Shinji Kagawa and company have led a surprise Borussia Dortmund squad to the top of the Bundesliga table.
Borussia Dortmund have unofficially been crowned Herbstmeister (“fall champion”) this past weekend in the Bundesliga. Though the unsanctioned title serves only as a measuring stick for the clubs and their fans, it’s considered a big deal in the media, who tend to use the break and the corresponding champion as a unit of comparison when handing out the mid campaign reviews. Usually, Bayern Munich find themselves atop the BL, however a surprise season from some of Germany’s top clubs and a strong showing by the usual mid-table clubs are just one of a number of interesting stories that will follow the 18 team league into the Christmas holiday.
Dortmund, who have dropped just seven points from 17 contests this season, seem poised to be named league champions should their run of incredible form continue. At the season’s opening though, it was FSV Mainz who held the commanding lead atop the standings after a near record breaking 7 match winning streak. Both clubs, who sit 1st and 2nd respectively, have slipped up as of late. Each dropping points away in Frankfurt and Mainz losing more ground after a 16th round loss to Schalke.
While the success of Die Schwarzgelben is directly attributed to a string of fantastic matches by most if not all of the starting XI, the black and white image painted by the statistics cast a clear and unbiased view of how resonant this first half has been for the club.
The mere fact that this 2010/11 side is just a point shy of matching Bayern’s midseason record mark from their 2005/06 campaign alone speaks volumes. Though, when comparing the two seasons, Dortmund have outclassed their Bavarian counterparts in everyway possible- they have scored four more goals, conceded two fewer, and have a goal differential of 29, six better than the 05/06 Bayern side. BvB’s defensive record this season has been bested by only one club in Europe- Barcelona.
Jürgen Klopp, who currently sits at the helm of the club, might not put too much stock in boring stats. He noted after his side’s 1-0 loss to Frankfurt, “I would be off my rocker if I didn’t realize that we played a fantastic first round.” Very modest of the German manager indeed.
While most clubs in Germany tend to use the summer transfer window to strengthen their teams, little can be done to improve the standard of play being put on show at Signal Iduna Park. At the back, Dortmund are as strong as ever. Net minder Roman Weidenfeller is having a career season, while the fullbacks save match after match with strong and unwavering commitment. Expectations for injured Patrick Owomoyela’s return are bright as the German international will be forced to fight for his position.
In the center of the park, Dortmund’s lineup is arguably the strongest in the league, aside from a Bayern midfield with Arjen Robben in full form. Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender have also been nearly indestructible as both have been among the highest rated center midfielders in the league. Combined with Shinji Kagawa and German prodigy Mario Götze, Dortmund will have to bench some of the league’s most respected players to keep up. Many have even suggested the Sebastian Kehl and Florian Kringe might be better off finding employment elsewhere if they want to break into the starting XI.
The real key to the success however has been the attack. A number of players have added their mark to the scorer’s sheet, however none like Lucas Barrios and Robert Lewandowski. The Paraguyan and Polish internationals have 13 goals between the two of them in 16 matches. A supporting cast of Kagawa, Götze and Kevin Groβkreutz give the attack an added punch.
While it is obvious that this year’s side is one of the strongest, deepest and most talented Dortmund teams ever, it goes without saying that such success could not have been achieved without the added dilemmas that are Bayern, Stuttgart and Schalke. Each of the power houses have struggled greatly this season. If any of these sides decided to push themselves in the 2nd half of this season, Dortmund might have a great deal to contend with. Though Schalke and Stuttgart both appear hugely lethargic and quite mismanaged at the moment, a rejuvenated Bayern might prove to be the better bet as challengers to the crown.
Over the coming weeks, I will try to dissect the ins and outs of the season’s first half and ponder some of the bigger questions heading into Christmas, such as: Can Mainz hold on? Can Bayern win? What of Armin Veh’s future? Hopefully the winter transfer period will help shed some light on the Bundesliga’s pressing questions.