Borussia Dortmund have emerged as the side to beat in this season's Bundesliga, with Friday's 2-0 victory over Hamburger SV testament to a side with maturity beyond their years.
Only three members of Jürgen Klopp's starting lineup on Friday were older than 22 (Lucas Barrios, 26, Łukasz Piszczek, 25, and 30-year-old goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller) but their performance showed no sign of youthful impatience. They calmly outplayed their opponents to score two intelligent goals in the second half.
Hamburg coach Armin Veh was impressed. "Dortmund have been doing well the whole season," said the 49-year-old. "They run a lot, have pace and are capable of varying the tempo. They are the favourites to win the title."
Such talk will not endear Veh to Klopp. Asked if he could think of any reasons why his side could not win the title, the former 1. FSV Mainz 05 defender and coach replied "plenty". However, he added: "We are getting more enthusiastic every week.
We have a clear goal: to play good football week in, week out."
Even if the title is not yet on their to-do list, Dortmund are already achieving that primary objective, with Klopp's quick, industrious, skilful and tactically astute young charges causing a massive stir in a season where FC Bayern München had been billed to star.
Recent national-team call-ups are an indication of how the Dortmund youngsters are faring, with full-back Marcel Schmelzer (22) and 18-year-old midfielder Mario Götze receiving their first nod for this week's friendly game against Sweden. Team-mates Kevin Grosskreutz and Mats Hummels, both 22, remained in the selection.
The way the players explain away their success also speaks of calmness and maturity. "Every player fights for the others; that sets us apart," explained Grosskreutz. Defender Neven Subotić, 21, added: "We have no egos – we want to win together."
An opening-day home defeat by Bayer 04 Leverkusen did not augur well, but that merely prompted a run of seven straight wins. Dortmund have now won ten of their first 12 league games – something only Bayern have achieved before – and stand seven points clear of Leverkusen and early-season sensations Mainz at the top of the table.
The question now is can anyone stop them claiming their seventh title, and first since 2002? Jupp Heynckes' Leverkusen do not seem ready and Hamburg do not look up to the task, which leaves just Bayern, currently 15 points off the pace. However, the Bavarians have not given up. Striker Mario Gomez sounded a warning to Klopp's marauders, saying: "
They will have a rough patch at some point. Then, we will be there."
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