It could all be different for Borussia Dortmund this year. When I was there for their UEFA Champions League group stage opener against AFC Ajax two weeks ago, there was a certain point in the match where I was eerily reminded of last season, when they won only a single match in the group stage. Jürgen Klopp's team started at high speed and were well in control, but with twelve minutes played a defensive lapse allowed Christian Eriksen a huge chance – Roman Weidenfeller came to the rescue.
After last season's exit there was plenty of talk about Dortmund's lack of experience in Europe. But how would it help if they did have more pedigree? It would certainly mean not making those slips which happened in abundance last year, and early on against Ajax. However, experience also lets a team play more patiently in the knowledge they have the ability to score. In my opinion, that is exactly what happened two weeks ago.
The Dutch champions' tactics made it extremely difficult for Dortmund to play their normal pressing game by stretching the play. But instead of a gung-ho approach, when they would often be hit on a quick counter in the past, Dortmund were content to be more patient. In the end they were rewarded with Robert Lewandowski's winner three minutes from time.
It could turn out that this is the season when Dortmund do not triumph on the domestic front but will start to do well in Europe. There are plenty of reasons to think so. For one, they will have a huge desire to show everyone that their game plan does work in Europe as well.
Klopp stressed his belief in this prior to the Ajax game. In the Bundesliga, the back-to-back champions have become the hunted, the team that everyone wants to beat. Naturally, that makes everything a little bit more difficult. The glamour of playing clubs like Real Madrid CF and Manchester City FC may very well make some players forget about the Bundesliga routine.
A couple of days ago, Klopp suggested that his players were a little less certain than in the past. They have already conceded eight goals in the league this term, compared to just 12 in the entire first half of the 2011/12 campaign.
However, this team have shown they are capable of bouncing back. By defeating VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach 5-0 this Saturday, BVB have shown that their Bundesliga story is far from being told. At the same stage last season, Dortmund had four points fewer than they have now! The only difference seems to be that this season eternal rivals FC Bayern München seem stronger than ever. Maybe, just maybe, Dortmund could make up for domestic disappointment with success in Europe.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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