Friday, 14 November 2014

When Yellow Feels Blue

Borussia Dortmund is the most entertaining side in world football when they play their best. They run fast, press high and waste no time in useless possession- launching attack after lightning quick attack. To quote manager Jurgen Klopp, his side plays football “like a heavy metal band”. Carrying forward the analogy, they may be Metallica when at their best but they’re equally Justin Bieber (not heavy metal but the perfect euphemism for bad nonetheless) when at their worst.

Dortmund recorded their third win in the Bundesliga last week- a FIFA “Titus Bramble Own Goal of the Year” nominee sinking 3rd placed Borussia Monchengladbach at the Signal Iduna Park. This was the 11th game of the season. Dortmund have also won 4 out of 4 in the Champions League and look certain favourites to win a group that also has Anderlecht, Galatasaray and Alexis Sanchez. Now, this seems a paradox so complicated Christopher Nolan could make a trilogy on it. How on earth does the same team do so well in a tournament supposedly comprised of champion teams and so badly in their domestic league?

Many theories have been put forth and shockingly some actually have merit. This writer is going to look at none of them because, frankly, it doesn’t matter why they’ve done badly in the Bundesliga so far. A good football writer (like a good drug dealer) must be able to take you into the future and predict what’s going to happen. So I’m dusting off my crystal football and looking ahead to the end of the season.

Dortmund will finish 3rd in the Bundesliga.  Currently on 10 points, Dortmund sit a princely 10 points and 12 places off where I’m predicting them to finish. But they can only go up from here. They completely outclassed Monchengladbach which is probably why Christoph Kramer was so miffed he decided to help them. Key players are returning from injury- the biggest of which, in my opinion, is central midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.

Gundogan is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world and he is crucial to the way Dortmund play. Dispossessing opponents quickly and pressing high up the pitch is something the aging legs of Sebastian Kehl can no longer do. This subsequently restricts Sven Bender’s freedom to move forward and link midfield to attack. Gundogan’s burst of energy frees up space for other key players and allows Dortmund to break with greater speed and precision.

Dortmund have dominated comfortably in a lot of matches they have lost this season. They have had far more possession, shots and clear cut chances than their opponents but haven’t taken them. Part of the reason is the inconsistent form of Ciro Immobile- he’s clearly no Lewndowski yet. But with Reus’ return and Aubameyang finding some good form, the clinical and Germanic nature of their attack is slowly coming back. They’ve scored 13 goals in 4 Champions League games. Attacking like that has to translate into wins in the Bundesliga.

The defence has been weak because, frankly, there haven’t been enough Germans in it. Erik Durm has been terrific at left back. In fact, he’s so good that Bayern Munich will be buying him next season and keeping him on the bench. Mats Hummels has successfully returned from his injury about five times so far. One hopes he doesn’t end up like “that Arsenal player who is always injured”. One also hopes he doesn’t end up AS “that Arsenal player who is always injured”. Like Nolan, I like to leave things ambiguous.

All of this considered, they’ve still only conceded one goal in 4 Champions League games- the fewest of all teams in the competition. That kind of form difference doesn’t last long- eventually the scales tilt to one side. And this writer feels that side is the Champions League one.

“If this writer is so confident of an upturn in Dortmund fortunes why isn’t he predicting a higher finish? Why only third?” a curious yet annoyingly erudite reader may be fighting the urge to ask.  Well, the short answer is that I’m giving a pessimistic estimate. Dortmund will definitely finish 3rd or above.

They will also definitely not win the league. Pep Guardiola is already thinking of where to put his second Bundesliga winner’s medal. The reason I can’t be sure between 2nd and 3rd is the relative inconsistency Dortmund’s rivals have shown. Wolfsburg are currently 2nd and have looked good at times this season but they are almost professionals at slipping up when it really counts.

Then there’s Monchengladbach or, in the interest of both brevity and pure awesomeness, M’Gladbach who had been on an incredible 17 game unbeaten run before Christoph Kramer’s piece of brilliance. Hannover, Hoffenheim, Leverkusen and Augsburg all follow and have all looked patchy at best.

All of this means there’s room for Dortmund to make giant strides. The Bundesliga is very similar to the Premier League in that sense- it’s very competitive from top to bottom. And right now Dortmund are bottom but tomorrow they could easily be top.

One thing’s for sure though: wherever Dortmund finish and however they play, Christoph Kramer’s own goal will go down as one of the best goals the world of football has ever seen. Yes, that’s what this article has been about all along. Pointing you in one direction and gently nudging you in several others leaving you confused until the end- which makes you want to give this an Oscar but you will not. I am now officially the Nolan of football writing.

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