8 straight away wins? Wake up Europe, Borussia Dortmund are back, Borussia Dortmund are on fire. Welcome to IBWM Suhrith Parthasarathy.
Borussia Dortmund fit the modern-day prototype with panache. Tuned to a 4-2-3-1, the Borussians play with a high defensive line, press from the top and look to pass and move the ball with extraordinary pace, which when executed to perfection is a thrilling sight to behold. A team brimming with youth – their usual starting line-up averages just over 23 years in age – Dortmund are eleven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with only sixteen games having been played. Yesterday, at their home ground, the Signal Iduna Park (formerly the Westfalenstadion), a goal each from both their shining starlets, Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa ensured that they overcame Werder Bremen, 2-0, in a performance that even if not packed with their customary spark, showcased a champion’s tenacity. Sahin scored inside the first ten minutes of the game with a sumptuously struck left-footed free-kick, while Kagawa’s goal – a fine finish from a tight angle – in the closing twenty minutes sealed the game in Dortmund’s favour.
Not since 2001-02 has Dortmund won the Bundesliga, struggling in fact to qualify for Europe in recent seasons. But in Jurgen Klopp, the club finally looks to have found the right man to take them back to their glory days that saw them lift the Champions League in 1997. Klopp who had enjoyed a modest playing career with FSV Mainz coached the same team successfully, helping them retain Bundesliga status by playing “concept football” – a system that involves collective rhythmic movement at a high tempo. The term, “concept football”,was made popular under Volker Finke’s phenomenally successful tenure as coach of SC Freiburg. Finke led the club of paltry resources to the top flight for the first time in their history in 1993-94, before helping them to a third place finish within a season’s time. The side from the Breisgau region, came to be known as the “Breisgau Brazilians”, for their wonderfully pleasing and technically superior style of football that saw them pass the ball both artfully and precisely. “It's boring to switch flanks and knock the ball from one wing to the other. We build through the middle, where there is little space,” Finke is quoted to have said.
Dortmund are by no means a club of insignificant resources – the Signal Iduna Park regularly sees more than 80,000 crammed into the stands – but their style of football seems intrinsically linked to Finke’s methods. Klopp is an intelligent reader of the game and is uninhibited in his tactical thinking. Against Mainz, last month, in what was then a top of the table clash, Klopp moved from his customary 4-2-3-1 to a Christmas Tree shape – the 4-3-2-1 – with a view to pack the midfield even further, not compromising though on his side’s devotion to a high tempo pressing game. The move paid rich dividends with Mario Götze – the club’s precocious eighteen-year-old winger – and Lucas Barrios scoring the goals in a 2-0 victory. Earlier, Dortmund had created a dent on reigning champions, Bayern Munich’s title bid with another 2-0 victory. Bayern have failed to recover since then, currently in fifth place, seventeen points behind Dortmund.
It’s difficult to earmark a single player responsible for Dortmund’s feats this season, but at the side’s nucleus are the two goal-scorers against Werder Bremen, Sahin and Kagawa. Sahin, still only 22, seemed destined for success right since he broke through as a teenager in 2005. He still holds the record for the being the youngest player to score in the Bundesliga – a goal against Nuremburg in November, 2005 gave him the honour. Since then, even though he was lent briefly to Feyenoord, Klopp was quick to recognise his value, starting him in 33 of the club’s 34 league games last season. Sahin, a product of the contemporary, multi-ethnic Germany, that has seen the rise of the likes of Mesut Ozil, Jerome Boateng and Sami Khedira, three of Germany’s top performers in the World Cup Finals at South Africa, was born and bred in Dortmund, although he represents Turkey, his country of origin. Blessed with a magnificent left foot, his command over the centre of midfield belies his age. His ability to pick the right pass and keep things simple without losing, though, the vision to play the Hollywood pass when necessary, sets him apart as a potential world-class talent. But, Shinji Kagawa, the twenty-one-year-old Japanese playmaker, is the jewel in Dortmund’s crown, in the words of Raphael Honigstein of the Guardian newspaper.
Signed in the summer, for a mere 350,000 Euros from Japanese club, Cereza Osaka, Kagawa has adapted to the Bundesliga with rare aplomb. A modern-day playmaker, Kagawa is just as comfortable operating in the hole behind the striker, as he is cutting in from the wings. Possessed of dazzling footwork, and a sharp change of pace, Kagawa has already lit up the Bundesliga with several performances of majestic beauty. He also seems to have a unique knack of finding himself in the right-place-at-the-right-time, exemplified by his eight goals in the league this season.
Kagawa and Sahin are no doubt at the heart of much of Dortmund’s excellence this season, but it is a collective will to play to a certain method that has seen the team reap not only rich rewards but also ensure a visually pleasing spectacle. Götze, Kevin Großkreutz and Jakub Blaszczykowski alternate on the wings, with Sven Bedner holding in midfield, and Barrios leading the line up top. The phenomenal aspect of this composition is that barring Barrios – who is twenty-six-years-old, Großkreutz, born in July, 1988, is the oldest of the front six. One wouldn’t have imagined Dortmund topping the table at any point this season, let alone leading the league by eleven points with sixteen games played, but such has been the brilliance of both the youthful squad and the methods of Jurgen Klopp, to whom much of the success must be credited. Stranger things have happened in football, but barring a miracle of inconceivable proportions, Dortmund should lift their fourth Bundesliga title weeks before they kick off their final game against Eintract Frankfurt at home on May 14.
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