Can Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga’s hottest team, topple Bayern for the title?

There are still some visible reminders of a time when Bayern Munich did not single-handedly rule the Bundesliga.

Mats Hummels took charge of Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund in minutes as they clinched the 2011-2012 title and now, at 34, he still roams Borussia’s backline from time to time. Mario Gotze was becoming a delightful creative force; these days it serves as a catalyst for Frankfurt’s Eintracht. Robert Lewandowski at that time was becoming one of the best scorers in Europe; now in Barcelona it continues to age like a fine wine. Ilkay Gündogan and Ivan Perisic were midfield dynamos in black and yellow, and they still play key roles in Champions League teams in the Premier League.

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Of course, there are many more reminders of how long ago that was. The burned-out Klopp left almost eight years ago. Gotze, Lewandowski and Hummels spent some or all of their best years at Bayern. In addition, the Bundesliga table 2011-2012 looks like an ancient artifact: Schalke, Stuttgart and Hannover 96 finished in the top seven, and the current top five teams are Eintracht (then in the second division), Union Berlin “(second division). and RB Leipzig (fourth division, only recently acquired and renamed) were nowhere to be seen.

In other words, 11 years is a long time. All last 10 have ended with Bayern holding championship trophy.

Bayern are still top of the Bundesliga table, but they go into an all-out four-team brawl in March, five points behind the lead.

  • 1. Bayern Munich (46 points, goal difference +43)

  • 2. Borussia Dortmund (46 points, +18)

  • 3. Union Berlin (43 points, +8)

  • 4. RB Leipzig (42 points, +18)

  • 5. Freiburg (41 points, +3)

At the moment it is an old contender presenting the biggest new challenge. For the first time, Borussia Dortmund won their first nine games in a calendar year, seven of which were in the league. Bayern have lost only once since the restart after the World Cup, but BVB still made up the nine-point gap in a short time.

While we wait for Dortmund’s first downfall in 2023, let’s take a look at how they got so hot in the first place and how they can – or can’t – keep that momentum going.

Eliminate Redundancy

The 2021-22 transfer windows for Borussia Dortmund have not gone as planned. The BVB did bring in outstanding VfB Stuttgart goalkeeper Gregor Kobel, but they allowed Jadon Sancho to join Manchester United for an €85m fee, replacing just one striker: PSV Eindhoven’s Donyell Malen.

Malen has just 11 goals and five assists in his first 60 appearances for the club, just as Sancho has just 10 and 4 respectively in 59 matches in England. The trade didn’t really work for anyone, and with star Erling Haaland spending part of the 2021–22 season with injuries and another prospect, Gio Reina, also missing most of the year, the team suffered.

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Faced with the impending loss of Haaland – he joined Manchester City for €60m and defender Manuel Akanji joined him for another €17.5m – the BVB had to completely close the 2022-23 transfer windows to catch up. Perhaps they did even more, even if injuries prevented us from seeing it for a while.

With the proceeds from Haaland and Sancho’s relocation, BVB has attracted Ajax veteran Sebastian Haller (€31m), RB Salzburg rising star Karim Adeyemi (€30m), Freiburg defender Nico Schlotterbeck (€20m), Cologne midfielder Salih Ozcan. (5 million euros) and Bayern defender Niklas Süle (free transfer). They also added Union Berlin defender Julian Ryerson (€5m) into the winter window.

In other words, last summer BVB lost two players in the starting lineup and replaced them with those who will become six. It directly transforms; it just took us a while to see all the pieces together. Haller missed the first few months of the season with testicular cancer treatment, Adeyemi took time to find his niche and manager Edin Terzic’s first lineup had too many layoffs to work properly.

Reserve No. 1: three central defenders in two places

Firstly, Terzić mostly stuck to a 4-2-3-1 formation despite having three centre-backs – Schlotterbeck, Süle and Hummels. Soule ended up playing many minutes as a right-back or right-back, but his scoring (0.14 xG+xA in 90 minutes, zero goals, one assist on five chances created) was far too similar to that of a center. back.

The BVB build-up game didn’t have the proper width, and while Soule is faster than the 6ft 4, 218lb man has the right to be, it’s probably no coincidence that BVB has been one of the worst transition teams in the Bundesliga in recent memory. part of the season before the World Cup. They played more real defenders than they had places, but they still suffered too many failures in defense.

Technically, Borussia Dortmund only added one player to the senior squad in the winter transfer window (Ryerson), but the simple act of recovering players from injuries changed the squad. We’ll get back to the effect of Haller’s (and winger Jamie Byno-Gittens) return in a bit, but the defense was transformed not only by Ryerson, but also by Marius Wolf, who missed time in the fall due to an infection and what was classified as a “vestibular disorder” .

With Ryerson and Wolf, BVB was able to play with real right-backs, fending off Rafael Guerreiro from the left. (Ryerson could replace that team as well.) Soule is now more of a full-back centre-back, and Hummels’ minutes have been reduced. (He played 70% of the minutes before the World Cup, but only 34% after.) Hummels still has a lot to offer, but by simply solving the “square peg, round hole” problem, BVB was able to create a more natural width and reinforce some transition issues.

Redundancy #2: Two defensive midfielders doing the same thing

The signing of Ozdan this summer made a lot of sense – with star midfielder Jude Bellingham being encouraged to loot the pitch in a more offensive role, BVB needed to make sure they had a more physical and defensive presence behind them. But they already had Emre Can for that, and it took a long time for Ozcan and Can to figure out how to coexist in midfield.

BVB before the break:

When both Ozcan and Can started: 1.3 points per game, 1.3 goals allowed per game
When both played in some capacity: 1.5 points per game, 1.5 goals allowed per game
When only one or none played: 2.0 points per game, 0.7 goals per game allowed

With a much more natural four back, Terzić was also able to create more order in his midfield. Can steps back to help mend the relationship between the two centre-backs, while Ozcan plays a slightly bigger role on the pitch on average. Touching the ball earlier and more often also increased Can’s productivity.

Key statistics of Emre Can (in 90 minutes)

Before break: 65.2 touches, 49.7 assists, 0.1 chance created, 7.1 rebounds, 8.5 combined progressive passes and carries
From break: 76.5 touches, 61.4 assists, 0.8 chances created, 9.4 rebounds, 10.3 combined progressive passes and carries

Ozdan has fewer touches, but still plays a solid role in transitional defense, and BVB have become more stable in possession and stronger in defense.

Set a hierarchy

Signing a bunch of new players and then going through a pretty severe injury crisis is the perfect recipe for constant experimentation and bad chemistry. Before the break, only two players played more than 75% of available minutes for BVB: Bellingham (93%) and Schlotterback (89%). Six players played from 55 to 75% of the minutes, and another seven – from 35 to 55%. The line-up was constantly changing, even the goalkeeper, where Kobel missed almost a third of the season before the break, and the consequences were pretty obvious.

(To appreciate the positive effect of a stable line-up, look at Bundesliga third-placed Union Berlin, with five players recording at least 79% of their minutes. Surprising Premier League top four contender Newcastle United had eight players with a score of 84% or higher.)

Since the break, the injury bug has become kinder to black and yellow. Bellingham, Schlotterbeck, Kobel, Can, Soule and Julian Brandt were on the field at least 78% of the time, with Ryerson (69%), Ozcan (68%) and Guerreiro (67%) closing in on them.

There were still many rotations in the attack, where Haller (58% of minutes), Adeyemi (49%), captain Marco Reus (42%), Byno-Gittens (39%), Malen (30%), Youssouf Mukoko (22% ) and Reina (17%) alternated between field and bench. But Dortmund had a particular need for stability in the back, and they achieved it. And while all of the scattered attacking pieces worked when they were given the chance – a comforting reminder since Adeyemi was out for several weeks with a muscle injury – it also helped that Brandt stepped up significantly.

Total Bundesliga goals and assists since half-time

– 7: Jae-Soon Lee, Mainz (5 goals, 2 assists)
6. Julian Brandt, Borussia Dortmund (four and two); Randal Kolo Muani (five and one); Jonas Hofmann, Borussia Mönchengladbach (three and three); Ellis Schiri (five and one)

Combined xG+xA

– 5.5: Andre Silva, RB Leipzig
– 4.4: Thomas Müller, Bayern
4.1: Brandt

-3.8: Color of the dead
-3.6: Maximilian Arnold, Wolfsburg

Chances are created

– 26: Hofmann
22: Brandt

15: Rafael Guerreiro, Borussia Dortmund; Arne Engels, Augsburg
– 13: Jeremy Frimpong, Bayer Leverkusen; Christian Günther, Freiburg

During a nine-match BVB winning streak, Brandt scored four goals with two assists from thirty chances are created. That’s almost De Bruyne’s average: 3.4 chances per 90 minutes. (Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne is averaging 3.6 points this season.) Brandt creates width and opportunities on the right, while Guerreiro…


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