Four months ago, DW listed the five reasons why Borussia Dortmund were struggling near the bottom of the Bundesliga. The new year, however, has seen a dramatic turnaround in BVB's fortunes; here are five reasons why.
Five wins out of the last six competitive games: Borussia Dortmund are playing like the heart-winning team of old again. Mathematically speaking, Jürgen Klopp's charges are still closer to the relegation zone (five points) than a European spot (seven), but had the season started in January they would be third in the table. Here is why.
There's no doubt that Dortmund's 'Batman and Robin' have saved the day on more than one occasion of late. While Marco Reus was out, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was asked to wear the attacking cape. While he showed glimpses of quality, it wasn't until his sidekick returned that the true extent of their powers were revealed. Other than the cup game in Dresden - Reus picked up a knock and Aubameyang was rested - the duo have both scored five goals and assisted one in the six-game turnaround stretch. That's 10 of Dortmund's 16 goals - a tally they last managed in the 14 previous games.
The thing about superheroes is that they do what others cannot. While there's no denying that some of Dortmund's players have been inspired by the caped crusaders, some have yet to get out of their individual slump - Marcel Schmelzer remains a limited player for example. Being the source of inspiration makes superheroes invaluable to any team. And while Reus is the star of the show, his acceptance at 'being Robin' certainly shows just how much BVB's prized asset appreciates his teammate's role.
Confidence and patience
The relief on Dortmund's faces after that 3-0 win in Freiburg on Matchday 20 was evident. The mental state of sportsmen and women is often forgotten, but in football, perhaps the most avidly analyzed sport in the world, it couldn't be more important. Dortmund were bereft of ideas and belief during a wretched start to this season. What they needed was proof that things could change. That came in Freiburg, and in the manner of their next victory a week later against Mainz. Confidence had obviously returned but at home and still level after an hour, the pressure was all on Dortmund. They were patient though, and never lost their grip on the game. Beating Mainz 4-2 having been 1-0 down after 52 seconds - and then having lost the lead two minutes after taking it - was much more rewarding than a simple 2-0 victory. Scoring enough to win next in Stuttgart was vital, as was grabbing an away goal in the 2-1 Champions League last 16 first leg defeat at Juventus. By the time the Ruhr derby against Schalke came around, the resounding victory was unsurprising. At the perfect time, Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored his first goal of the season with his 45th shot and Dortmund kept their second clean sheet of the turnaround run.
While Reus and Aubameyang have stolen the headlines, Shinji Kagawa rediscovering his playmaking powers has been of equal importance. No superheroes can deliver without the right tools, and Kagawa found his craftsmanship at just the right time. As one of the players to visibly suffer from a dip in confidence, it is a joy for BVB fans to see him threading neat passes behind defensive lines, skipping between outrushing defenders and making smart decisions in the attacking third again. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan well short of his best, Dortmund needed Kagawa. Two cute assists against Stuttgart helped decide the outcome and although he wasn't involved in the goals against Mainz, he exploited the pockets of space in between the midfield and the defense in a manner only he can. If Aubameyang and Reus are Batman and Robin, then Kagawa is 'Alfred' the butler, supporting their good work away from the spotlight.
With any turnaround, there's always an element of good fortune. In truth, it's probably time Dortmund were due some considering how short they had been on luck but without it, this run of good form might never have materialized. Against Freiburg, Mike Frantz made a glaring error to hand Dortmund their all-important opening goal. That, combined with another misplaced pass in midfield that led to their second, allowed Klopp's men to score a killer third which evoked memories of that remarkable Champions League season in 2013. Against Stuttgart, Timo Baumgartl handed Reus a goal that proved to be decisive. Even in Europe against Juventus, Dortmund were gifted a coveted away goal when Giorgio Chiellini slipped. In the Ruhr derby, Wellenreuther's mistake came after two fine goals but it added a well-received gloss. Take away all of those and Dortmund would have been stuttering rather than roaring back into good form.
Masterful Media Spin
There's nothing quite like good news, especially when bad news is everywhere. Three days after the win in Freiburg, Marco Reus revealed he would be signing a new contract at Borussia Dortmund. While there's never a good time for bad news, good news can be have a different affect depending on its timing and delivery. Reus putting pen to paper delighted the millions of BVB fans, but more importantly it came at a time when many were letting the club's poor form feed an expectation that the hometown boy's departure was an 'inevitability'. So, to release this news after a win and three days before a fixture on home soil was an object lesson in perfect timing. Along with the relief of finally winning and playing well, came the news that the club's best player wanted to stay long term. It's irrelevant whether he does or not. It was the perfect piece of news delivered at the perfect time - and it contributed to the start of the winning run.