After a summer of lavish spending, Borussia Dortmund fans expected a title challenge this season. But a lackluster derby performance and reports of player unrest are ominous signs for Lucien Favre.
When the board went up after 74 minutes, the substitution spoke volumes. Thomas Delaney off, Manuel Akanji on. Lucien Favre was happy with the point.
It's not surprising either, given Schalke's dominance throughout the preceding three quarters of the match. They would have won, too, had 18-year old forward Rabbi Matondo been more clinical in front of goal. Dortmund fans will make the 27km trip back across the Ruhrgebiet knowing they were fortunate to leave with a point.
"It was a difficult game for us," Favre admitted in the post-match press conference. "But we can be satisfied with 0-0. After 60 minutes we finally started to play football. We didn't want a draw before the match but we're happy to accept it now."
Serious questions about Favre's ability to turn Dortmund into the sort of ruthless winners their fans crave them to be are surely due. The club spent more than €130 million ($144 million) in the summer and appear no more capable of winning than last season, when they fell short by two points despite enjoying a seven-point lead over Bayern Munich at the beginning of February.
Not only is it a question of mentality, as is often the accusation levelled at Dortmund — and one Marco Reus has grown tired of — but of tactics.
Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt were left on the bench while Achraf Hakimi, a full back by trade, continues to be experimented with as a wide forward. Why sign two of the Bundesliga's best young forwards to leave them on the bench? Favre doesn't appear too certain either given both came on with the scores still level, but with limited time to make an impact.
When Hazard did enter the fray, after 58 minutes, the player he replaced, Mario Götze, couldn't even bring himself to look at his coach and Sky Sports were reporting, long before the final whistle, that the 27-year-old had taken himself immediately to the car park and driven straight home.
Favre confirmed to DW after the game that Götze's injured hand had needed an urgent x-ray but it's hard to imagine such a wild aspersion being cast about another elite club at the moment.
Either way, something is undoubtedly rotten in the state of Dortmund and rumours, however unfounded, about coaches "losing the dressing room" are usually the first step on the road to unemployment.
Schalke spurn their chance
Schalke, meanwhile, will be cursing themselves for not taking full advantage of the mess their local rivals find themselves in. It wasn't for want of trying; Salif Sane headed against the bar from a corner in the first half and Suat Serdar hammered one against the post 12 minutes before half time.
They should have scored though, and David Wagner will know his team could have risen to the top of the league with a satisfying win over the mob from down the road. What a boost that would have been for a coach who took charge in the summer and has immediately returned the club to the better end of the Bundesliga.
"It was a disappointing result," he said after the game. "We'll take it as it's Borussia Dortmund, it's the derby. But we had the opportunities to win. Rabbi Matondo could have won us the game but he is just 18 years old. He played well and he'll score plenty of goals for us in future."
Even without all three points, Wagner appears to be in full control of his team and the contrast between the clubs couldn't be starker right now. By contrast, the former Huddersfield Town coach's decision to introduce two attacking players in the second half, believing a win was within their grasp, went down well with fans inside the stadium.
If rumours are to be taken at all seriously, Jose Mourinho is being considered as a replacement to Favre at Dortmund. A damning indictment if ever there was one in that it would represent a complete departure from Favre's playing philosophy and management style.
Brilliant blue skies in Gelsenkirchen provided the backdrop to an ultimately disappointing Revierderby, but it may yet go down as one of the darker days of Favre's tenure as Dortmund coach.