So very, very close, but again no cigar for Borussia Dortmund as they passed up their best opportunity in years to dethrone Bayern Munich as Bundesliga champions. The script had been written for a joyous crowning of the Schwarzgelben at the Signal Iduna Park on the final day, but the expectant home fans were left heartbroken as the lines were fluffed handing the title to Bayern. Strap yourselves in 2022-23 was one hell of a ride.
Four wins from the opening five matches showed that Dortmund meant business and it really should have been five out of five with Werder Bremen stunning them with two late goals to win 3-2 on matchday 3. It really seemed to be hit or miss for Edin Terzic’s side with wins over Hertha, Hoffenheim and Schalke in the Revierderby, but defeats suffered against RB Leipzig, Köln and Union Berlin. A run of three wins followed, but the final two matches before the World Cup break were both lost versus Wolfsburg and Mönchengladbach.
Spending the Winterpause in sixth place, a full nine points behind leaders Bayern, didn’t give the impression of what was about to unfold. A 4-3 thriller at home to Augsburg kicked of the Rückrunde and was to be the first of eight successive league wins and the run was only stopped by Ruhr rivals Schalke in the second Revierderby. Sebastian Haller had returned, while both Donyell Malen and Karim Adeyemi (both poor in the Hinrunde) both blossomed.
While a blow, the loss to Bayern at the Allianz Arena didn’t throw them off their stride too much and it really was a question as to whether they could take advantage of any Bayern slip-ups. The lead of the table duly changed hands regularly with costly draws at both Stuttgart and Bochum hurting Dortmund’s ambitions. The VAR decision to not award a penalty at the Vonovia Ruhrstadion was controversial to say the least.
When Bayern faltered and BVB beat Wolfsburg, Gladbach and Augsburg, the scene was set for a triumphant crowning on the final day as BVB went into their clash with Mainz two points ahead of the Bavarians. The Nullfünfer however weren’t there to just make up the numbers and raced into a 2-0 lead. The subsequent fightback to 2-2 however proved a mammoth anti-climax as Bayern’s win over Köln saw them crowned champions again.
Dortmund’s Rückrunde charge where they made up a nine-point deficit on Bayern was thrilling, but the age old weakness to get it over the line reoccurred. They dropped wholly unnecessary points at Stuttgart and Bochum and Mainz had previously lost four on the trot prior to the final game. This is the closest BVB have come in a decade to dethroning Bayern and the pain of the final day will linger throughout the summer. How they come back next season will be fascinating to watch.
In a rollercoaster season there were of course plenty of highs, but sadly not the ultimate high of lifting the Meisterschale. The whole of the Rückrunde can be seen as a highlight with just one defeat post-Christmas and just one loss in 19 matches. The run of eight successive wins was a high and there were individual matches where the goals flowed as Dortmund got their groove on
Freiburg were beaten 5-1, Köln by 6-1, VfL Wolfsburg 6-0 and Gladbach 5-2 as well as a 5-0 win over Stuttgart in the Hinrunde. Sebastian Haller’s debut goal against Freiburg was an emotional occasion which brought the Signal Iduna Park to a deserved ovation.
The final day draw at home to Mainz will have to go down as the biggest low point as the title was there for the taking for Borussia Dortmund and they had their destiny in their own control. Sadly, the team froze at the worst possible time and handed the title over to Bayern by default.
The loss in the Klassiker at the Allianz Arena was a blow and doubly so as it was their former coach Thomas Tuchel, who was in the Bayern dugout. The 3-0 loss to RB Leipzig and another former coach in Marco Rose on matchday 6 was painful as was the way they threw away a potential win at home to Werder Bremen on matchday 3.
In terms of throwing away three points, the 3-3 draw with VfB Stuttgart on matchday 28 could have been decisive in the title race as was the draw away at Bochum on matchday 30.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 22-5-7, 71 points (2.09 per game), 2nd in Bundesliga
Home Record: 44 points (14-2-1) Away Record: 27 points (8-3-6)
Goals: 83 (2.44 per game), Goals Against: 44 (1.29 per game), Diff: +39
xG: 71.1, xGA: 43.2, Diff: +27.9
The loss of Erling Haaland and his goals was always going to be felt, but Dortmund actually only scored two fewer goals this season without the Norwegian goal machine. Sebastien Haller, Donyell Malen and Julian Brandt all scored nine to top score, while Jude Bellingham hit eight. Youssoufa Moukoko scored seven as did Giovanni Reyna (mostly as an impact sub). Anthony Modeste only managed two, which wasn’t the return Dortmund were looking for on their sizeable investment.
Dortmund ranked second behind Bayern for total shots (558) and outperformed their xG of 71.1 by scoring 83. They however liked to get close to the opposition goal before letting rip as they ranked 17th for the average shot distance from goal.
Edin Terzic went with a back four this season with newcomers Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Süle taking a predominant role, although veteran Mats Hummels showed that he is still a class act and a new contract has been extended as recognition thereof.
Marius Wolf morphed into a highly accomplished right back this season while the addition of Julian Ryerson in January allowed Raphael Guerreiro to be tried in a more advanced midfield position. Thomas Meunier missed most of the season through injury. Gregor Kobel had a very good season overall, but as is the curse of goalkeepers, his massive blooper against Bayern will be remembered more than his top saves.
Union Berlin, RB Leipzig and Bayern all conceded fewer goals and there was always the worry that defensively Dortmund would conceded cheap goals as was evidenced in the season run-in (Stuttgart and Mainz in particular).
With Jude Bellingham as the fulcrum and driving force, Edin Terzic had a host of quality with which to man his midfield. Emre Can had an excellent season and played his way back into the national side as a result. Julian Brandt had possibly his best-ever season at the club with nine goals and eight assists. Raphael Guerreiro had a top season as well and his move into a more attacking midfield role paid dividends with 13 assists and 4 goals overall.
Injuries impacted Marco Reus, Gio Reyna and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, but they all made valuable contributions when fit (Reyna scored seven, Reus six and Bynoe-Gittens three). Salih Özcan had to settle for a back-up role due to the consistency of Emre Can.
The loss of Erling Haaland to Manchester City was compensated by the €31 million acquisition of Sebastien Haller from Ajax, but before a ball could be kicked in earnest, the former Frankfurt striker was ruled out with a testicular cancer diagnosis. The club scrambled around for a solution and paid through the nose for Anthony Modeste (€5 million fee plus huge wages). The Köln striker didn’t fit in at BVB with the club not adapting to his strengths and the player unable to change his style to fit the club. The return of Haller in the Rückrunde coincided with Dortmund’s upturn in fortunes.
Karim Adeyemi arrived from RB Salzburg for €30 million, where he had scored 15 league goals. The first half of the season was a struggle for the attacking player, but his form took off in the second half with six goals and five assists.
The sale of Manuel Akanji to Manchester City was compensated by the signings of highly rated Nico Schlotterbeck (€20 million from Freiburg) and Niklas Süle (free from Bayern). Both would have very good debut season’s at the Signal Iduna Park. Salih Özcan arrived from Köln for a bargain €5 million to provide extra cover for the defensive midfield area. The form of Emre Can however meant he had to settle largely for a role as back-up. Goalkeeper Alexander Meyer was signed from Jahn Regensburg as number two to Gregor Kobel and he was called upon seven times to deputise.
Right back Julian Ryerson was a very astute signing in the January transfer window from Union Berlin, while 16-year-old Belgian youngster Julian Duranville arrived from Anderlecht for €8.5 million.
Player of the Season
At the time of writing nothing has been confirmed, but midfielder Jude Bellingham looks set for a €100+ million move to Real Madrid and deservedly so on the back of another tremendous season for BVB. The Englishman captained the side on occasions and provided the drive that pushed them painfully close to the title. He often played through the pain barrier and despite his tender age, he was a real leader for the Schwarzgelben this season and led by example with his displays.
Jamie Bynoe Gittens looks set to be the next young English prospect to be snapped up by Dortmund before becoming a real star at the Ruhr club like Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham before him. Promoted from Borussia Dortmund II, he scored as a sub on the opening day and added further goals against Augsburg and Bremen. A shoulder injury kept him out for large parts of the season, but he has already shown that he can be a key member of the squad going forward.
Had the script been followed, we’d be talking of an A+ season and a first Bundesliga title since 2012, but we’re not. The hurt that the final day brought with it will take all summer to heal and the recriminations of ‘what if?’ will be ringing in every Dortmund fans’ ears.
In the end BVB finished level on points with Bayern, but lost out on an inferior goal difference. There were times in the season where crucial points were needlessly given up and the argument will annoyingly return to the question of ‘mentality’. Are Dortmund mentally strong enough to dethrone Bayern over an entire season? The evidence from this season suggests not.