When Manchester City look back on what went wrong in a shambolic Champions League campaign, it wouldn’t hurt them to take notes from their vanquishers in last night’s final group game.
Having finished rock bottom of their Champions League group themselves at this point 12 months ago, Borussia Dortmund have turned their European fortunes around in spectacular style.
Jürgen Klopp’s side have emerged from what was relentlessly described as a ‘Group of Death’ – more than once by José Mourinho, in fact – as winners with an unprecedented 14 points. That’s 11 more than Premier League champions City.
Even with six changes to the starting line-up that faced Bayern Munich in Saturday tea-time’s clash of the titans, Dortmund ground City down last night, getting over a first half that the English side shaded to emerge as fairly comfortable winners against a strong side fielded by Roberto Mancini. By full-time, the German champions had registered three times as many attempts on goal as City.
So what’s their secret? A world-class goalkeeper and number nine are a good start. Roman Weidenfeller continued his excellent form with some fine first-half stops, notably from Edin Dzeko, after defying Bayern at the weekend. “I don’t know what more he has to do to get a chance to play international football,” Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes had marvelled after Saturday’s game.
At the other end, the talismanic Robert Lewandowski was given a large chunk of the night off, only playing for the final 13 minutes, but his weekly influence is in no doubt. Lewandowski offers the skillset and work ethic of several players at once; he holds up well with his back to goal, drops to link play and scores regularly too – he finished with 31 last season. The Poland centre-forward’s future beyond this season may be in serious doubt, with Sky Germany claiming last week that he’s already agreed a deal to join Manchester United next summer, but it is clear he won’t be going anywhere in winter.
That’s not to say Dortmund solely rely on this pair. Mats Hummels and Marco Reus, for example, are two of the Bundesliga’s outstanding players of recent seasons. Looking forward to the competition’s latter stages, the feeling that Dortmund could go much further is growing. This is not just a first XI but a squad of some standing, as shown by Klopp’s confidence in leaving star player Mario Götze out of the group totally to rest last night, and with Julian Schieber coming in for Lewandowski to score the winner.
The élan with which Dortmund have wowed Europe in the past two seasons and the squad depth hinted at against City may appear to be separate strands of strength, but are in fact inextricably linked. Klopp’s confidence in his players allows them not only to play to with confidence, but also makes everybody in the group feel involved, so the less-than-regular starters like Felipe Santana can come in and apply themselves well.
So Dortmund’s Champions League challenge is not about their illustrious history – they’ve almost gone to the wall twice since the 1997 win – but more to do with their glorious present. They’ve cut out the silly mistakes of the last campaign to flourish. City will have to wait until next year to try and do the same.
Borussia Dortmund are at odds of 9.00 to win this season's Champions League.
Click here to read more from European football expert Andy Brassell.