By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor
“It’s only a one-off,” the critics said a year ago. “They’ll crumble without Nuri Sahin.” And indeed, in September it looked as though Dortmund would be unable to defend their Bundesliga title.
Three losses in their first six games had BVB sitting in 11th place, eight points adrift of high-flying leaders Bayern. The pressure to perform coupled with the sale of star midfielder Sahin resulted in a false start to the season.
Since matchday six, however, Dortmund are undefeated, and have dropped points just five times during their Bundesliga record 26 games without a defeat.
It was a taxing term for the title holders, and Jurgen Klopp had his share of headaches to deal with. Ilkay Gundogan utterly failed to fill Sahin’s boots early on, and the trainer was forced to use two purely anchoring midfielders in Sven Bender and skipper Sebastian Kehl, the latter of whom struggled in his return from a lengthy injury absence.
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It took time, but Klopp worked out all the details with some gutsy moves. With Sahin gone, he shifted deep playmaking duties to centre-back Mats Hummels, and kept his faith in Kehl even after the skipper made a horrendous error in the Champions League against Arsenal. All the while he nurtured Gundogan, who in the last month has emerged as an outstanding option in linking play from the defence to the attack.
Elsewhere, other players have stepped up in big ways. Robert Lewandowski’s 20 Bundesliga goals are more than Barrios ever recorded, and the powerful striker is now decidedly first choice. Meanwhile, Polish colleague Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski has filled in flawlessly for Gotze on the right wing. And to think that some considered Dortmund too thin heading into the 2011-12 campaign.
During the second half of the season especially, Kagawa, Kuba, and Lewandowski have stepped up and delivered time and time again. Hummels and Neven Subotic have been immense at the back, while right-back Lukasz Piszczek has firmly established himself as an elite player capable of taking on the roles of two positions at once.
Ultimately, Dortmund's consistency and ability to succeed in the big games saw them take top honours. They dominated the big teams, they regularly beat the lesser opponents, and were duly rewarded. Congratulations to the champions!
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