Dortmund learning their European lessons
Friday, May 17, 2013
Borussia Dortmund have yet to translate their recent domestic success into UEFA Champions League glory, but lessons from past seasons could pay dividends.
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After Borussia Dortmund finished bottom of their section with a single victory from six UEFA Champions League group stage matches last season, many were left wondering what all the fuss was about regarding this supposed challenger to the European elite.
The Schwarzgelben had breathed new life into the Bundesliga, where their refreshingly positive style had won them the first of two straight titles in 2011. Such was their impact on the domestic game that observers in Germany had been hopeful, confident even, that the champions' hurricane tactics would translate into similar success on the continent.
However, where their cavalier approach had dazed domestic defences, it was made to look distinctly naive at European level. Two defeats by Olympique de Marseille, as well as reverses away to Olympiacos FC and Arsenal FC, brought a disappointingly premature end to their UEFA Champions League return.
One season on, though, and virtually the same set of players have the chance to cap a sensational campaign in the very same competition by beating their great rivals FC Bayern München in an all-German decider – and deservedly so.
Unbeaten in a fearsome group containing the champions of England, Spain and the Netherlands, Jürgen Klopp's entertaining young side have since powered past FC Shakhtar Donetsk, edged out Málaga CF and delivered a devastating first-leg performance in their semi-final against Real Madrid CF to book a place in the Wembley final. It has been a remarkable turnaround which raises the question: what they have done differently this term?
Clearly, they have learned from their mistakes. Dortmund came away from a number of their 2011/12 group stage losses feeling they had been the better team. However, a lack of clinical finishing was always going to cost them at this juncture and their gung-ho approach afforded more experienced opponents ample opportunity to catch them on the break.
This season, BVB have employed a more counterattacking model. Their pressing has become less relentless, leaving them less exposed but also ensuring they have the energy to maintain their intensity over 90 minutes.
Dortmund have also seen noticeably less of the ball than their opponents this time round. Like a good boxer, they have developed an ability to soak up bouts of pressure and pick the right moment to deliver an onslaught of their own. With Robert Lewandowski in the form of his life up front, last year's impotence has been firmly overcome.
Nor should it be underestimated how much facing the illustrious likes of Manchester City FC, Real Madrid and AFC Ajax inspired this ambitious group of players. Far from being overawed by the stature of the opposition, the chance to pit themselves against best the continent has to offer lifted youngsters like Mario Götze and Marco Reus.
Dortmund's progression in Europe has come at a price, though. After two years of domestic dominance, they relinquished the Bundesliga title to Bayern. They may have to hand over the German Cup to their southern counterparts too, with the Munich giants up against struggling VfB Stuttgart in the final on 1 June.
Put simply, Dortmund do not have the strength in depth to compete on all three fronts as Bayern have. Klopp and his charges acknowledged as much, choosing instead to concentrate on proving themselves in the UEFA Champions League. The strategy has paid off, with the club on the verge of giving their incredible campaign a true fairy-tale ending.
However, Dortmund are not the only ones to have learned from last season's shortcomings – as Bayern, defeated in the cruellest fashion in last year's final, will be determined to prove on 25 May.