After a blistering start to the campaign, you would think all is well and that embarrassing losses are a thing of the past – but Borussia Dortmund seem to have not learnt any lessons from last season.
On Saturday night, they reminded fans about the woes of the second half of last season which they were subjected to after losing embarrassingly away to newly-promoted Union Berlin by three goals to one.
Manager, Lucien Favre, made three changes to the team that won at Cologne the week before, keeping his 4-2-3-1 setup, and handing out a starting debut to Julian Brandt.
First, Marius Bülter from the hosts, Union Berlin, converted a corner after 21 minutes, making it the second goal in a row conceded from a routine set-piece. What was even more incriminating is that this goal came against the run of play, as the Black and Yellows had a positive start and dictated the pace throughout the first half.
Within three minutes of the goal however, BVB equalised through Paco Alácer, who tapped in a Jadon Sancho assist. The match remained unequal, but BVB will be left ruing their poor finishing in a match they should have won in the first half.
Then centre back, Manuel Akanji, capitulated in the second half, being terribly at fault for both goals which made it 3-1 to Union Berlin. For the second goal, Akanji gave the ball away in one of BVB’s attempted build-ups and Union Berlin attacker Andersson pounced on it, producing a great save from Bürki who could not stop Bülter from rifling home the rebound.
The third goal came from a clueless clearance by Akanji from a Union Berlin corner, which was well worked back into the BVB box and tapped in by Andersson who had earlier seen a shot on goal saved by Bürki.
Lucien Favre’s men were reduced to inaccurate shots and crosses just to get back in the game, as well as silly decisions which captain Marco Reus has described as the whole team being stupid.
For the 22,000 spectators at the Stadion an der alten Försterei, it was considered the first real home match for Union Berlin in the Bundesliga by the home fans and they were witnesses to an epic Dortmund capitulation which brought them a lot of joy and three points, as well as their first major victory over a genuine title contender.
It was another truly pathetic loss for BVB who made the usual mistakes – terrible set-piece defending and individual mistakes. Lucien Favre did not help the situation too, as he got his substitutions wrong. We might want to write it off as a one-off loss, but the first three matches for BVB this season have been against two newly promoted sides (Cologne and Union Berlin), and one of the Bundesliga bottom dwellers (Augsburg).
This does not speak anything about a change, as we have been shown signs of the team that crumbled in the second half of last season and lost unnecessary matches and points.
ALL THE THINGS THAT COULD GO WRONG
BVB are, however, still considered title threats by current holders Bayern Munich as well as the other teams in the league, but with the 61-year old acting like a novice coach sometimes and the players, who possess good skill sets, finding it hard to display their individual quality, this season could go down as forgettable.
Their transfer business was great, as they brought in Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt to add more to their attack, and German veteran Matts Hummels and Nico Schulz to shore up their defence. However, these players are a like for like replacement for their departures and Favre is likely going to play the same formations and systems which fell apart last season, but with these new players.
Favre is a pragmatic coach who likes to play patiently (most times) and wait for the opponent to provide his team with an opening to capitalise upon, a style of play that has been scrutinized by fans and players alike, with goalkeeper Roman Bürki, singling out the coach’s preferred Zonal Marking system as archaic, noting that Bundesliga teams have evolved past that. On days this system doesn’t work, the players who are mostly young, may begin to panic and will take decisions into their own hands to salvage a game, and this has failed more often than not.
The manager is aware of this as after the match, he bemoaned the team’s impatience.
“I think we thought it would be like the second half in Cologne. That was not the case,” said Favre, referring to the match in the previous weekend in which his side trailed by a goal at half time but triumphed courtesy of three goals in the final 20 minutes.
“We have to keep our patience and not play hastily with the score at 1-1; we have to defend very well. This is very important.
“Instead, we have lost our patience [and conceded] an unnecessary goal.
“Even then, we should have kept patient. There was still time to make it 2-2 and maybe win the game as well. Our second half was not good.”
BVB have pace and skill, and are not lacking for creativity in the middle of the park and in the final third, but are very susceptible to fast breaks from the opposition team and precise passing with the aim of going forward. The biggest challenge will be getting the old-school Favre to make good use of the pace and creativity of the young talents he has in his squad and unleashing them on the rest of the league by allowing them to attack a lot more like they used to do under Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp before him.
Dortmund last won the league title in 2012, when they claimed the double with Jurgen Klopp at the helm of affairs. Meanwhile, Bayern will be looking to secure their eighth consecutive title and with RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen proving more and more competitive, Dortmund will have to be ready to pounce if and when they drop points.
Right now, they have their first big game of the season against Bayer 04 immediately after the international break to look forward to, after which they travel to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona in the opening matchday of the Champions League.
As a fan, it is hard to be optimistic about the season’s chances after the last two games.