After finishing the 2010/11 season as Bundesliga champions, Borussia Dortmund will be expected to have an impact in the premier European competition in the coming season. With a relatively untried and untested squad seemingly in a transition period at the start of the campaign, few could have expected Dortmund to produce such a dominant and exciting display in the league.
But they pulled out performances which showed grit and persistence beyond their young years, with an average age of just 24. Coach Juergen Klopp, who signed a contract extension mid-season to keep him at the club until 2014, has expertly guided a team of players who have had little playing time together. Away wins at Schalke, Leverkusen and Bayern Munich showed how spirited and resilient this team have grown to become in a short space of time.
Champions League coefficient rankings mean that, albeit only by a fraction behind Italy, for 2011/12 there will be 2 German clubs in the Group Stage; Dortmund and Leverkusen, and Bayern in the Play-off round. I’m sure that, at the start of the season, Borussia Dortmund would have been happy squeezing into any European spot.
In the Europa League last season, Dortmund failed to make it past the group stage after a tight battle in a tough group alongside Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain, missing out on the knock-out stage by a point. All the same, their European football experience in recent years is extremely limited. When you reach the meaty end of the European competitions, it becomes a different story, with a number of teams desperately looking for success and consequently upping their game.
Back in 97, when Borussia Dortmund last won the Champions League, they had a rather more illustrious and well known line-up with names like Matthias Sammer, Andreas Moller and Stefan Reuter. But even then, although they had a solid back line, they were also a formidable force going forward and broke with pace and flair with attacking midfielders. If you were around at the time, you probably remember the images of Lars Ricken lifting the ball over Peruzzi with his first touch, just 20 seconds after coming on from the bench, to cap off a 3-1 victory.
In 2011, they could again be a free-flowing and dynamic force in Europe, with the skill and incisiveness of players like Goetze, Kagawa and top striker Lucas Barrios. Along with this, they have a formidable defensive pairing of Hummels and Subotic, who are protected by the hard-working and tenacious defensive midfielder Sven Bender in the absence of injury stricken club captain Sebastian Kehl. So, on paper at least, it looks like they have a balanced team and a decent base that can improve and adapt to the dynamics of European football.
However, one of the big struggles for Dortmund over the summer will be to keep hold of the current squad and make additions that will fit in without disrupting the momentum of a winning team. Nuri Sahin, who was a key piece of the black and yellow jigsaw last season, has been lost to Real Madrid. There are also rumours that Shinji Kagawa is a target for Manchester United and will undoubtedly have caught the eye of others after an impressive first season in Germany.
If this is the case, Klopp along with Michael Zorc (reportedly responsible for separating wheat from chaff to sniff out Dortmund’s successful new talent) will have to get back on the case to fill a hole in the role of creative midfielder. They have tried to retain the services of players for seasons to come by offering long-term contracts to their youngsters.
When trying to retain squad players and attract new ones, certain aspects do work in the club’s favour, aside from the obvious of winning the league in the previous season and an improved financial windfall. The Westfalenstadion, nicknamed the opera house of German football, regularly houses 80,000 passionate fans and represents a fantastic fan base and one of the most exciting environments to play football in Europe.
The draw of Champions League football in a young, fresh and highly rated team who play an attractive and enjoyable style of football should be enough to lure players of significant calibre to the newly crowned German champions. In recent years, teams such as Lyon, Porto and Schalke have shown that it is possible to step up and outperform the stalwarts of the Champions League. I can see Dortmund doing well, with good seeding they should negotiate the group stage and will presumably be hard to beat at home. Whether or not they have the experience and quality to go much further than the quater-finals, particularly if they meet a top team like Barcelona, Madrid or Man United, is still very much up for debate.
Let us know your thoughts on Dortmund’s chances in Europe next season.
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