The 2018/19 Bundesliga season provided a title-race many in world football were yearning for since the days of Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund being pit against Heynckes and Guardiola at Bayern.
Borussia Dortmund, whose last league title came 7 years ago, have been a shadow of the “giant killer” side Klopp had so famously assembled. Their renowned rivals Bayern Munich have won the title every year since 2012, and with Dortmund finishing the 17/18 campaign a staggering 29 points behind the Bavarian giants, the chances of Dortmund pushing Bayern all the way for the Meisterschale this season were very low.
Lucien Favre had been appointed from Nice in the summer of 2018, on the back of Peter Bosz’s disappointing season where Dortmund had scraped to a 4th-place finish, earning a Champions League place only on goal difference. Favre was known for his quick transitional play and counter-attacking prowess with his former clubs, something the Yellow Wall would be fully appreciative of irrespective of the result.
Dortmund hit the ground running
Their season started in explosive fashion, beating RB Leipzig 4-1 in their opening game, as well as stunning victories against Frankfurt and Nuremberg, the latter being dismantled 7-0 at the Signal Iduna Park. Dortmund’s form carried on into the Champions League as well, scoring seven goals in two games against quality sides in Monaco and Atletico Madrid.
Favre’s men sat on top of the table from Matchday 6 onwards and only grew in strength week after week. BVB’s first loss of the season came in early November, away to Atletico. One loss in their first 15 games of the season is a start anyone in world football would take, and Dortmund were showing no signs of slowing down.
Der Klassiker– the mighty battle between Bayern and Dortmund came around on Matchday 11. Dortmund were comfortably sitting pretty at the top of the tree with Bayern in hot pursuit, 4 points behind in second place. Favre’s men needed nothing less than a win to extend the gap between them and their more decorated rivals.
The Black and Yellow fans were treated to a performance that gave them the belief that this could well and truly be their year. A hard fought 3-2 victory over the reigning Champions extended their lead to 7 points in the table. Every Dortmund player on the pitch was outstanding, and the game was a testament to Favre’s coaching ability to completely turn this side from underdogs to champions-elect.
Witsel and Delaney were the main reasons for the defensive solidarity which has long been required in a side that is renowned for only going forward. The midfield duo provided a great pivot for both an attacking outlet, as well as cover to the backline. Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus’ telepathic connection proved fruitful where it mattered the most- in front of goal. Paco Alcacer was in amongst the act as well, being in scintillating form, albeit coming off the bench in most of his appearances.
The unbeaten run in the league was stretched to 15 games, resulting in a hefty 9 point gap between them and joint-second place Bayern and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Dortmund’s form showed in the Champions League as well- topping Group A with 13 points. Matchday 16 gave Dortmund their first loss of the season at the hands of Dusseldorf, but the team responded with 3 wins and a draw to maintain their lead at the summit.
The high octane football on display by Der BVB propelled them to be the most in-form team in Europe by the end of January. But things took a turn for the worst in the months that followed. On the back of the news that their American superstar Christian Pulisic would be sold to Chelsea in the summer, it all went south for Favre and Co.
Blowing a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Hoffenheim was the start of a major slump in form by the side from Westphalia. A 3-0 loss in the Champions League round of 16 at the hands of Spurs dealt an even heavier blow. Dortmund failed to pick themselves up. Another draw against Nuremberg meant the lead at the top was cut down to a mere three points.
Bayern had struggled all season, and if there was a more fitting time to capitalise on their problems it was here and now. Matchday 25 provided a shock result, with Augsburg beating Dortmund 2-1, and Bayern firing on all cylinders to reinstate their claim as the best in the land. Niko Kovac had finally managed to find a settled starting XI, and now slowly caught up to Favre with both teams sitting on 54 points.
BVB were running out of gas, and the alarm bells were ringing at the Westfalenstadion at the most crucial point of the season. 3 wins in a row put Dortmund two points clear of Bayern, just ahead of the second derby of the season at the Allianz Arena.
The match was built up to be an early title decider, every part of which was true. Win, and Dortmund would be five clear with 6 games to play. Lose, and Bayern would outrightly take the lead for the first time in the entire season.
The result was one no one had seen coming. A resounding 5-0 demolition of Dortmund and an eye-sore for Marco Reus and his teammates swung the league in an instant. What many had predicted would be a tactically astute and unpredictable game of football, turned out to be the most one-sided performances the league season had produced. The Dortmund of old that would succumb in German football’s fiercest battle returned and in extremely disappointing fashion.
Bayern showed their muscle, and the reason why they bred success, year after year. Kovac’s men didn’t let their lead slip following the victory, coming into the last matchday two points clear, and needing just a draw to seal the title. Dortmund were hoping for a Bavarian tragedy, but their 2-0 victory was not enough to see them over the line.
Bayern ran out 5-0 winners to seal the title in one of the most dramatic Bundesliga seasons in recent years. Full of twists and turns, Dortmund may feel hard done by the end result, but only have themselves to blame. Letting a 9 point gap slip is a major mishap for any team, no matter how strong the chasing pack is. However, the signs taken from the overall season are only positive for this swashbuckling side.
It may be a case of so close yet so far, but pushing a stalwart in Bayern is no easy task, especially with a new manager coming in on the back of a number of disappointing seasons. The attacking football played by Lucien Favre’s side has caught the eye of everyone in world football. Results have shown they can stand toe-to-toe with the best in the world and hold their own.
Yes, work needs to be done for Dortmund to truly be regarded as one of the best in the world, but with Favre and his staff at the helm, the ‘Yellow Wall’ is looking forward to another season of entertaining and dynamic football- but more importantly some silverware to show for it at the end of it all.
Player of the season – Jadon Sancho (8/10)
Jadon Sancho proved to be a shining beacon of light this season for Dortmund, and for good reason. The Englishman featured in every game for Favre’s side, which speaks volumes about the 19-year-olds maturity and decision making on the ball. The numbers don’t lie either- 12 goals and 14 assists make him the player with the second-most goal involvements in the league, only behind Lewandowski.
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Already a full international for England, the future is bright for the teenager, and with the right management under Favre, the sky is well and truly the limit.
The player with a point to prove – Paco Alcacer (7.5/10)
Picking Paco Alcacer might come as a surprise to many. 18 goals in the league- making him second top scorer hardly leaves any room for improvement, right?
However, Alcacer has only started 11 games this season, making 15 appearances off the bench. One would think his remarkable finishing ability would grant him an automatic place in the team sheet, but Favre thinks otherwise. The former Valencia striker can be the most deadly goalscorer in the league if he starts and finishes more games, which is heavily dependant on him improving his work rate and fitness, the hallmarks of the side set up by the manager.
The burden is on his shoulders to repeat his form again next season, and he has to live up to the challenge if he wants to play more than a bit-part role in the side.
Manager – Lucien Favre (8/10)
Favre made shrewd signings in his first window, proving skeptics wrong about the likes of Axel Witsel, Abdou Diallo, Thomas Delaney and Paco Alcacer not being good enough to compete at the highest level. Developing youngsters in Sancho and Zagadou, and overseeing their development week in-week out is a credit to the manager putting patience and faith in his squad, no matter how old or inexperienced they are.
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Bringing along his style of play and selling it to the Dortmund faithful was effortless, but he delivered the results to match the glamorous football associated with Dortmund. Der BVB were a forgotten side in recent years, and Favre’s vision has put them back on the football map with their eye-catching displays throughout the campaign.
Many forget this is his debut season in charge of Dortmund. The side is in the right hands after multiple roller-coaster seasons, with a sense of calm and optimism finally being felt amongst the fans.
Season Rating – (7/10)
Dortmund fans will always feel the anguish of giving up a 9 point lead at the top, especially to fierce rivals Bayern who have time and again taken their star players, and beaten them to silverware to rub more salt in the wounds.
However, no one would have predicted the rising from the ashes of this team on the back of the 17/18 season. The side have outdone all expectations, reaching the third-highest points total for Dortmund in league history. More importantly, they came within inches of the title, banking on undiscovered gems to thrive at the highest of stages.
The season may look like a disappointment, and many will say it was, but the bigger picture looks much more convincing than it seems. Results that ultimately lost them the title could be down to inexperience and not being able to see crucial games through, things that can only make this squad grow stronger mentally in the future.
The Road Ahead –
The Board have acknowledged the progress made by Favre, and see a successful future with the Swiss manager. Days after the transfer window opened, Dortmund announced new recruits in Thorgan Hazard, Nico Schulz, and Julian Brandt, some of the most youthful and exciting talent the Bundesliga have to offer. They also confirmed Mats Hummels’ signature yesterday.
Dortmund mean business. Knowing the title was in their hands and losing it will hurt, but the squad will only use it as motivation to go out next season and get the job done by securing some long-awaited silverware.
A demanding manager, a hardworking and talented squad, gaining the experience needed to become champions, coupled with exemplary new signings can set the ground for the perennial underdogs to become a force in Europe once again. The expectations this time around are high, but trust Favre to deliver what the Black and Yellow army demand from him, being the best in Germany once again.
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Feature Image via The National