By Leo Linden
Position: 17th in Bundesliga (15pts)
Borussia Dortmund are in the midst of one of the most perplexing seasons in all of Europe. Just four years ago, manager Jurgen Klopp lead the West German side through back to back amazing domestic campaigns, capturing the Bundesliga title twice in a row in 2010 and 2011. The titles years did not
however, bring much success in Europe.
Despite not winning any hardware that year and losing Mario Gotze to Bayern, Dortmund bounced back last season, returning to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and finishing runners-up in the Bundesliga for the second year in a row. To spectators, it seemed that Klopp was rapidly bringing Dortmund to a new level. They looked capable of competing both in Germany and Europe for the foreseeable future, even if some of their stars departed for larger paychecks.
At least until this year.
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Putting it nicely, Dortmund have been abysmal in the Bundesliga this year. With just 15 points in 17 games, they sit in the relegation zone to the 2. Bundesliga, which they have not competed in since 1976.
The problems are spread around the pitch. Dortmund’s biggest star, creative midfielder Marco Reus, has tallied just three goals and two assists this year after a knee injury forced him to miss the World Cup. Forwards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ciro Immobile have combined for just eight goals. Their lone bright spot has been center back Mats Hummels, but he has been long-rumored to be leaving the Westfalenstadion, and certainly will if Dortmund go down.
Here’s what makes it even more confusing: Dortmund have been amazing in the Champions League. In Europe, they wrapped up a 4-1-1 group stage by winning Group D on goal differential over Arsenal.
In the first game against the Gunners, Dortmund out played the English side to a 2-0 win in Germany, a statement win for those watching all over Europe. They continued on, beating Anderlecht 3-0 away and smacking Turkish runners-up Galatasaray 8-1 in two games, looking like a well-oiled machine. Their lone tie and loss came in the last two games of the six, when they had already secured qualification to the Round of 16, where they drew Juventus.
This matchup will be a defining one in Dortmund’s season. With the thought of being relegated spurring them forward in the league, Dortmund need to prove to Europe they have not gone away for good.
The tie could also be massively important to the future of the club. Should they not progress further in the Champions League and their league form doesn’t improve , it is almost certain that players like Reus and Hummels would leave, with Premier League suitors lining up to put in bids for both. Furthermore, it has been rumored that Klopp could be out as well. If things don’t change soon, Dortmund could be stripped of its core. Dortmund begin the second half of their season this weekend following Germany’s month-long winter break,and they better come ready to play. Saturday at 8:30 a.m., they face third-place Bayer Leverkusen, who themselves are preparing for a fight for Champions League positioning.
Dortmund have a long way to go, but they do have past European success to build off of, and this could simply be a road bump. But it would be a fantastic story if they won the Champions Leagueand claimed a place in next year’s competition while being relegated.