There may not prove to be an ideal time to face Borussia Dortmund this season, but now is appearing as good as any.
Tottenham Hotspur’s task of reaching the next stage of the Champions League is a tough one. They are up against one of Europe’s most clinical attacking teams who need fewer shots than any other to score. The Bundesliga has been used to having runaway leaders in recent seasons but of this sort, less so.
Borussia Dortmund are five points clear at the top in Germany’s first division and have been so impressive in the first half of the season. However, they have shown signs of slumping recently. At home against Hoffenheim on Saturday afternoon Dortmund were three goals up with 15 minutes of play left, it ended 3-3. They have been careless, whereas up until the past month they had been carefree.
A bad week for the Westphalians
The disappointing draw against Hoffenheim came on the back of elimination from the DFB Pokal last Tuesday when again they were in the driving seat and threw the game away. They led twice in extra time against Werder Bremen before being pegged back on both occasions and losing on penalties. Dortmund have now dropped points in two successive league games for the first time since April.
Prior to their recent stumbles, Dortmund had excelled in a Bundesliga season which has given them a very reasonable chance to claim their first title in seven years. Bayern Munich have been far from perfect under the tutelage of new coach Nico Kovac, although they are showing signs of improvement. The likes of Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim are some distance away from the league leaders both in terms of points and performances.
And it is Dortmund’s performances that have caught the eye. Their ruthlessness in front of goal and their smooth, dynamic transitions have ensured that they are frequently top of the bill. To put it simply, they are a joy to watch. Whenever they play, there are eyes watching; expecting drama, entertainment and attacking flair. So often this season they have got it.
Dortmund have been the ruthless entertainers
So far this season there’s been a 5-1, 2-4, 4-3, 4-0, 7-0, 4-1, 3-3 and of course the 3-2 Der Klasiker victory over Bayern. However despite the sheer abundance of goals – 54 in the league so far – Dortmund have taken fewer shots than most. They are clinical more so than wild creators, ruthlessly efficient rather than a constant firing cannon.
Their strength is not in creating a lot of chances, but in taking them; their shot per goal ratio is 12.7 which is substantially less than the rest of Europe’s highest scoring teams. Dortmund have in general dominated matches and still have a strong hold on the league; Marco Reus has had the best half a season of his career but faces a race against time to be fit for the Spurs game due to a thigh muscle strain.
Jadon Sancho has easily fitted into the starting XI and brings dynamism and a sense of fearlessness to the right flank, he has become a leading light for this side – and it was he who got the goalscoring started against Hoffenheim and was instrumental in the other two. Mario Goetze has often been deployed in central attack whilst Axel Witsel and Mo Dahoud have been steady and creative in midfield.
However, no one has epitomised this Dortmund side more so than Paco Alcacer. The Spanish striker has only mustered 644 minutes of action in the Bundesliga this season but has garnered 12 goals – the second most behind Reus. He is Mr Clinical and has come off the substitutes bench to score crucial goals for Dortmund more times than most have hot dinners.
He is not a bit-part player, but rather a well-used striker who capitalises most effectively when opponents think that they have weathered the Dortmund storm and become complacent. Alcacer’s loan deal has been made permanent due to his success in Germany and his displays have led to him being called up to the Spanish national team once again.
New coach has played his part
The image that this Dortmund have taken is that of their new head coach Lucien Favre. Following previous spells in the Bundesliga when he took Hertha Berlin from mid-table to Europe and saved Borussia Monchengladbach from relegation before securing a series of top-four finishes, there were high hopes for Dortmund’s new manager.
However given that his task of rebuilding the Dortmund team last summer was quite substantial, no one could have anticipated the season that they have experienced so far. Yes, Bayern have been unusually frail but Dortmund have exploited that weakness fully. Their crowning as Winter Champions – which means quite a deal in Germany – was fully deserved and showed no signs of regressing.
It is worth remembering that Dortmund have little right to being at the top of the Bundesliga and in the knockout stages of the Champions League. They are in many ways an ideal club; fans integrated, football enthralling and finances in check without meddling sponsors and investors. But so often such clubs don’t succeed, Dortmund have shown – and continue to do so – that there is a way for clubs without unlimited money to achieve.
The scouting at Dortmund has long been praised and even since Sven Mislintat, who’s credited for much of their recent transfer success, left for Arsenal they have continued to acquire smartly. Sancho and Alcacer show that and will most definitely have an impact over the two-legs against Tottenham.
Can Tottenham test Dortmund’s recent vulnerability?
When they meet at Wembley on Wednesday, Spurs will be keen to test Dortmund’s recent vulnerability. It has been clear from early on in the season that their attack is better than defence – for a while there were doubts over which goalkeeper Favre should chose, he has sided with Roman Burki who is prone to the odd mistake. At the weekend Julian Weigl had to fill in at centre-back and will certainly not be hoping to do the same against Heung-min Son and Co.
What is for sure is that irrespective of recent flutters, Dortmund have shown that they are capable of taking the fight to their opponents. They have been involved in countless exhilarating matches this season and have won most of them. Against Tottenham, they will certainly be tested but whether Mauricio Pochettino’s side are capable of getting the better of Favre’s ruthless machine is a question to which many will eagerly await the answer.