Is Dortmund’s perfect start as good as it seems?

Borussia Dortmund’s perfect 100% start to the New Year has the optimistic portion of the BVB fans rubbing their hands with glee, looking forward to a repeat of last season’s Rückrunde heroics, which took them to within touching distance of the Meisterschale. There are however reasons to be more cautious and not get too carried away as the perfect start may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

You can understand the optimists amongst the Schwarzgelben faithful, who are desperate to make up for last season’s failure and who see parallels with the start made last January after the Winterpause. Eight wins in a row saw the club rise from sixth place and wipe out a nine-point deficit on leaders Bayern Munich to the top of the table and put the Bundesliga crown in their hands. The tragic ending however is well known.

The fact that BVB have started 2024 with three wins on the bounce has dispelled a little of the negativity and criticism that was clouding their Hinrunde. The arrival of loan signings Jadon Sancho and Ian Maatsen have also added some new impetus, while the appointments of both Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender as assistants to Edin Terzic have also been welcomed by the fans.

Wins over Darmstadt (3-0), Köln (4-0) and VfL Bochum (3-1) have given Dortmund the full nine points and seen them leapfrog RB Leipzig into the top four. But a closer look at the three games shows that BVB shouldn’t be getting too far ahead of themselves and presuming a repeat of last year is on the cards.

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The first two games of the year saw them beat arguably the two worst sides in the league this year and although the scorelines look comfortable, in both matches at the Böllenfalltor and the RheinEnergie Stadion, they had their difficulties. Beating the Bundesliga’s bottom two should have been a given for Borussia Dortmund.

More concerning was the display in their first home game of the year when they hosted Bochum on Sunday. The three points are the main thing, but there was plenty to be dissatisfied with from a BVB point of view. Having equalised through a Nico Schlotterbeck own goal just before half-time, the visitors were arguably the better side for the opening twenty minutes of the second period and looked the more likely to score the second goal. 

The Signal Iduna Park crowd were not overly happy with what they were seeing and there were even instances of whistles from the stands when Dortmund broke off two successive attacks to play the ball back to the keeper and start again from the back. Indeed, it says a lot that stand-in goalkeeper Alexander Meyer had the most touches of any Dortmund player during the match. 

The absence through illness of Julian Brandt was really felt with an obvious lack of creativity on show and in possession they looked quite static with the necessary movement lacking. The gap between the back four and number six Salih Özcan was quite often too great and defensively Dortmund always looked fragile. Nico Schlotterbeck’s own goal was an example of this and the centre back had to be bailed out again later in the game by a last-ditch intervention from Ian Maatsen.

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Midfielder Marcel Sabitzer was very honest in her summation after the match saying, “We definitely have room for improvement in our play, we’re certainly not brimming with self-confidence. We were sloppy in our positional play. We have to improve, we know that. Of course, Dortmund’s aim is to play well and refreshingly, to create lots of chances to score.”

Coach Edin Terzic also saw room for improvement. “We have to prove that we can show it consistently, in every game. There was another improvement in many areas and a few things that we didn’t like so much. We know that there are further steps to follow,” he explained after the win. 

Nine points against Darmstadt, Köln and Bochum, while most welcome, is not something to start cracking open the champagne about. The next three Bundesliga fixtures will provide a step up in challenge with away trips to Heidenheim and VfL Wolfsburg sandwiching a home game with Freiburg. Three more positive results and then Borussia Dortmund can start to think that they are back on track.