“We are still Borussia Dortmund, it just has to be visible,” Hans-Joachim Watzke said in his speech at Sunday’s member’s assembly. The CEO, be it advertently or inadvertently, described Dortmund’s loss of identity on the football pitch and maligned that the team lacks “stability” and “formation”.
You could have picked any of the last three games to see what the 63-year-old meant. The 4-0 loss against Bayern Munich, the 3-3 draw against Bundesliga minnows SC Paderborn or the 3-1 loss away at the Camp Nou in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.
At the best of times, Dortmund ran like a well-oiled machine that it didn’t matter which player was thrown into the mix because the overall system worked and everyone knew his task. Right now, under Lucien Favre, it also doesn’t matter who plays because the result is always the same: an incoherent mash.
BVB fans who failed to feel excited about a Champions League game at the Camp Nou — only the second in club history — can be forgiven because there was little to suggest from the outset that this Dortmund side could put on a show away from home.
The Black and Yellows are, in the truest meaning of the word, hopeless under Favre. The players look left alone on the football field. They stop the ball and stare. There is no pattern, no anticipation of what the teammates might be doing.
Because the cameras film the matches at the Barcelona stadium from a higher vantage point, it was even more obvious how static Borussia Dortmund are in their possession. Julian Brandt and Marco Reus were tasked in leading the line, make runs and pull Ernesto Valverde’s make-shift backline apart. Instead, the BVB captain and the summer signing obsequiously strutted next to their opponents as if it was forbidden to get Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet out of breath.
Constantin Eckner wrote before the game that the key to beating Barcelona could be a 4-4-2 setup that presses the Catalans relentlessly in their own half. Instead, BVB fans got to see a self-defeating Four-Four-Favre that passively waited for Lionel Messi to do his magic.
The only surprising element in Dortmund’s game at this point is how predictable they fail with their timid setup. It is not a team that was built to be on the back foot.
But what exactly was this team build for? When the combination of Axel Witsel and Julian Weigl is your best option for a double pivot, then you have a major problem because the lack of dynamism in the centre cannot work in modern football.
What if you hire a coach that puts more emphasis on pressing? Witsel and Weigl will be too late to the challenges and allow their opponents to turn around even if they tried.
Watzke conceded on Sunday that the club made an error by not signing another striker — which was blatant yet again on Wednesday as Paco Alcácer missed due to illness. Though it is a headscratcher why the Council of Elders didn’t come to a similar conclusion regarding a number eight. Weigl was almost off to PSG but stayed on in the end — in hindsight another error.
And when Nico Schulz, yet another one of Michael Zorc’s misfires, is the only player to threaten the opponent’s goal in the first half, then you simply have mismanaged the obvious attacking talent at your disposal.
Favre proved his own error in by bringing on Jadon Sancho for the technically underqualified left-back, which, of course, leads us to the next problem at BVB.
The 19-year-old is allowing himself too many transgressions. As Ruhr Nachrichten reported on Thursday, Sancho showed up too late for the final team briefing at the team hotel before the match. The Black and Yellows will have to deal with yet another sideshow while they are desperately struggling for form.
Barcelona tried their best to give the Dortmund coach another lifeline by switching to eco-mode in the second half. Valverde’s team allowed the guests 61.5% (empty) possession in the second half, not doing more than necessary before their weekend clash against Atletico Madrid.
Still, it was enough for substitute Antione Griezmann, who had replaced the injured Ousmane Dembele, to strike a third goal on the counter. Meanwhile, BVB’s huffing and puffing yielded very little reward. The switch to a 3-4-3 in the final minutes looked promising but when you bring on Mario Götze in the 85th minute, you can’t say that you’ve tried everything.
And so, it seems like Favre’s tenure at the Westfalenstadion is coming to an end. The demanded “attitude” from Watzke was nowhere to be seen. The positive fifteen minutes at the end against an already down-shifted FC Barcelona were too little too late from BVB, who look completely out of their depth on the European stage by now.
After five UCL matchdays, the Westphalians are level on points with Inter Milan but are riding in third place due to their goal difference. BVB now have to rest their hopes on Barcelona, who sealed their group win on Wednesday, to grab at least a point at the San Siro in two weeks time, while they need to defeat Slavia Prague at home. But it’s hard to envision this team to withstand the round of 16 in this current state.