Borussia Dortmund are stuck in Bundesliga midtable, but lowly position flatters their poor start to 2022-23

With three weeks of the campaign now complete, ESPN’s leading Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae examines pre-season stutterers at one of Germany’s biggest clubs. Borussia Dortmund sits in midfield and hasn’t really impressed so far in 2022/23, so why aren’t BVB fully wired yet?

Usually when you’re commentating on a live game, and even if a top-flight team’s performance has been downright poor, at home as soon as they take a two-lead lead with 13 minutes to go, you sense that the game is probably over. But on Saturday, when I was commentating on Dortmund vs Werder Bremen for ESPN viewers in the USA, I had nagging doubts. Bremen, just back from a one-year break in the 2nd Bundesliga, had outplayed and outwitted BVB without having the necessary punch in front of goal.

Dortmund recorded just five tries in the entire game, the lowest number in a Bundesliga home game since data collection began in 1992. But little could I or anyone else have predicted the sheer madness that was to come in the closing minutes. If you blinked, you literally missed the biggest late catch-up in league history. Bremen’s 3-2 win, in which all three goals came from the 89th minute, will go down in history.

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After attending all three BVB games at the start of the season, I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly convinced. In their opener against Leverkusen, they were praised for their fighting spirit, embodied in new defensive lightning rod Nico Schlotterbeck, and for battling long stretches to victory in a difficult second half. A more honest assessment might have been: an accidental win, certainly one labor victory (“arduous victory”).

Then there was the 3-1 win at SC Freiburg, fueled by goals from three different substitutes, which covered more obvious cracks. Jamie Bynoe-Gittens equalized late but was helped by a spectacular shot from Freiburg keeper Mark Flekken. Dortmund reinforced in the last six minutes with Youssoufa Moukoko and Marius Wolf. At BVB it’s tempting to look at spirit, mentality and commitment as important characteristics.

At least the Black yellow showed signs of courage, perhaps suggesting their glass-jaw tendencies have been relegated to the dustbin of history by Edin Terzic, who is back at the top after guiding the club to DFB-Pokal success as caretaker coach in 2021.

However, there was no steely determination against Bremen, just a lot of random and not particularly flashy football. Dortmund looked particularly lost after midfield pivot Mahmoud Dahoud was substituted off in the 18th minute with a shoulder injury. Jude Bellingham had perhaps his worst game yet in a Dortmund shirt and got little help from Dahoud’s backup, Emre Can, as Bremen’s Leonardo Bittencourt and Jens Stage kept cutting through them.

We shouldn’t take anything away from Werder Bremen, who were enjoying one of their finest hours crowned by Oliver Burke’s majestic 95th-minute finish, but make no mistake: this was another Dortmund collapse on the back of far too many in the recent one Past – think St. Pauli in the DFB-Pokal, Rangers in the Europa League, Leverkusen and Leipzig at home in the Bundesliga. Not trying to sugarcoat his comments, Terzic admitted the overall performance was not up to standard and Dortmund got what they deserved. Before the season, he stressed that the opponents should never have more will to win than BVB, but on Saturday Terzic’s team showed that it fell short.

It wasn’t just desire, either. Dortmund showed enormous structural problems, the gaps between the components of the team everywhere, no coordinated pressing and an attack that was still under construction.

Anthony Modeste, recently signed from FC Koln, is an experienced Bundesliga finisher with 83 league goals to his credit and it was logical to seek out a player who wouldn’t have to settle in a new league while waiting until Sebastien as a stopgap measure Hopefully Haller returns from treatment for a malignant testicular tumor. So far it looks like Modeste is playing for the wrong team. On Saturday he touched the ball just 12 times in 82 minutes.

It’s not all his fault, of course. At Cologne manager Steffen Baumgart’s line-up was heavily weighted towards crosses that Modeste could end up hitting, but that’s not really a facet of Dortmund’s game. Besides, who would deliver these crosses regularly if BVB screwed up their approach? In short, there must be an encounter between the two ideas.

Dortmund undeniably suffered from injuries in the opening weeks of the season. First, Niklas Sule had to leave at halftime in the DFB Cup win against 1860 Munich, when he was strengthening central defense with Schlotterbeck. Another key summer signing, Karim Adeyemi, was dismissed with a big toe injury after a hand in Marco Reus’ goal against Bayer Leverkusen and has not returned to action since. Donyell Malen, one of the winners of pre-season and the DFB Cup, became the youngest injured victim last week.

Dortmund travels to the capital on Saturday to meet Hertha Berlin (9:30 a.m. ET, livestream on ESPN+)in a game that proved extremely problematic for them last season, on a day when the defensive side of Julian Brandt’s game was brutally exposed.

This could be a week for the introduction of a back three with Sule, Schlotterbeck and Mats Hummels. There’s also a case for Salih Ozcan, who, somewhat perplexingly, has so far only been a spectator in a four-man midfield. Perhaps moving to this different structure will also allow Captain Reus to play off two strikers, Modeste and Moukoko.

Dortmund must hope that their late Bremen buffing was a one-off. Borussia Dortmund are stuck in Bundesliga midtable, but lowly position flatters their poor start to 2022-23

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