Borussia Dortmund followed up their strong showing against Real Madrid with just a draw against injury-laden Cologne in the Bundesliga. This inconsistency has its reasons, though, writes DW's Joscha Weber.
Marc Bartra walked off the pitch hanging his head after the game and descended the stairs down into the catacombs of the RheinEnergie stadium. He didn't make eye contact with anybody on his way. He passed straight by the waiting journalists in silence - but then, all of a sudden, something broke free within him. On his way into the visitors' dressing room he bellowed out "ja" ("yes") and smacked the glass door with his fist. It wasn't possible to say whether this was an expression of joy or frustration - like so much at BVB at the moment.
For weeks, the young team has been on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and indeed results. First a strong home win against the benchmark that is Bayern Munich, then a bitter defeat to Frankfurt, next up smooth sailing against Borussia Mönchengladbach and finally the phenomenal comeback in Madrid. Three days later, though, there follows the latest setback. A very late and rather fortunate equalizer from Marco Reus rescued BVB in Cologne for a 1-1 draw and a point. Dortmund are desperately seeking stability.
'Progress, but with bumps along the way'
Asked about consistency, Thomas Tuchel appeared thin-skinned, a little irritated.
"We've answered that so many times," he says through gritted teeth, pointing to the short pre-season preparation time, the demands of playing midweek and to a very young and inexperienced team. Tuchel's right on all three points; the major personnel changes in the summer coupled with fighting on three fronts in the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League is a big challenge. And yet expectation and reality are still slightly removed from one another in Dortmund. They sit just sixth after 14 league games, already eight points adrift of Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig.
"There is progress that is definitely recognizable but also with a few bumps along the way," Tuchel summarizes. "Pre-season, it's easy to say that the team is in a rebuilding phase. But when you're actually living with the situation, then it can feel a bit tough."
BVB's performance on the pitch was just as gristly. While Cologne started the game strongly, Dortmund allowed themselves too many mistakes in their build-up. Misplaced passes were particularly common in the middle of the park. Interplay between Gonzalo Castro, Julian Weigl and Ousmane Dembele was definitely clumsy early on - and it did not improve much throughout the 90 minutes. A disallowed goal, scored from an offside position by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was among the few attacking highlights for the visitors. While Cologne stood solid at the back and were able to combine well from time to time, Dortmund's attack paled in comparison to what was on show in Madrid.
Missing a leader at the back
The continuing problems in defense compounded these issues. A free kick from German international Jonas Hector floated into the Dortmund box, and Artjoms Rudnevs was all alone to head home what was not nearly as surprising an opening goal as you might think from the underdogs. Not an uncommon issue in recent weeks, Dortmund's defense was nowhere to be seen. BVB's back line seems to be lacking organization and responsibility. But maybe it goes deeper: a real leader, who audibly spurs on and instructs his teammates, is missing since Mats Hummels' departure to Bayern.
One man who did get louder as the game went on was Thomas Tuchel. He was forever shouting and gesticulating, telling players to pressure the opposition earlier, to break with more purpose, in short, to do more. Even when Cologne sat deeper in the second half, BVB struggled to make much of the extra space. The lightning combinations between Reus and Aubameyang were not as evident as in Madrid and Dembele - on a yellow card - looked overly cautious. Tuchel's need to replace three inured players - Lukasz Piszczek, Gonzalo Castro and Sokratis - in the course of the game can't have helped either.
Cologne managed to keep Dortmund preoccupied with smaller scraps and battles, thereby continually disturbing the black-and-yellow rhythm. Ultimately, Dortmund needed some luck to rescue the point. In the final minute the ball had actually already crept off the sideline, but the officials did not see it, allowing Dortmund to launch one of their last attacks. Marco Reus got free in the box and provided another key equalizer for BVB after his late goal in Madrid.
"In the end, we've got to be happy with saving a point," captain Marcel Schmelzer told DW afterwards. "Now we need to fight our way out of this phase."