Can Dortmund challenge Bayern?

CUTTING TO THE CHASE

Dortmund are actually favorites to win the 2019/20 Bundesliga title.

Seven Bundesliga titles on the spin, Bayern are an embodiment of dominance and breath invincibility don’t they? Well, not quite. At least not in the upcoming 2019/20 campaign where they could be second favorites to win the title. Dortmund lurked behind them last season, all the way to the final day and this time facts and figures do suggest that they might just walk away with their first Bundesliga championship since 2012.

Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen celebrates scoring his teams second goal of the game during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Ajax and FC Bayern Munich at Johan Cruyff Arena on December 12, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Dec. 11, 2018 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe)

Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen celebrates scoring his teams second goal of the game during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Ajax and FC Bayern Munich at Johan Cruyff Arena on December 12, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

(Dec. 11, 2018 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe)

THE 2018/19 BUNDESLIGA SEASON RELOADED

If you happen to not have paid proper attention last season, we got your back. A simple refresher course on the 56th Bundesliga season says that Borussia Dortmund were on top of the league from September 2018 up until March 2019! They indeed bottled it in the end, but there is a lot from their campaign that signposted probable future successes. The Black and Yellows matched the record Bundesliga champions stat to stat, bettering them on more occasions than one. The two German giants finished the season with a total of 10 clean sheets each and just 2 points separating them. This was not a Juve and Napoli title race which in many forms suggested that the Old Lady was the good old African folklore’s hare racing with tortoises. It was like the Manchester City and Liverpool beef, that’s just how close it was. The Bavarians did score more goals and conceded just 32 goals compared to Dortmund’s 44 which explains their title triumph, but were however pretty much second best in everything else.

Unsurprisingly the top six match attendances in the entire league were recorded at Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, the Yellow Wall and their ear busting decibels choir are indeed a bit more than just fanatics. Even more, Die Borussen boasted of the most entertaining individual ballers in German, with 4 of the 8 season’s players of the month going to their players and 2 Rookie of the month accolades collected by the high flying Moroccan full back, Achraf Hakimi. None of the champions’ youngsters won the rookies’ award and only Leon Goretzka captured the player of the month of the award. Of course the top goal scorer was Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, undoubtedly the best in the league, but the second and third top marksmen were Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer and captain Marco Reus. What else, the top assist provider was also the teenager, Jadon Sancho.

We could really take the entire day doing this but my point is perhaps a bit clear now. Dortmund were literally breathing down the Reds’ necks. It’s also true that Bayern topped the most important stat, the points tally, but what we get from Dortmund’s performance last time out was the message of intent. They are open for business. But is that everything?

Borussia Dortmund players celebrate victory at full-time after the Group A match of the UEFA Champions League between Club Brugge and Borussia Dortmund at Jan Breydel Stadium on September 18, 2018 in Brugge, Belgium.  (Sept. 17, 2018 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe)

Borussia Dortmund players celebrate victory at full-time after the Group A match of the UEFA Champions League between Club Brugge and Borussia Dortmund at Jan Breydel Stadium on September 18, 2018 in Brugge, Belgium.

(Sept. 17, 2018 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe)

 WHO WANTS IT MORE?

Stats aside and leaving records in their stacks, them who emphatically answer this question eventually emerge as champions, in any part of the world. That’s a question which us writers can have fun circling on but properly answered on the field of play. I could argue that Dortmund being in the transition phase last year under then new head coach Lucien Favre hardly ever saw themselves being that close to Niko Kovac’s men, who had finished 29 points above them in the 2017/18 season. They overachieved. Their plan to adapt to the new manager’s philosophy, play well and secure champions league football might have changed the moment they realised Bayern were just really bad in the opening stages. Losing 3 of their opening 12 matches.

Still thinking along those lines, Dortmund could have tried to run away with it, constantly looking over their shoulders whereas the champions desperately summed up their winning juices to save their blushes and pulled off a miraculous comeback, losing only once from match-day 13 up to the very end. In other words, I could say Bayern wanted it more last season, but out of contempt and hurt from being so near and yet so far, it could be the other way this time around.

But that’s just my thought pattern. What do the facts say? Who has done the business in the transfer window to lay down a solid title claim?

This was not a Juve and Napoli title race which in many forms suggested that the Old Lady was the good old African folklore’s hare racing with tortoises. It was like the Manchester City and Liverpool beef, that’s just how close it was.
— Dennis Takaendesa, FirstTouch

HAVE THEY DONE ENOUGH IN THE TRANSFER WINDOW?

Lucas Hernandez. of Atletico Madrid smiles during a training session ahead of the UEFA Super Cup match against Real Madrid CF at Lillekuela Stadium on August 14, 2018 in Tallinn, Estonia.  (Aug. 13, 2018 - Source: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images Europe)

Lucas Hernandez. of Atletico Madrid smiles during a training session ahead of the UEFA Super Cup match against Real Madrid CF at Lillekuela Stadium on August 14, 2018 in Tallinn, Estonia.

(Aug. 13, 2018 - Source: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images Europe)

Bayern Munich

To be fair, in as much they are the champions and have been for the past 7 seasons, the Bavarians are still pretty much in their own rebuilding phase. Former Eintracht Frankfurt manager Niko Kovac has had only one season with a squad he didn’t sum up and still recovering from the departure of the infamous duo, Robben and Ribery who once terrorised European defences under the alias, Robbery. The Croat actually did so well to recover from a shocking start and then clinch the title in his debut season. It was clear they needed to at least address their aging defence and find suitable replacements for the French and Dutch legend if they were to continue their impressive title winning run.

Coutinho, Hernandez, Pavard and Perisic

The 29-time champions from Munich clearly prioritised getting two full-backs and a prolific left winger heading into the 2019 summer transfer window. They got their full-backs, some of the best there is in international football right now. Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez registered on Bayern’s radar all the way back to the summer of 2018 when France lifted the world cup gold in Russia. The pair were ever so reliable and crucial to Didier Deschamps’ world cup winning squad, in both tracking back and going on the offensive. In fact, the 23-year-old Pavard scored the 2018 FIFA World Cup Goal of the tournament, his first ever international goal for Les Bleus. Lucas Hernandez had cemented his place in the Atletico Madrid starting line-up, arguably the defensive masters of Europe who conceded. No wonder these two commanded hefty figures to be priced away from Stuttgart and the Spanish giants. Niko Kovac and Bayern Munich are however getting value for their money, they can now sleep easier knowing the knocking on David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich have more than enough covers.

Even more, these two signings give the champions additional tactical flexibility with both Hernandez and Pavard able to play as central defenders or by just deploying them as full-backs, giving room for both Kimmich and Alaba to also play in the midfield. They are indeed some real wildcards!

However, they didn’t have it all going their way in the window. Yes, they got the highly experienced Ivan Perisic from Inter but it’s no secret that that the 30-year-old winger wasn’t their first choice. Perhaps the best transfer move for Bayern in the 2019 summer window came in the form of a gift from FC Barcelona, but a gift motivated by desperation and lack of vision rather than generosity. FC Hollywood won’t care though, as Coutinho offers the sort of dynamism, flair, and experience that could help the club transition some of the creative responsibilities that recently retired legends Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben handled for Bayern over the previous decade. While Coutinho’s move to Munich may be temporary in the form of a loan-to-buy option from Barca, the kind of quality he brings with him is a rarity in all of the Bundesliga.

Leroy Sane of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Gabriel Jesus during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Manchester City and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at Etihad Stadium on December 12, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Dec. 11, 2018 - Source: Gareth Copley/Getty Images Europe)

Leroy Sane of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Gabriel Jesus during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Manchester City and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at Etihad Stadium on December 12, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

(Dec. 11, 2018 - Source: Gareth Copley/Getty Images Europe)

Missed target: Leroy Sane

Former Arsenal boy Serge Gnabry did a pretty good job in trying to replace Arjen Robben on the left flank, scoring 10 goals and serving up 6 assists in the 2018/19 season. The same can’t be said of the other wing, highly talented French international Kingsley Coman, remains an unreliable option with his injury woes still to come to a close. In contrast, The 23 year-old managed only 7 goals and 4 assists, which is not good enough for a side whose style of playing hinges on the wingers’ ability to create goals and score some. That is why Manchester City winger, Leroy Sane perfectly suited the profile. Just like Ribery, he can hug the touchline, take-on players, run them down and deliver the end product. I mean, the numbers just speak for themselves.

Bayern’s predicted starting XI

Bayern’s predicted starting XI

The 23-year-old has managed a total of 32 goals and 36 assists during his 3 years at the English Champions. And his stock keep rising. Just this last campaign, Leroy managed an astounding 15 goals and 14 assists in only 27 appearances. He is young, he is efficient and German. Exactly just want the Bundesliga champions could ever dream of. He was reportedly interested in switching allegiances but the move fell out after he suffered a horrific ACL injury in City’s FA Community shield final against Liverpool in pre-season. They could still come back for him in the summer but they have to do without him at least for now. How may that really affect their title chances coming into the new season?

They got the Croat, Perisic who has Bundesliga experience with Dortmund and Wolfsburg but his numbers aren’t as good. He was excellent as he helped Croatia reach an unprecedented world cup final, but 9 goals and 4 assists in 40 appearances last season pales in comparison to Sane’s record. Let’s look at how Niko Kovac could set up his side in the 2019/20 campaign.

Bayern’s predicted starting XI

This is pretty much the formation and personnel that Kovac employed to turn over their misfortunes, except ofcourse the possible inclusion of Pavard, Hernandez and Perisic. Hernandez could be slotted right beside Nikolas Sule in central defence for the departed Mats Hummels, who rejoined you guessed who, Borussia Dortmund. It’s a great side but would have been perfect with Sane in it. It’s just unfortunate that success at this level seemingly requires perfection nowadays.

Their direct challengers are however looking interesting, maybe even close to perfection.

Borussia Dortmund

The Yellow and Black bottled the league last season. It was actually theirs to lose after sitting pretty on top of the standings from September 2018 all the way to March 2019. They could have been fairly satisfied though considering their circumstances. One of the main reasons why thy fell short was simply their defence. They kept as much clean sheets as Bayern but conceded 12 more goals. Their attack was quite frightening but as the old adage goes, “strikers win games but defenders win you championships.” They knew it, we all knew it and they have solved it.

Germany player Julian Brandt in action during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Sweden at Fisht Stadium on June 23, 2018 in Sochi, Russia.  (June 22, 2018 - Source: Stu Forster/Getty Images Europe)

Germany player Julian Brandt in action during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Sweden at Fisht Stadium on June 23, 2018 in Sochi, Russia.

(June 22, 2018 - Source: Stu Forster/Getty Images Europe)

Brandt, Hazard and Schulz

As if they really needed more attackers, they got them anyway. Proven Bundesliga aces and in abundance. The 22-year-old American, Cristian Pulisic departed for Chelsea but they look to have roped in a better option judging by their Bundesliga stats. Eden’s young brother, Thorgan Hazard scored 10 and registered 10 assists compared to Pulisic’s 4 goals and assists. You can sure bet that the former Borussia Moenchagladbach attacker will slot straight into the left wing position. They didn’t really need Julian Brandt, the 23-year-old who got a 2018 Germany world cup ticket ironically ahead of the bespoken Leroy Sane, but the kid scored 8 and served up 12 assists in all competitions. Why not get him if you can? His mobility will allow Favre to deploy him on either wings or pivot with Alex Witsel ahead of Thomas Delaney in midfield. He is their own wild card who pretty much guarantees that Dortmund now have the bulk of the league’s best attackers from the last campaign.

Other than polishing up their attack, Lucien Favre finally has the German international left-back, Nico Schulz to solve their most pressing problems from last campaign. All of Axel Zagadou, Acharf Hakimi and even midfielder Raphael Guerrero were tried on that left side but with no success. Most of their conceded goals could have no doubt come from that area. In the 26-year-old former Hoffenheim player, Dortmund now have German’s finest who has all the attributes of a modern fullback, taking on players just as good as he can take them out. Here’s a number for you, Schulz averaged an astonishing 4 crosses per game last season! In other words, problem expertly solved.

It gets even more interesting.

Main target acquired: Mats Hummels

Dortmund’s predicted starting XI

Dortmund’s predicted starting XI

With their main centre-backs being 20 and 23-year old Zagadou and Manuel Akanji respectively in the last campaign, you can surely understand why they fell short defensively. They are highly talented individuals but you do need that something extra; experience, experience and experience. Defending is kind of like wine, the older they get, they better they become. At least until their legs fail them when ages catches up.

In Matts Hummels, Dortmund now have just that. The 30-year-old has won 6 Bundesliga titles and most remarkably the 2014 World Cup with Germany. Having their former captain back from their title rivals to show the younger players the way and add some more steel, is about as good an offer anyone can get. He will likely partner with Akanji in central defence. Without a doubt, Dortmund have solved all their ills from last season. If they were just 2 points behind Bayern without these additional proven attackers and Bayern’s own experienced defender; how far can they go this season?

Let’s just take a moment and look at how they could line-up.

Borussia Dortmund’s predicted starting XI

It’s still pretty much a tussle on the centre-forward position between Mario Gotze and Paco Alcacer but the former was more prolific last season, scoring 18 goals from just 11 appearances. Tell me without blinking that, this cannot be a title winning team.

OTHER EXCITING TEAMS TO WATCH

Well, realistically, it’s hard to see anyone else outside these two win the 2019/20 Bundesliga title but honourable mention goes to RB Leipzig. The youthful and fast rising side finished 3rd last season and more impressively had the highest number of clean sheets record, 6 ahead of Bayern and Dortmund. They could take points off some of the giants and will in no doubt feature in some of the most exciting matches.

Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern Leverkuesen and Borussia Moenchengladbach will also be very much likely in the race for a top 4 finish.

MY VERDICT

My bias has been clear throughout the piece, I feel Dortmund have a better starting team and would be title favorites in that regard. Obviously, Bayern seem to have more depth when you look at their bench and that could be all that matters when you consider things like probable injuries.

One undisputable fact is that Bayern are no longer as invincible and that contest between them two, just makes the league a bit more interesting.

Who do you think will take it all? Tell us in the comments below.