When Bayern Munich clinched their 8th successive title by defeating Werder Bremen on Tuesday all the talk was about how the Bundesliga is once again in a boring cycle. The Bavarians’ dominance in recent years has been seen as a negative side of the league and mentioned as the sole reason why it’s not as popular as the English Premier League. While Bayern’s continuous success isn’t particularly unique to the league the way the other big teams failed to take advantage even when the record champions weren’t at their best is worrisome.
At the start of the 2019/20 season, many people had Borussia Dortmund as champions in their predictions. After a successful transfer window, in which the Black and Yellows managed to strengthen their squad with the signings of Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, and Mats Hummels, this seemed a reasonable goal. However, Lucien Favre’s side failed to win the league, and below are some of the main reasons why.
After winning their first two league games on the back of DFB Pokal and Super Cup victories Borussia Dortmund tasted their first league defeat at newly-promoted Union Berlin. Consecutive draws against Werder Bremen, Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg showed that the team hadn’t reached the level of consistency needed to win a league title.
The 2-0 loss to Mainz on Wednesday, although it was after Bayern won the title, sparked a conversation about how BVB sometimes lose games they should be winning. The 3-3 draw against strugglers Paderborn in the Hinrunde was another example as BVB found themselves 3-0 down at half time and had to salvage a point in the last minute. These types of games have held BVB back this season and had they managed to win those so-called easier games it would have been a different story.
The defense has been Dortmund’s Achilles heel this season. While there was no problem finding the net, the team gave away far too many goals than necessary. This forced Favre into a change in formation. The back three has worked really well and has made the team far more robust in the second half of the season. You still can’t help wonder how things would have been different if the team was defending well at the start of the season.
Individual mistakes from Manuel Akanji were also part of the problem this season. The Swiss centre-back didn’t have the best of seasons as his errors and lapses in concentration cost the team on several occasions. Although he has improved markedly in the ghost games the addition of Dan-Axel Zagadou and Łukasz Piszczek alongside Mats Hummels proved to be the best combination. Achraf Hakimi also seemed far better suited as a wing-back than a right back. His poor defensive attributes were also part of the problem early on.
Lack of a real number 9
Paco Alcacer was the only true striker when the season started. His struggles with injuries meant that the Black and Yellows had to alternatively play Marco Reus and Julian Brandt upfront. Although this approach worked in some games it wasn’t a sustainable plan.
BVB did well to acquire Erling Haaland in the January transfer window and his impact has been significant. Having a number 9 meant that the team had a reliable goalscorer in front of the goal. This was what they were missing in those early-season struggles and it will be important to add another striker for further success.
Missing Marco Reus
Marco Reus getting injured is not something new. As such it was baffling that Lucien Favre decided to play him in a Cup tie against Bremen. After starting successive games in the league the captain was in need of a break. The team lost 3-2 and lost their leader in that game. Reus may not have had his best season but his average performance is much better than what most players do at their best. Furthermore, the team always seems much more motivated when they have Reus in the team. He may have been able to make a difference in crucial games like the home tie against Bayern which effectively decided the title.
This is a word that has annoyed many BVB players and fans alike. Pundits have mentioned time and again that the team lacks the mentality of champions. When Dortmund drew 2-2 against Eintracht in September Marco Reus was asked about this particular side of the game and his reaction was an angry one: “Leave me alone with that ‘lack of mentality’ bullshit. The same shit every week. When you bottle a 2-1 lead at Frankfurt, it’s not about mentality. It’s about proper defending and getting a lead across the finish line.”
While you can’t explain every loss and setback with ‘mentality’ or lack of it you can see the contrast between Bayern and Dortmund in this regard. While the Bavarians manage to win no matter what, the same can’t be said about their challengers. Maybe it has to do with experience or quality but the mental side of the game especially in a title race can’t be underestimated. Strong teams always manage to pick themselves up from setbacks. It’s safe to say that BVB aren’t there yet.
As the season nears its end there will be discussions about the future of Lucien Favre. Despite the fact that he managed to form a team that plays good football and did manage to challenge Bayern, he doesn’t have any trophies to show for his two years at the helm. Questions have also been asked whether he is the right man to lead BVB to the much-coveted league title. With the likes of Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi likely to depart there will also be plenty of rebuilding to do. It’s important to rectify the mistakes of the 2019/20 season if BVB are to put a halt on Bayern’s hegemony. Whether that means a new manager will remain to be seen.