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'Mentality monsters' beat European hangovers

After a tough victory in Mainz, Jürgen Klopp said his Dortmunders are a team of "mentality monsters," which might be why they're dealing so well with two campaigns. But sometimes his passion gets him into hot water.

DORTMUND, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Juergen Klopp of Dortmund gives advise during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart at Signal Iduna Park on November 3, 2012 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Fußball Bundesliga 10. Spieltag Borussia Dortmund gegen VfB Stuttgart unentschieden Frust

Last season, many soccer pundits decided that Borussia Dortmund's abject failure in the Champions League was down to the club's inexperience in sustaining two campaigns simultaneously.

They seem to have got that problem licked for the 2012/13 season, in the face of a cruel twist of the fixture list, which meant they had to play an away match in the Bundesliga after each one of their five Champions League group games so far.

Despite losing the first 3-2 in Hamburg in September - following a 1-0 victory over Ajax - they have remained unbeaten in all four of the other "post-CL" Bundesliga games, and now won the last three - away to Freiburg, Augsburg, and Mainz on Saturday, when they won 2-1 after going behind in the fourth minute. The transition from a balmy 2-2 draw in Madrid to a cold November night in Augsburg is not easily mastered, but Dortmund's newfound strength has made a big difference.

Dortmund players

Dortmund have won all three of their last post-CL Bundesliga games

Conquering Europe

It's not just Dortmund, of course. Last week, Schalke and Bayern Munich also sealed their places in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Meanwhile Mönchengladbach, Leverkusen, and Hannover have all progressed successfully to the round of 32 in the Europa League.

The only German team not to have qualified for their next European round ahead of time are Stuttgart, who spanked Group E leaders Steaua Bucharest 5-1 away last Thursday, and now just need a victory at home against last-placed Molde to progress.

But all of Germany's Europa League sides suffered from familiar hangovers in the Bundesliga this weekend. Of the four, only Leverkusen managed to win this weekend, and they had to hang on against a final onslaught from lowly Hoffenheim to win 2-1. Gladbach could only manage a draw away to bottom side Augsburg, and Hannover and Stuttgart clearly looked jaded in going down to Bayern (5-0) and Freiburg (3-0) respectively this weekend. It is almost as if the Europa League is now acting as a leveller for the mid-table clubs - ensuring that lower teams have a chance to take points off them, so that they too might be hampered by being in the competition next season. After this weekend Freiburg, all of a sudden, are in sixth place - a Europa League spot.

Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez (R) scores a goal against goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler of Hanover 96 during their German first division Bundesliga soccer match in Munich November 24, 2012. Bayern Munich won the match 5-0. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Hannover had 43 hours to recover from their Europa League game

No doubt this is exacerbated by the fact that the Europa League happens on Thursday nights - Hannover, for instance, had almost exactly 43 hours to recuperate between their final whistle against Twente and kick-off against Bayern, whose richer, deeper squad had completed their European business a full two days before.

'Mentality monster'

Dortmund also looked tired in the second half against Mainz on Saturday, but they ultimately had more than enough against their uninspired hosts. A delighted Klopp, though, had a different explanation for the course of the game - the mental strength they showed after going behind .

"My boys are mentality monsters!" he exclaimed. "The players performed unbelievably. We weren't there at the beginning - the body wanted to play football, but the spirit wasn't quite there yet. Mainz managed to take advantage of that straight away. But then what we showed for 80 minutes was extraordinary and not to be taken for granted. That's why I'm totally happy about the way we played."

But the real "mentality monster" - and the real reason for Dortmund's post Champions League run-of-form - is of course Klopp himself, whose almost pathological will to win has become the cornerstone of a bank's advertising campaign in Germany, and has led to anecdotes about Klopp motivating ball-boys. He is a man who apparently motivates and inspires anyone who happens to cross his path.

Klopp arguing with 4th official Foto: Ronald Wittek/dapd

Klopp's passion sometimes gets the better of him

Double-edged emotions

This irrepressible passion is of course double-edged, and led to criticism last week from Lutz Michael Fröhlich, head of referees at the German Football Federation (DFB), who publicly criticized Klopp's aggressive pitch-side behaviour towards Bundesliga officials. He even suggested that it might lead to violence in the Sunday league level of German football.

"Even if Klopp says 'I'm sorry' afterwards, at the end of the day, an impression is always left behind," he told state broadcaster Deutschlandradio. "The behavior he displays on the sidelines shows so much aggression that it can spawn actual violence."

Television cameras caught him shouting into the face of official Stefan Trautman during a game against Hamburg in 2010 and at the end of September, he again clashed with an official during Dortmund's draw with Frankfurt. The DFB fined him for both incidents. He has also been sent to the stands on several occasions.

Klopp was roundly defended by a number of football professionals after Fröhlich's attack, but he himself was apparently quite affected by the criticism. "That actually hit me quite hard," Klopp said on Saturday after the Mainz game. "I have played my part and had my incidents in the past. Did (the criticism) have to be made public? Anyway, it's never nice to be mentioned in the same context as something like that. Now I will wait and see what happens next."

But if that's what it takes to get Dortmund into the business end of the Champions League, then he will gladly pay some more fines. A few German football fans will happily chip in too.

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