On April 3, Borussia Dortmund lost 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt at an empty Westfalenstadion. The defeat dropped The Black and Yellows seven points behind their opponents in the race for fourth place in the Bundesliga.
As a result, Dortmund appeared destined to finish outside of the top four for the first time since the 2014/15 season. Additionally, they would miss out on the lucrative UEFA Champions League, which, during a time where the financial constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively affected most football clubs, would simply be unacceptable
However, in early May, with three league matches left to play, Dortmund are only one point behind Frankfurt and just two points behind third-placed Wolfsburg. Additionally, the club will play in the DFB Pokal final on May 13, with a chance to win silverware for the first time since 2017.
What once appeared as a catastrophic season for the Westphalians now can finish with a rousing success.
Borussia Dortmund With a Chance to Save Their Season
An Inconsistent Campaign
Since the demoralizing loss to Frankfurt, Dortmund have won four-straight Bundesliga matches, scoring 11 goals, and only conceding three. It is just the second time all season the club has won more than two league games in a row, the first coming in October 2020, when they also won four-straight.
This lack of consistency is one of the major reasons why Dortmund have struggled this season, losing ten league matches, their most since 2014/15. There can be no mistake this year has been a massive disappointment, considering Dortmund have the second-highest total market value of all German clubs. For a club with a wide array of resources, to be sitting in fifth place at this stage of the season is embarrassing.
Additionally, having stars such as Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Mats Hummels and even 17-year-old phenom Jude Bellingham should lead to a higher place in the league table. Sitting 16 points behind usual title rivals Bayern Munich cannot be what the Dortmund hierarchy envisioned when the season began last September.
Incomprehensible defeats to Augsburg, Köln, Stuttgart and Freiburg have exposed Dortmund’s weaknesses, particularly defensively, as they have conceded 42 goals so far in the Bundesliga. This poor form cost manager Lucien Favre his job and put the club on the brink of financial catastrophe, lingering outside of the Champions League qualification places.
An Impressive Month of April
Nevertheless, under the tutelage of 38-year-old caretaker manager Edin Terzic, Dortmund have revived their season during the month of April, moving to the cusp of Champions League qualification. It is still not a guarantee they will finish in the top four since Wolfsburg and Frankfurt can win their final three matches, which would render Dortmund’s performances meaningless.
Dortmund also need to win their own games, starting with a tough matchup with second-placed RB Leipzig this Saturday.
However, for a team enveloped in chaos a few months ago, this turnaround is impressive. Along with the four consecutive league victories, Dortmund demolished second-division side Holstein Kiel 5-0 in the DFB Pokal semi-finals, who had previously knocked out Bayern and are in the hunt for promotion to the Bundesliga.
Dortmund will play in the final next week (also against Leipzig), with the chance to win silverware for the first time in four years.
Terzic’s side also played admirably in the two legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City, losing 2-1 in both. In the second leg, they were even leading the Premier League champions-elect 1-0 at half-time, before surrendering the lead and the tie during the final 45 minutes.
Considering City are playing in the Champions League final later this month and are on the verge of winning three major trophies, Dortmund’s performances in those matches were exceptional and gave the team the necessary confidence to go on their recent league run.
The Youth Revolution
While Dortmund’s team play has been fantastic over the last month, several individuals have stepped up and taken the extra step to ensure the club’s season will not finish in ignominy.
Of course, Dortmund would not even be remotely close to the top four if it were not for Haaland, who has scored a total of 37 goals in all competitions this season, including 25 in the Bundesliga. During the four-match league winning streak, he scored four times and contributed two assists. His incredible first goal against Wolfsburg, where he broke free in Dortmund’s own half and scored on his individual run, was a mark of true strength, power and talent.
The return of Sancho from his muscle injury (which kept him out of nine matches) has also aided Dortmund, who provided two assists in the cup semi-final victory. Eighteen-year-old star Giovanni Reyna also returned to his stellar self, scoring three times in April, including twice in the Holstein Kiel match. His assist against Stuttgart on April 10 was the first time he scored or assisted in any match since December 12. Dortmund will expect the American to continue this improved form in the final weeks of the season.
Nobody at Dortmund has impressed more over the last month than Bellingham. His poise and command in midfield at such a young age has been remarkable, as his performances against City confirmed his ability to perform at high levels in high stakes matches. He also scored three times during this time period, further complementing his various skills.
While Dortmund’s youth continue to impress, the team’s veterans are also performing at a high level. Captain Marco Reus has scored four times over the last month (twice in the league). His presence as an attacking midfielder and left-winger (with Sancho out) has helped elevate Dortmund during the winning run. Reus’ eight goals in all competitions is the third-most in the squad, behind Haaland and Sancho.
Centre-back Hummels has also guided Dortmund near Champions League qualification, playing an essential role in a defence that has only given up three league goals since the loss to Frankfurt in early April. His performances have been excellent this season, which may lead to German national team manager Joachim Löw recalling him for the European Championships this summer.
Ending on a High Note
A month ago, Dortmund were on the verge of disaster and disgrace. Now, the club has an opportunity to salvage the 2020/21 season, by finishing in the top four and winning a trophy.
The task will not be straightforward, for they must defeat Leipzig twice in less than a week, in the Bundesliga and cup final. However, Dortmund will take comfort with the fact that Leipzig have not defeated them since 2017. Dortmund have controlled the match-ups over the last several years, including the first time the sides met this season, winning 3-1 back in January.
Even if Dortmund claim the DFB Pokal and win their final three league matches, the season could still end in failure. If Wolfsburg and Frankfurt are victorious in their remaining matches, both clubs will finish ahead of Dortmund, who will then miss out on the Champions League. Regardless of what Dortmund do, it might not matter.
But there is still a chance of success, which, considering where the club was a month ago, is remarkable.