As the Klassiker has grown to prominence, many have chosen their sides to support, but the root of the rivalry lies in the fanatics with the club in their blood. One of those is ESPN FC news guru Stephan Uersfeld.
He has to hide his true patronage when objectively reporting for the Disney soccer powerhouse, but his veins hold yellow and black blood. Bavarian Football Works caught up with him to ask his thoughts on the state of his club:
BFW: The big quandary surrounding Dortmund is how the club excels in the Champions League and DFB-Pokal but lay eggs in the Bundesliga (16 goals in 5 non-Bundesliga matches vs. 10 goals in the Bundesliga). What do you think could be behind that?
There is no answer to that question, to be honest. Even Jürgen Klopp has looked helpless after all those defeats. It all started in Mainz. Everything was perfect until that day. Dortmund were set to jump to the top of the table, and on the back of the perfect Arsenal match the previous Tuesday everyone expected three points.
They dominated the match in the early parts, conceded, and could have equalized. Ciro Immobile wasted a penalty, Matthias Ginter went to score an own goal, BVB lost. The season faded away the next two games. A somewhat arrogant performance at home to Stuttgart, with Dortmund not wanting to give it their all. They recovered from being 2-0 down, when shifting up a gear.
Over the next couple of games, Dortmund’s attack was never the problem, even though they failed to score in most of the games. They just ran out of confidence, and, in Bundesliga, play against teams, who park the bus, and wait for the counter, wait for mistakes. There have been too many. Roman Weidenfeller, Mats Hummels, Adrian Ramos, Erik Durm. The list could go on and on.
Champions League is a different sport. It’s a competition of teams from the top of every European league, most of them used to having more of the ball, and used to attacking football at the weekends. And Dortmund can bring through their Gegenpressing, their counter attacks. They have also been able to score early in the games, and given the nature of the competition forced their opponents into even more possession. That helped them a lot. Still, especially in the Anderlecht clash, Dortmund were far from perfect, and could have conceded a couple of goals as well.
BFW: The biggest change to both teams is that Robert Lewandowski is now wearing red instead of yellow. Jürgen Klopp has rotated many players up top, and has even changed his system to account for two strikers. Is Lewandowski one of the main culprits of Dortmund's plummet to the bottom of the table, or is that just a scapegoat?
The drop to close to the relegation zone, and maybe even further below, is not down to Lewandowski’s departure. Of course, you can’t just replace a guy like him, and, indeed, Dortmund’s game was focused on him for the final two years of his stint at the club. There is, however, still too much quality and even more depth in the squad these days – not that we have been able to see much of the quality and even the depth, given all the injuries.
The Dortmund players all entered preseason during various stages, some coming back from the World Cup, some coming back from injuries, others suffered new injuries, and all the time Klopp has been busy testing new systems, maybe even was forced to test them because of all the absent stars. Imagine this attacking formation: Sven Bender, Ilkay Gündogan – Henrik Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus, Jakub Blazczykowski – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. You’d still have Ciro Immbolie, Adrian Ramos, Nuri Sahin, Sebastian Kehl and Shinji Kagawa as back-up. Thing is, they have never played together this season. And might not do so in a long time.
Still, the loss of Lewandowski and the previous loss of Mario Götze has been hard to compensate, with Lewandowski’s perfect ball control, and Götze ability to find spaces close to the box. The transfers also meant that Dortmund’s transfer policy in recent season has been more about reacting to exits, rather than a more active transfer policy on other positions. I am also not sure whether bringing back Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa has been the best idea, but that’s debatable.
BFW: The injury bug has bitten Dortmund several times, but Klopp has now had Sven Bender, Neven Subotić, Łukasz Piszczek, Marco Reus, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan back for a few matches now. Is there a rapport that needs to be restored? If so, how long do you think that will take?
BVB don’t have any time, do they? They might argue that they don’t need Champions League football every season, but there name is not as resounding as say Manchester United, who can still attract major stars despite not playing in Europe.
Having said that, Dortmund are in a steady process, and in spite of losing against Cologne and Hannover have made a step into the right direction in the past two games. The return of key players like Reus, Gündogan has helped, and, all that was missing against Hannover was that one goal, that one tin opener to kick start their season, finally. They have most of their players back now.
Once they start rolling, everything will be fine, or, to put it another way, Dortmund need to stop playing Prog Rock and go back to their Heavy Metal football. They are close to it, but close is not enough right now. They just don’t have a lot of time left.
A special thanks to Stephan Uersfeld! You can follow him on twitter at @uersfeld and read all of his Bundesliga coverage on ESPNFC.com.