus may be a common occurrence over his career with the club, but it never gets any easier to cope with the loss of his talent, particularly in big matches. He has typically shown up to play in these hyped up Der Klassiker matches, and he has been performing brilliantly for a player who had missed the better part of an entire season in his return to action from A serious knee ligament injury suffered last year. However, Omer Toprak may be an even bigger miss against a Bayern team that still looks to dominate the ball and suck the life out of their opponents. Sokratis Papastathopoulos has been struggling of late, and while Manuel Akanji has impressed since coming over from Basel in January, such a big match could be a tall order for a young player still finding his feet in the Bundesliga.
Dortmund continued to tie important figures in the club down to contract extensions during the international break, and this week announced that Sporting Director Michael Zorc had extended his stay with the club until 2021. Having been born in the city and played his entire senior career with the club, Zorc is the all-time club appearance leader with 463. Following his retirement at 35, he immediately landed in the club’s hierarchy, where he has been ever since. He presided over Dortmund during their lowest point (which required a bailout from Saturday’s opponent) that nearly saw the club fold, and then he helped spearhead the total restructuring of Dortmund’s business model, youth academy, and consequently, their fortunes on the pitch.
Together with CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, Zorc makes up one half of perhaps the most respected club executive partnership in the sport, and they have seen their beloved club morph into one of the hippest, most exciting outfits in world football. Their work behind the scenes, empowering loyal and hardworking employees with big responsibilities (as they did with a young Sven Mislintat, who rose to become one of Europe’s most sought-after talent scouts from a humble beginning in the club’s video room) has created a culture of youthful energy around the club and given the team one of its most prolonged runs as a major player in the Bundesliga, as well as European competition.
His extension comes at a critical time for the club, who have seen their grip on their title of second best team in Germany loosen over the last 5 seasons, with rivals Schalke, East German RB Leipzig and others now providing a consistent challenge for European places. This summer is expected to see some major changes around the club, with several players set to depart, and as always with Dortmund, multiple new signings expected to arrive. Zorc and Watzke have contributed masterfully to Dortmund’s return to prominence, and now they must take a proactive role in maintaining their level, or possibly even improving it. One position they may look to fill this summer is the manager role, where Peter Stoeger has done exactly what he was asked to do (right the defence), but does not seem like a long-term solution for a club like Dortmund.
Stoeger Record In Doubt
It may not be immediately obvious to some, given the number of draws and frustrating play during the period, but Dortmund is still undefeated with Peter Stoeger at the helm. In 12 Bundesliga matches, the Austrian has won 7 and drawn 5, but some of those draws have come unexpectedly against lesser competition and left some fans with the impression that he is not the long-term solution at the club. His regimented style and defensive focus have reinforced the spine of this team, who too often under former manager Peter Bosz were caught out by their opponents. The defence has improved significantly under Stoeger, but the attack has been prone to fits and starts, often going long stretches of matches without any real attacking threat.
However impressive, or unimpressive, the team has looked in some matches, Stoeger still has not lost in the Bundesliga, but that could be under threat this weekend at the Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich will be anxious to wrap up their first trophy of the season with a win, and the change to do it against die Schwarzgelben could add a little extra intensity to their performance. A midweek showdown with Sevilla, who recently upset Manchester United to knock them from the Champions League, could draw some of the Bavarian’s focus away from Saturday, but a near full-strength XI should still be expected from the league leaders. For Dortmund and Stoeger, a win could see them move into second place if Schalke drops points against Freiburg, and would go a long way towards giving the team confidence for the most important stretch of the season.
A Crowded Departure Lounge This Summer?
As can be expected for a club stuck in a bit of a limbo between “contender” and “pretender”, significant changes to the playing squad this summer are on the cards for Dortmund as they look to bridge some of the chasm between Bayern Munich and everyone else. Given the rapid inflation of transfer fees the last few transfer windows, and the trend by several other clubs around Europe towards a Dortmund-esque model of younger talent acquisition, any big changes might require the sale of multiple players currently in the squad to fund this summer.
As strong and deep as they are at some positions, there are still several players on significant wages that look likely to depart. Sebastian Rode and Erik Durm, 2 players that once promised to contribute but now can’t seem to find fitness, are almost certainly on their way out. Gonzalo Castro, who has been woefully inconsistent this season, is on the wrong side of 30 years old, and is probably going to leave this summer as well. In defence, it appears that Sokratis Papastathopoulos is in danger of being sold, as the aggressive Greek defender has been supplanted by Toprak as the number one defender, with 2 extremely competent young centre-backs in Manuel Akanji and Dan-Axel Zagadou waiting in the wings for more starting minutes. Even summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko, who at times flashed as a potent scoring presence from the right wing, could be on his way out as well after failing to have the desired impact, and with Andre Schurrle and Max Philipp likely to be favoured over the Ukrainian, even when he returns to health.
As we approach the end of the season, rumours of Dortmund’s transfer targets are starting to trickle into the news, though at this point they tend to read more like a list of dream signings than players that look on the verge of joining the team. Players like Augsburg’s Philipp Max (who lets be honest, would be worth signing just to pair with Max Philipp on the same flank) and Mitchell Weiser of Hertha Berlin would be perfect fits at both left and right back, respectively, but both players have received interest from several big clubs, including some in the Premier League, which could quickly drive them out of Dortmund’s price range. Should the club decide to try and sign Michy Batshuayi on a permanent deal from Chelsea, it will require a significant amount of capital, which could affect their ability to do business in other positions. If Dortmund plan on addressing needs at multiple positions, Batshuayi may be out of their reach to sign in the summer, which would be a major disappointment for fans that have quite liked the look of the Belgian, who leads all Dortmund scorers in 2018. Still, fans can and should expect major changes this summer, including at least one signing to get the yellow wall buzzing with excitement.