For the second season running Borussia Dortmund had to settle for second spot in the Bundesliga as rivals Bayern Munich once again proved too much to overcome in the race for the title. Even with a squad arguably better equipped than any in a long while, Lucien Favre was unable to steer the Schwarzgelben to a long-awaited title triumph.
Having finished two points behind the Bavarians in 2018-19 and with some very promising summer signings, expectations were high going into the new season and those expectations were only raised when BVB beat Bayern in the pre-season DFL Supercup. A comprehensive 5-1 win over Augsburg started the season in ideal fashion before beating Köln. Things were looking good, but then came a shock 3-1 defeat away at newly promoted Union Berlin to dampen the spirits.
They recovered to beat Bayer Leverkusen, but then drew their next three games by the same 2-2 scoreline. There was much to admire, but also a little something missing in the Dortmund machine. Matchday 11 gave them the opportunity to lay down a marker when travelling to the Allianz Arena, but a dismal display saw them well beaten and the 4-0 scoreline could have been higher such was the Bayern dominance. They recovered to take maximum points against Fortuna Düsseldorf, Hertha Berlin, and Mainz, but suffered another defeat in the final game of the Hinrunde away at Hoffenheim.
BVB went into the Winterpause in 4thplace, seven points behind leaders RB Leipzig and three behind Bayern. They then pulled quite the transfer coup by beating off a host of other clubs to sign teenage striker Erling Haaland from RB Salzburg.
To say the young Norwegian hit the ground running would be an understatement of epic proportions. Three minutes after being introduced as a sub against Augsburg, he scored and then went on to complete a debut hat trick. His scoring feats continued as Dortmund began the Rückrunde in fine fashion. In the eight games up to the corona virus lockdown, they won seven and narrowly lost the other in a seven-goal thriller against Leverkusen. In those eight matches Haaland scored nine goals.
After the restart Dortmund continued where they left off winning five of their first six matches. Unfortunately, the single loss came in the crunch clash with Bayern at the Signal Iduna Park when they really needed the three points to close the gap on the reigning champions. Going into the match, they trailed Bayern by four points, so the defeat all-but sealed the title for the visitors and when Dortmund inexplicably lost to Mainz on matchday 32, it was all over.
Dortmund had played an excellent Rückrunde, but Bayern had been near perfect winning 17 out of 18 and drawing the other. A final day loss at home to Hoffenheim showed just how deflated BVB were and in the end, they finished 13 points behind the Bavarians.
The highlights for Dortmund came in terms of both individual matches and individual players. The opening of both halves of the season saw very good displays against Augsburg with a 5-1 win on matchday 1 and a 5-3 away victory on matchday 18.
The fightback to rescue a point against Paderborn in the 3-3 draw on matchday 12 provided a great spectacle, while big wins were also recorded over Fortuna (5-0), Köln (5-1), Union Berlin (5-0) and Paderborn (6-1).
The Geisterspiel Revierderby was also a highlight with Dortmund cruising to a 4-0 defeat, which flattered Schalke really.
Personnel-wise the form shown by Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland and Achraf Hakimi in particular provided plenty of season highlights.
Both of the Klassiker against Bayern showed there was still a difference in quality between the two sides in the Bavarian’s favour. The 4-0 loss at the Allianz Arena saw a lack of fight from BVB, while the mentality of Bayern in the return fixture was clear to see. They seemed to want the win more than Borussia and knew how to achieve it.
Nobody saw their defeat to lowly Union Berlin coming on matchday 3 and BVB were at a loss to explain the defeat. Losing the 4-3 thriller to Leverkusen on matchday 21 stopped their perfect start to the Rückrunde, while the less said about the 4-0 home defeat on the final day to Hoffenheim, the better.
The lengthy injury absence of Marco Reus towards the end of season was also something to concern Dortmund fans.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 21-6-7, 69 points (2.03 per game), 2nd in Bundesliga
Home Record: 36 points (11-3-3) Away Record: 33 points (10-3-4)
Goals: 84 (2.47 per game), Goals Against: 41 (1.21 per game), Diff: 43
xG: 59.1, xGA: 41.3, Diff: 17.8
Dortmund scored 84 goals giving them an average of 2.03 per game. This was a slight increase on the 81 scored in the previous season. Jadon Sancho was the top scorer with 17 goals, with Erling Haaland blazing a scorching trail with 13 in his 15 appearances.
Marco Reus chipped in with 11, while Raphaël Guerreiro had a career best eight goals. Summer signing Thorgan Hazard scored 7, with Julian Brandt adding three.
BVB only ranked 8th in the Bundesliga for shots, but with 42% of them on target were the top ranked side in the league. Haaland and Sancho were the most proficient in the league with the Norwegian scoring 0.37 goals per shot and the Englishman 0.33.
Coach Favre began the season with a back four in a 4-2-3-1 formation but switched to a 3-4-3 after matchday 13. The signing of Mats Hummels was intended to strengthen BVB at the back, provide more aerial power and allow them to play out from the back. They conceded 41 goals which was three fewer than the previous year.
Hummels, Manuel Akanji and Lukasz Piszczek generally formed the central three defenders with Achraf Hakimi and Guerreiro as attacking wing backs. Roman Burki was a near ever-present in goal with Marwin Hitz deputising on three occasions. Big summer signing Nico Schulz struggled to make the breakthrough, while Dan-Axel Zagadou missed three months of the season with muscle and knee injuries.
Hummels ranked 5th in the league for clearances (177), 9th for interceptions (60), and 5th of the outfield players for progressive distance of passes (14040 yards). Hakimi produced the highest number of sprints over the season (1083), had the 4th highest number of possessions (2832) and ranked 8th overall for intensive runs (2318).
Axel Witsel remained the fulcrum in midfield with varying options joining him as a Doppelsechs– Thomas Delaney, Mahmoud Dahoud and even Julian Brand at times, but the signing of Emre Can looks to have brought his long-term partner.
Witsel’s pass completion of 94.1% saw him lead the league for second successive season. Jadon Sancho added 16 assists to his 17 goals with Thorgan Hazard (13) and Hakimi (10) also getting into double figures for assists.
The introduction of 17-year-old Giovanni Reyna into the first team in the Rückrunde was a positive development, while Julian Brand grew into his role after a slow start following his move from Leverkusen.
Dortmund spent big last summer in their quest to overhaul Bayern at the top. €30.5 million went on bringing Mats Hummels back to the club and he provided the leadership, aerial prowess and passing that was lacking before. Nico Schulz and Thorgan Hazard both cost €25.5 million but had wholly different impacts. Schulz basically flopped following his move from Hoffenheim, while Hazard proved excellent value in his first season and was a regular starter under Lucien Favre.
Julian Brandt came in for €25 million and grew steadily in terms of impact and importance. Paco Alcacer’s loan was initially made permanent for around €21 million before being sold to Villarreal for €23 million in the January window.
Incoming for Dortmund in January were key players Erling Haaland for €20 million and Emre Can on an initial loan. As mentioned, both became key players, but none more so than the Norwegian with his record-breaking goal scoring.
Player of the Season
Mats Hummels steadied the defence, while Erling Haaland grabbed the limelight with his instant impact, but it is hard to look beyond Jadon Sancho as BVB’s best player this season.
A very good first full season last season was followed up with an outstanding one in 2019-20. He top scored with his 17 goals and added 16 assists. Such is his talent that it is easy to forget that he still just 19-years-old. Dortmund know that he is destined for the absolute top and are rightly demanding that whoever wants to prise him away from the Signal Iduna park pay what he’s worth- €120 million.
Dortmund are desperate to be that Bundesliga A grade student and take the Meisterschale that has been residing in the Bayern trophy room for the past eight years. This season once again saw them fall short of what was required to topple the Bavarians.
The squad was there, excellent additions arrived in January, but Bayern were once again on a different level in the Rückrunde. Whether BVB can close the gap next season after the likes of Brandt, Haaland, and Hazard have had a season to bed in and with the likes of Reyna and Jude Bellingham injecting some youth, remains the big question.