Fear has crippled Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League campaign
It was billed as an “all or nothing” game for Borussia Dortmund. After the 2-1 away defeat to Arsenal on Wednesday evening, however, it was a dejected Mats Hummels who conceded that “the likelihood was always greater, that it would be nothing.”
Despite their impressive, if not entirely aesthetically magnificent victory over Bayern Munich at the weekend, Dortmund’s Champions League shakiness returned with a bang, and, excluding the possibility of a significant overhaul in goal difference, Jürgen Klopp’s side find themselves all too soon at the end of the Champions League dream.
Both Hans Joachim Watzke and Hummels, before and after the game respectively, had spoken of individual mistakes, rather than overall quality, as the key factor in how disappointingly Dortmund have fared in the Champions League this season. To an extent, they have a point. Throughout the group stage campaign, the usually lethal Kevin Großkreutz has looked leaden, and almost every player, Hummels by his own admission included, can be criticised for sloppy passing and weak surrendering of possession.
So what is it about the Champions League which has disturbed Dortmund, a team who ravaged the Bundesliga last year and look set to give FC Bayern a fierce challenge again this season? Is there something in the chords of Zadok the Priest that just sets the legs a wobbling, and sends the concentration into oblivion? It is not as if Dortmund have had a particularly difficult group. Although Marseille and Olympiakos are no easy opponents, they are teams that any follower of the Bundesliga would have expected the German champions to overcome.
Certainly, the team seems to have been tentative if not fearful in all their Champions League fixtures. Their characteristic, gung-ho approach has been visible only in short ten minute spells, usually at the start of the game, and their famed ability to change pace and attack dangerously has been muted at best.
Hummels calls it a “learning curve”. Although undoubtedly gifted, the team remains very young, and, unlike their opponents, almost completely lacking in experience when it comes to European football. In their inexperience, they have failed to transpose the fearlessness they show in the Bundesliga onto a higher pressure situation.
In many ways, moreover, an early exit from the Champions League will not be considered a tragedy at Dortmund. Upon winning the title last year, the immediate message sent out from the club’s hierarchy was that frivolous spending and grandiose targeting of a European title were categorically not the order of the day. Still emerging from a debt-ridden decade as they are, Borussia Dortmund were not prepared to sacrifice the principles of austerity and youth development which had won them the Bundesliga, just so as to get a few rounds further in the Champions League.
It is an admirable sentiment, and one which many English clubs would do well to follow, but it is by no means risk free. In the absence of expenditure, Dortmund’s major transfer story of the summer was the loss of key midfielder Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid, in one of the bargains of the century. Though with the likes of Moritz Leitner and Ilkay Gündoǧan, they have plenty of talent to fill the gaps, with increasing interest from England in many of their remaining stars, Dortmund will want to avoid becoming a gateway team for emerging talent.
Their new star player, Mario Götze, disappointed English journalists last night by sustaining an injury and having to leave the field after less than half an hour. They had wanted to be shown what the fuss was all about – whether this young German prodigy was indeed worth the millions Arsenal are reportedly planning to pay for him. As for the players who remained on the pitch, Kevin Großkreutz has also been linked with Arsenal, stating provocatively that it is his “favourite club” and that “it is my dream to play in England”, while Mats Hummels last night demonstrated once again how well he would fit into the Arsenal set up.
This is the major problem for Dortmund. Their style of football and their wealth of young talent make for an attractive shopping list in the boardrooms of North London. While Götze and Großkreutz are unlikely to leave their home club simply for the oversized payslips of Manchester, a club like Arsenal and a manager like Wenger, provide a delectable alternative. It is the right kind of football, and, if the rest of Dortmund’s season proves fruitless, it is a chance to play consistently in the Champions League. So there it is, Mr Klopp. Third place. All or nothing.Tagged in: Arsenal, borussia dortmund, Champions League, football, Mario Götze
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