The Optimist: Winning with Style and Grit
Think back to last season. The Black and Yellow were lauded by pundits and journalists for their style of play. They played beautiful passing football with a fast attack and skilled players. They were a joy to watch, the kind of club you show to people who dislike the game to show them this is how it is supposed to be played. But there was the other side and for many sides, it is hard to marry the beautiful and the effective. Witness Manchester United winning the Europa League with an ugly style of play that dismissed beauty and focused on effectiveness. For Dortmund, that pleasing style came with a price and a reputation. BVB had a bad defensive record and struggled when a side was able to throttle their attack.
This inability to adjust in less than optimal situations manifested itself primarily on the road, away from the supportive fortress that is the Westfalenstadion. Last season Dortmund had only five wins as the visiting team along with 8 draws. Of course, we lost to Bayern and Leipzig on the road but also fell to Leverkusen, Frankfurt, and Darmstadt. We also drew with Ingolstadt. The club had a bad tendency to fold under pressure and when the situation called for a result rather than style, the club often fell short.
Contrast that with this year. To this point, the club has taken ten of a possible twelve points and conceded one goal. While we have not yet traveled to Munich or Leipzig, the destinations we have visited are not exactly hospitable. At the time of their match, Hamburg looked to be a contender for a midtable side; after a 3-0 thrashing, they are flailing.
What really should inspire confidence in fans is this weekend’s victory over Augsburg. It is early in the season, but Augsburg prior to this weekend had been a pleasant surprise in the Bundesliga. Well coached with some good talent, they were an ideal test for Dortmund prior to the international break. While they conceded two goals in the first half, they constantly frustrated Dortmund’s key players. The goals that were scored were, well, masterful and highlight worthy. Prior to this match, Augsburg had only conceded four goals and outclassed/outplayed a Leipzig side now in the top four. While Augsburg have some attacking talent, a Dortmund side that had been carved up midweek looked shaky but conceded only the one goal.
In 2016, this was the kind of match that Augsburg would had drawn even or won, sending Dortmund into a period of doubt. Sokratis agreed after the match, saying: “In the last two or three years we’d have lost or drawn games like that.” This year, however, they took three points. After the match manager Peter Bosz was stark in his assessment: “That was the worst game we’ve played since I arrived here. We had a lot of space in the first half but we didn’t play well. In the second half, we didn’t play football at all.” At the final whistle, though, they had three points on a weekend where Bayern could only muster a draw on the road. Fair or not, this side will be compared to the defending champions this season, as long as they remain atop the table. In this comparison, they come out on top easily. These performances for Dortmund do not make for the best television viewing but they show a side of them that can grind out a victory if need be.