Dortmund’s form this season has been exceptional. In the early autumn, many people thought that perhaps they would start to fade away by now, but they’ve in fact managed to do the complete opposite. Incredibly, they now find themselves 11 points ahead of Bayer Leverkusen in second, and rather comically, 17 points ahead of the supposedly mighty Bayern Munich. Dortmund’s dominant position hasn’t been down to the poor performances of their rivals though – after all, Leverkusen have only lost twice all season – but because of their own ruthlessly consistent displays. They have dropped points in just one of their previous 14 games (a 1-1 draw with the ever-stubborn Hoffenheim), and as a result, you could be forgiven for thinking they have already wrapped the league title up. To compare them to Europe’s other leading clubs at present; they have a points-per-match average of 2.69, whilst Arsenal average 2 points and Lille average just 1.82. The only side who can actually match Dortmund in the major leagues are Barcelona, who average 2.7 points per game.
They comfortably have the best defensive and attacking records in the Bundesliga, and yet their forwards are some way off Theofanis Gekas’ tally of 12 goals. This only serves to demonstrate Dortmund’s collective strength though – Shinji Kagawa and Lucas Barrios both have 8 goals to their names, but Dortmund are not reliant or one or two exceptional sources of talent to keep them at the top of the pile. Instead, they have a young, hungry, vibrant squad who are willing to work for each other, and tackle any obstacle in their path as a single, united entity. The talent is of course there, in the form of Kagawa, Barrios, Nuri Sahin, Neven Subotic, Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski, to name a small collection, but as Bayern and Schalke are currently proving (for all the wrong reasons), talent is nothing without the right mentality.
The Black & Yellow’s manager, Jürgen Klopp, has got the defence looking beautiful in its shape and form – a site that should have any aspiring young coach jotting down notes – particularly the way they effortlessly narrow up and switch to a back five whenever they come under any sustained pressure. Three defenders will form an unusually narrow back three, a winger and a full back become wing backs and the midfielders plug any additional holes, which makes trying to pick them apart an unenviable task. This defensive wall has provided them with the base point to play what has actually proven to be extremely entertaining counter attacking football, reminiscent of Manchester United’s counter attacking play in the 2007/08 season.
This return to form will be a massive relief to the loyal Dortmund following, who pack out the stunning Westfalenstadion through both the good and the bad times. In the past, these supporters have seen their side win six league titles, a Champions League, a Cup Winners’ Cup and an Intercontinental Cup. Perhaps they are now finally on the cusp of once again bringing some silverware home, and who knows, maybe in the not-too-distant future they will be able to replicate the one night they have never forgotten. On 28th May 1997 – they beat Juventus 3-1 in the Champions League final. Playing at the Olympiastadion, which was then the home of their rivals, Bayern Munich, Dortmund overcame a Juve side absolutely packed full of star names; Zidane, Deschamps, Boksic, Di Livio and the emerging Del Piero. Two Karl-Heinz Riedle goals and a decisive second half Lars Ricken strike provided the underdogs with their first European Cup, and it was hoped that the success would continue. Unfortunately though, they have won just one major trophy since then (the league title in the 01-02 season) and hadn’t looked like winning any more until this season. In recent years, they have been cursed by financial difficulties, numerous coaches have come in and failed to redirect the sinking ship, but now, finally, they might just live up to their potential.
If ever this current, promising Dortmund side does need to look for encouragement, they only have to look back to this legendary night in Munich.