Barca, move over! Dortmund suffer one of Bundesliga’s biggest title collapses
When the dust settles on the 2018-19 season, it will be remembered as the year of comebacks and collapses. The Champions League semi-finals saw those condensed into two 90-minute matches where teams blew huge leads while their opponents wrote their names in history. While those games perfectly encapsulated the season of comebacks and collapses with both Barcelona and Ajax throwing away 3-0 aggregate leads, neither team struck out as badly as Borussia Dortmund did in the Bundesliga in 2019.
The inevitable was confirmed on Saturday as Bayern Munich ran out 5-1 winners over Eintracht Frankfurt to snatch the title away from their rivals. Dortmund's own victory away to Borussia Monchengladbach was not enough to end seven consecutive seasons of Die Roten dominance and regain a crown that should have been theirs.
At the start of the year, Dortmund held a six-point lead at the top of the table following the winter break. The first-half of the season had exceeded all expectations at Signal Iduna Park, with new head coach Lucien Favre ending the hinrunde with 13 wins and three draws from 17 games. That included their own mini-comeback, twice coming from behind to beat Bayern Munich in November with talisman Marco Reus scoring two goals. January continued in the same manner as Dortmund opened the second-half of the season with a 1-0 win at RB Leipzig and then a 5-1 dismantling of Hannover, which temporarily opened a nine-point gap over Bayern Munich.
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Despite getting a new coach of their own as well as some player turnover, Germany's most-successful team were still expected to dominate the Bundesliga, with Bayern Munich's name already etched on the Meisterschale by most pundits before the season began. However, underwhelming player performances and uninspiring tactical decisions from Niko Kovac meant that this would be a down year for Bayern, allowing Favre's Borussia Dortmund to take full advantage. At the half-way stage, at least.
The table for the Ruckrunde tells a different story, with Dortmund the fourth-best performing team in the second-half of the season, falling behind a much-improved Bayern, but also RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen, now managed by former BVB boss Peter Bosz. Two wins from two was the perfect January for Dortmund, but after that, the collapse began.
Three draws in a row saw the league lead cut to just three points over Bayern Munich before a 3-2 win over top four hopefuls Bayer Leverkusen steadied the ship somewhat.
Those ties coincided with an injury to Reus, while Manuel Akanji's hip injury added to Dan-Axel Zagadou's foot problem meant Dortmund were signficantly weaked in defence and in attack. Experienced defender Lukasz Piszczek's own injury overlapped with this bad run of form and he was hastily rushed back to face Bayern Munich in April, lasting 69 minutes before being ruled out again with injury. Favre was forced into that decision by yet more injury problems, this time to loanee Achraf Hakimi and versatile wide player Raphael Guerreiro.
The Bayern game proved to be the turning point of the season for both teams. A win for Dortmund would have put them five points clear with six games remaining. Instead, Dortmund's under-strength side were massacred in Bavaria, losing 5-0 to put Bayern Munich top of the table and significantly alter the goal difference of both teams. Bayern have slipped up themselves since, but not as significantly and Borussia Dortmund's 4-2 defeat to Schalke at the end of April looked to hand a seventh title in a row for Bayern.
Dortmund's dip in form and title collapse actually saw some fans question Favre's future at the club, but sporting director Michael Zorc has no such worries and is already planning for next season with the Swiss manager at the helm.
"We will definitely go into the new season with Lucien Favre, whether we win the league or not," Zorc told Kicker earlier this month. "We have a very good relationship of trust, and we will hold contract talks."
Borussia Dortmund fans may be unhappy with how the season panned out, but nobody predicted that they would run Bayern Munich so close at the start of the season. This was meant to be a year of transition for both clubs and inconsistent results on the pitch proved that to be the case for each team. Once again, Bayern's star quality proved the difference in the end, but Dortmund did enough to be confident ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.
Bayern could be headed for a domestic double, but their head coach does not have the full backing of the club's bosses. They are losing leaders Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, while many of their other senior players are the wrong side of 30. On the other hand, Dortmund's bosses have backed their coach and have invested smartly in fresh blood.
The sale of Christian Pulisic to Chelsea for £58 million ($77m) also gives them plenty of money for the summer transfer market allowing Favre to continue to shape the team the way he wants. Jadon Sancho continues to improve and Zorc has repeatedly insisted he will reject all advances for the English winger. He will be a key part of their future as they look to recover from this year's domestic disappointment.
This season's collapse could end up being the making of Borussia Dortmund, just like Liverpool's Champions League final disappointment. The Reds bounced back better than ever, reaching the final by knocking out Barcelona and Bayern Munich, while they also chased eventual Premier League champions Manchester City down to the wire on the last day of the season. With Bayern still in transition, maybe Dortmund can be Germany's Liverpool and take some inspiration from former coach Jurgen Klopp!