Borussia Dortmund entered the 2013-14 season with high hopes. Despite being forced to sell Mario Goetze to domestic rivals Bayern Munich, the Champions League and Bundesliga runners-up had had success in the summer transfer window as they retained wantaway striker Robert Lewandowski, replaced Goetze with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and added depth in the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
The season could hardly have started better for BVB as they handily beat Bayern 4-2 in the Superpokal and began the season with five consecutive wins in the Bundesliga. But trouble began to brew even in the early stages of the season—and now Dortmund are in danger of being eliminated from two or more competitions within the next few weeks.
While on international duty in mid-August, Ilkay Gundogan sustained a back injury that will keep him sidelined until the New Year. Mkhitaryan and Marcel Schmelzer have each been struck with muscular injuries that have seen them miss several weeks of action, and an ankle injury to Sebastian Kehl saw the captain miss nearly two months. Last weekend, BVB received a hammer blow as Neven Subotic sustained a torn cruciate ligament, which means he will not play again this season.
BVB had expected their newfound depth would be enough to compensate for Lukasz Piszczek’s expected half-season absence. What they got was a blight of injuries that would have crippled almost any other team.
Although Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang have intermittently played well in the Bundesliga and Sahin is close to the form that made him a phenomenon in 2010-11, Dortmund have often struggled at the highest level this season. The Armenian is no Goetze; the Turkey international lacks the versatility and directness of Gundogan. Overall BVB have been far too reliant on Marco Reus, who has often been stifled by defenders in the biggest games.
Dortmund had a tumultuous Champions League opener in Napoli, conceding early and seeing goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller sent off along with coach Juergen Klopp not long thereafter. It was a bizarre 2-1 loss in Naples, almost a fluke. But it was three dropped points.
Things looked better on the European front following a comfortable home win against Marseille and impressive victory away to Arsenal, but in their most recent match, a very wasteful BVB side fell victim to the clinical Gunners, who took the spoils at the Signal-Iduna Park. Dortmund now must win their final two group-stage matches to have a realistic chance of advancing to the knockout rounds, and even then it’s mathematically possible for them to be eliminated with 12 points.
Dortmund have been more consistent in the Bundesliga; they led the league until October 5, before suffering a shock 2-0 defeat to Moenchengladbach, but followed that result with three more wins. But just days after the Arsenal loss, a fatigued BVB side lost to Wolfsburg and lost Subotic for the season as they fell four points behind Bayern. Dortmund’s record in domestic play is near-perfect, but the harsh reality is that the Bavarians may not drop four points between now and season’s end.
The only competition in which Dortmund are rather comfortably placed is the DFB-Pokal, in which they have advanced through the first two rounds and next face 3. Liga side Saarbruecken on December 3. The German league cup is not the most prestigious of titles, though, and how Klopp prioritizes the Pokal match will depend on Bundesliga and Champions League results in the weeks prior.
Following the international break, Dortmund face their very own Everest. They host Bayern immediately and welcome Napoli to the Signal-Iduna Park just three days later. Both matches will be extremely difficult and are all but must-win scenarios against teams that could be entirely satisfied with a draw.
BVB are a great team when on form but must be more decisive in the telling moments. If they don’t take their chances, they could be out of the race in three competitions before the winter break.