Borussia Dortmund, We Have a Problem

Dortmund's US midfielder Christian Pulisic reacts at the end of the UEFA Champions League football match between Apoel FC and Borussia Dortmund at the GSP Stadium in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia on October 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Florian CHOBLET (Photo credit should read FLORIAN CHOBLET/AFP/Getty Images)
Dortmund's US midfielder Christian Pulisic reacts at the end of the UEFA Champions League football match between Apoel FC and Borussia Dortmund at the GSP Stadium in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia on October 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Florian CHOBLET (Photo credit should read FLORIAN CHOBLET/AFP/Getty Images) /

The Black and Yellow are sitting pretty at the top of the Bundesliga table, but clear cut cracks are already beginning to form.

Der BVB  were just held to a 1-1 by APOEL in the Champions League. This means Dortmund have only one point after 3 Champions League match-days and lie bottom in their group.

This result comes off the brink of suffering their first Bundesliga home defeat in 41 games, a streak started by Jürgen Klopp, and finished by Peter Bosz. During Thomas Tuchel’s two year tenure, he lasted the entire time, 34 Bundesliga games at the Westfalenstadion, without a single defeat. It took Peter Bosz only 4 games to pick up his first Bundesliga home loss. This tie and loss once again highlight the main problems that Dortmund seem to have trouble with this year.

Dortmund struggle in big games

Winning big games has always been a staple of Borussia Dortmund’s character. This is no longer the case. There have been four big games this year and Dortmund have not won a single one. Die Schwarzgelben have only been truly tested three times this season, and have failed to pick up a single point in each fixture. Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid and RB Leipzig are the only teams Dortmund have played this year with any quality that can match up with Dortmund’s star studded roster.

In each match, Borussia Dortmund were the deserved losers. It is true that injuries have hampered Dortmund, but this can no longer be an excuse. RB Leipzig were missing two of their best players the entire match, Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner, yet still left Signal Iduna Park victorious. Not to mention, Naby Keïta only played the first half.

The APOEL FC match was Dortmund’s fourth big game of the season, and they once again laid an egg. This was a must win match, no question about it, yet Dortmund played with no desire or motivation whatsoever against a team with little quality. Perhaps this problem stems from the manager, who lacks enthusiasm on the bench.

Both Tuchel and Klopp were extremely passionate on the sidelines, unlike Bosz who rarely shows an ounce of emotion. Maybe Bosz struggles to get his men motivated for the match, which is a major problem, as Borussia Dortmund have found their success by playing with passion and heart. Two features that this current Dortmund squad does not have.

At this point, a place in the Champions League knockout round is almost out of the picture. If Dortmund continue to lose the big games, they wont be able to salvage much from this season.

The high line is not worth the risk

Peter Bosz and his high line are spectacular when it works, but also downright horrifying when it doesn’t. Bosz has employed this tactic in almost every match of the season with varying degrees of success. Against lesser teams it works brilliantly, as seen in Dortmund’s 6-1 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach. However against a real talented opposition, it has failed miserably. Both Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo have made Dortmund pay heavily for their aggressive tactics.

This high line was once again questionably deployed against APOEL FC. The idea of the high line is to win the ball back high up the pitch while losing some defensive stability in turn for offensive firepower. This did not happen against APOEL whatsoever. Dortmund looked lost going forward, often lumping balls into the box aimlessly. Why is a team loaded with creative attackers kicking hopeless balls into the box? The only time they looked effective in the match was when Götze, Kagawa and Pulisic used their class to create scoring opportunities. It is clear that the high line is not resulting in a stronger offense.

Bosz did evidently sway away from the high line against RB Leipzig last week, but it was to little effect. Dortmund were more conservative in their approach, but still lacked a real sense of offensive identity. The problems stem deeper than than a single tactic, but the high line is clearly not working anymore. Bosz should go back to the drawing board for the upcoming fixtures.

Was firing Thomas Tuchel a mistake?

Alright here we go. The season has just begun and the question is already being asked. But how can in not be? Tuchel went 34 home games without a single loss while Bosz couldn’t even last 5. Tuchel finished above Real Madrid in the Champions League group, Bosz won’t even advance to the Round of 16. To be fair to Bosz, he did lead Dortmund to his own spectacular streak, racking up 5 clean sheets in a row. A run of games that saw Dortmund rise straight to the top of the table, a position they still hold, but this was largely due to fortunate scheduling. None of the teams posed a real threat to Dortmund. Not to mention the fact that Thomas Tuchel had the greatest points to game ratio of any Dortmund coach in history at the time of his sacking.

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The sacking of Tuchel still has plenty of clouds surrounding it as well. It is widely believed that his firing was the result of his ongoing disagreement with club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. There were also stories of Tuchel berating younger players and causing rifts within the team, even if the results never showed it. Watzke is largely responsible for the club being as successful as they have been in the last decade, resurrecting them from the depths of bankruptcy, but this decision of his remains in question, rightfully so.

It will always be debatable whether Watzke’s personal dispute with Tuchel was worth firing the man over. However, if Dortmund as a club is no longer moving forward in a positive direction, then they are only moving backwards. With RB Leipzig on their heels and Bayern Munich’s dominance continuing, Dortmund can not afford to throw a season away. The gap towards Munich will never be closed, and the forward progression of this team will be halted. If this proves to be the case, then perhaps the bigger question needs to be asked about the club hierarchy. This will only be a tale that time will be able to tell. However, time may be the one thing Borussia Dortmund can no longer afford give up.