The Raw Materials Are There, Trust Me
It’s been no secret that Dortmund fans will be looking forward to the end of this torrid season. It started with so much hope and positivity having employed a manager who had just reached a Europa League final with a team nowhere near the standard and exciting young players coming into the club. Nine months, two managers and just fifty-five points later, and we are worse off than we were when Thomas Tuchel unceremoniously left the club last summer. This season hasn’t been good enough, that goes without saying, and if ever a performance summed that up then it was this weekend’s defeat at home to Mainz.
It was coming though, wasn’t it? I mean, after beating Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 at Signal Iduna Park two weeks ago we were supposed to go on a tear until the end of the season. That was what was supposed to happen. Werder Bremen (A), Mainz (H), Hoffenheim (A) was how our fixture list read. Seven points from a possible nine was the minimum requirement and something we were more than capable of achieving. The journey towards that goal didn’t get off to the best start at the Weserstadion last week.
Werder Bremen were there for the taking. Sure, they have been much improved since Florian Kohfeldt arrived at the club earlier this season but they have regressed somewhat lately. They aren’t the greatest side and they had only won one of their previous five games. An easy three points seemed on the horizon. That wasn’t how it panned out. We didn’t seem to escape second gear until it was too late. We had taken the lead and perhaps that had given us a false sense of security, heightening the complacency among the team. Thomas Delaney’s equaliser punished us for that though and Jiri Pavlenka’s subsequent inspiring performance also went some way to ensuring it would be a disappointing foray to Northern Germany.
Fast-forward six days and we have a chance to put things right. The aim of seven from nine is still attainable, we just need six from our next two. Mainz is probably the easier of the two, and great opportunity to wrap up Champions League qualification without the panic and fretting of a last day scramble. They are still in a relegation scrap themselves so beating them would seem an easy task to undertake, right? Wrong, so very wrong.
In fairness, nobody expected Sandro Schwarz’s men to fly out of the blocks the way they did. It so strange seeing us have the pace dictated to, as opposed to it being the other way around. We aren’t used to being out-run and controlled they Mainz did to us on Saturday, especially not by much inferior opposition. The pace, the pressure, the commitment, the energy – we simply couldn’t live with them in that opening fifteen minutes. Bote Baku’s goal was a defensive nightmare considering the space he found himself in, as was Yoshinori Muto’s which doubled the visitors’ lead for the space he had to run into.
There were positives though. Once we woke up there was some lovely link-up play between the front three. In Jadon Sancho, Max Phillipp and Christian Pulisic we have three of the brightest prospects in Europe at the minute. Sancho is becoming a very intelligent player and rarely makes a poor decision, which is extremely impressive for someone his age. Pulisic could be playing for any club he wants to in year or two, and his pace and skill terrifies defenders. Phillipp’s season has been hampered by injury but there is so much of him that reminiscent to Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino at the minute that, if he continues on this trajectory, the sky really is the limit for the 20-year-old.
They are supplied by probably the most creatively capable midfielders in the Bundesliga too. Marco Reus seems to have revelled in his new central, deeper-lying role. Gone is the marauding and pacey winger who would bang goals in at will, he is a much more considered and intelligent player. He has a fantastic partner alongside him too in the form of Mario Gotze, who is no doubt showing him the ropes of playing centrally. Julian Weigl enforces and does a very good job of breaking up playing before recycling possession.
There is plenty to work with for whomever is in charge of this bright, young team at the beginning of the 2018/19 season. There is a fantastic mix of experience and youth which just needs to be harnessed by the right man. Yes, the defence definitely needs an overhaul tactically and in terms of personnel. However, you get the feeling that this team is not completely inept as some would have you believe. There is plenty in the tank, the problem is shifting through the gears. Let’s hope a good driver is finally given the keys to this Ferrari.