Dortmund on the march
After losing every single one of their away games last season in the Champions League, Borussia Dotrmund sent a very loud message to teams across Europe on Wednesday night, that they have learnt from their mistakes of a year ago.
What’s more, it appears their primary focus for silverware this season is Europe’s most prized possession, a scary thought for anyone unlucky enough to find themselves up against a very young and talented German outfit.
In recent weeks, rumours creeping out of Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona squad indicate that some of the older heads in their ranks are finding it difficult to raise their game after continually finding success in both La Liga or Europe.
Success can breed success in football, but it also, it appears, can breed complacency.
Luckily for Jurgen Klopp and his side, complacency in the Champions League shouldn’t prove to be a problem, after last season’s campaign bore such little fruit.
The three losses away from home made qualification a near impossibility from a mediocre group, and a draw against Arsenal, a win over Olympiakos and a loss to Marseille in the Westfalenstadion, left Klopp’s men on rock bottom in Group F and unable to even try and save face in the Europa League.
The collapse of their European campaign may have inspired their domestic one, as the 2010/11 German champions put together a 24-game undefeated run that lasted the remainder of the season and lead them to a magnificent league and cup double, a double that also denied their rivals, and potential treble winners, Bayern Munich a single piece of silverware.
And now, with two consecutive league championships in their trophy cabinet, it is the Champions League that eludes them, and the Champions League that they want.
Their league campaign has already shown signs that the squad is almost bored of the usual humdrum of Bundesliga football. While Munich have hit the ground running, scoring 19 goals in their near perfect start to the season, Dortmund have already stumbled to far lesser opposition.
Draws against the newly promoted – but still unbeaten – Eintracht Frankfurt and Nurnberg were disappointing, but it was the loss away at relegation candidates Hamburg that has caused the most frustration for Dortmund’s most faithful of fans.
European competition, though, has brought the best out of Klopp’s young stars, as youthful exuberance and that stereotypical German sensibility, have begun to merge to create a very confident and powerful European force.
Their home win against Ajax may have only come after a late Robert Lewandowski strike, but the manner of their play, the attacking movement of the front four, the link play of Mario Gotze and the imposing nature of their big Polish centre forward, proved enough to force the issue and eventually bring home a well deserved victory over the Dutch champions.
Then, on Wednesday night, Klopp’s men completely outclassed a side that, on paper, can only be matched by the Spanish giants of either Barcelona or Real Madrid, such is the depth and talent of Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City.
After an incredibly open first 45 minutes under the Etihad’s floodlights, Dortmund suffocated Manchester City off the ball, and ran them ragged when on it.
Marco Reus and Gotze, Germany’s two young starlets, looked like a pair of Cesc Fabregases on the ball as they dictated Dortmund’s advances up the pitch, but neither them, nor Lewandowski could find the back of the net, despite countless chances.
Joe Hart looked almost infallible as he made save after save, tipping efforts onto the frame of his goal has he did all he could to keep his side level.
It was an evening that City keeper received plaudits from his fellow professionals, with some calling him the worlds best pair of hands in football, but even he could not deny Dortmund their breakthrough as the City defence was turned inside out by the pace and vision of the German’s seemingly unrelenting attacks.
Reus’ 61st minute finish was nothing more then was deserved as the 23-year-old finally slotted his strike past the City keeper after Jack Rodwell’s mistake in midfield gifted the visitors yet another opening.
A mere stroke of luck pulled City level after Stefan Subotic’s flailing arm caught Sergio Aguero’s overhead kick, giving Mancini’s side a controversial penalty, and Mario Balotelli another chance to deal a major blow to German football on the European stage.
Despite being denied the three points they deserved on Wednesday night, it’s very much apparent that the blue touch paper has been lit in Dortmund, sparking a burning desire to win, and win well, on club football’s biggest stage.
This may be only the second time since 2003 that the north German side have made the group stages of the Champions League, but their European inexperience of last season appears to be a thing of the past.
They are not unbeatable, but few – if any – will cruise past Klopp’s side without a fight.
Madrid, Manchester and Ajax beware. The group of death just got even deadlier.