Borussia Dortmund face a critical month in Bundesliga, Champions League after tough winter

3:42 PM ET

  • Stefan Wersfeld.
  • Tom Hamilton.


Senior staff member

– ESPN since 2011.

– He has attended two Olympic Games, two Rugby World Cups and two tours of the British and Irish Lions.

– He previously served as Editor-in-Chief of Rugby and was appointed Editor-in-Chief in 2018.

Borussia Dortmund host Borussia Mönchengladbach on Friday (2:20 pm ET, live on ESPN+) in the Bundesliga . The season is still going strong, despite two wins against VfL Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig in recent weeks. In these games we have seen real BVB’ers emerge. But a draw against Mainz and a defeat at Leverkusen allowed Dortmund to pull out of the title race. Amidst pandemic financial problems, a losing squad and an inexperienced interim coach on the sidelines, the pressure is on the Westfalenstadion to stay in the top four and secure the Champions League next season.

Although Dortmund still have one of the best youth squads in Europe – Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Giovanni Reina are all stars, and 16-year-old Yussufa Mukoko is also on his way. They are in the round of 16 of the Champions League where they will take on Sevilla, with interim coach Edin Terzic under pressure to right the ship and ensure their return to the continent’s premier club competition next season. As Dortmund continue their resurgence, ESPN spoke to those who know the club best about ending Borussia Dortmund’s tumultuous campaign.

– ESPN FC daily broadcast on ESPN+ (US only)
– ESPN+ Watch Guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and above

Where has everything gone wrong for Borussia this season, and how can they turn things around again?

Goodbye, Favre. Hello, Terzik.

The 21st. In November, Dortmund found themselves in a familiar situation: Bundesliga outfit Bayern Munich are making a point of overtaking the eighth-placed champions. BVB swept Hertha Berlin 5-2, Haaland scored four points. They were a point above. Then, over the next three games, he got excited. Dortmund took just one point from a possible nine, Haaland suffered a muscle injury that will rule him out for the rest of the 2020 season, and coach Lucien Favre has opened the door for him.

2 Connected

Favre, 63, was initially due to extend his contract until the end of the current season before Dortmund began looking for a long-term successor. But form and results have eluded him this season – they have scored just five of their 32 goals in the first 45 minutes; only lowly Arminia Bielefeld have scored fewer goals in the opening rounds this season – and he has failed to avoid relegation. Favre’s last game was on the 12th. In December, Dortmund were beaten 5-1 at home by newly appointed VfB Stuttgart. The end was inevitable and both parties, club and coach, knew it.

The DNA of Terzic, a 38-year-old assistant coach, runs through the veins of the club and makes sense as an interim coach, especially given the way Hansi Flick revitalized Bayern when he was appointed from within. In his youth, Terzic inhaled BVB in the famous South Stand. He held various positions within the club and then went on to study at Besiktas and West Ham United before returning under Favre.

Most of the time I had the feeling things were going very well, Dortmund’s director Hans-Joachim Watzke said in early January. In December it was no longer available, so we had to act. We have made no new progress. Already in the summer we expected that this year would be difficult for us.

Many of the players were out of shape. We had a hard time playing with ease, coming up with ideas, being creative. It’s like it’s all buried under the mold. It’s still showing in the first three games under Terzic.

Borussia Dortmund’s season was derailed at the end of 2020. Photo: Alexander Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images

In Leipzig, Dortmund scored three goals against superior opponents within 45 minutes of the second half and returned to the level they were once among the teams to watch in European football. They were more than the sum of their individual talents, pushing Leipzig far, finding space behind the attacking lines, using the width of the whole pitch and helped by Haaland’s masterclass and players like Marco Reus, Sancho and defender Manuel Akandzi, who have regained their form.

We have said that the last few weeks or months have been difficult for us. The magic was missing a little bit, but we knew the magic was still in us, Terzik told ESPN’s Archie Rind-Tutt after the win in Leipzig.

The German First Division on ESPN+. Can FC Bayern Munich stay on top, or will Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig take over?
ESPN+ : Live matches and replays (US only)
National League | Match schedule | Status

The return of this magic was much needed, but it was short-lived as they lost points again in Mainz the following weekend. After falling behind, they were unable to force victory as Marco Reus was again guilty of a penalty kick. He then apologized to his teammates, but critical moments and momentum were lost. Dortmund never faced Leverkusen and were overtaken by one of the Bundesliga’s top teams, much like Union Berlin’s dark horses in late December.

There is chaos again in Dortmund and the team is not happy. I had to count to 10 before I came to you. That’s very disappointing. In the first half we played with a bad mentality, with bad body language, said midfielder Thomas Delaney after the defeat to Leverkusen. added Terzik : After conceding a goal, I have to say the body language and reaction was poor.

We embraced our opponent’s strength instead of fighting.

Reopening of the Dortmund Press

The once dreaded Dortmund press conference disappeared under Favre as players struggled for form. They looked aimless, waiting for a chance to go along without forcing it.

You must be patient. Favors repeated for every match. But that patience meant that Dortmund looked too heavy, lacked width and couldn’t make the most of their attacking talents. Reus, Brandt and Sancho have been inconsistent, Belgian international Torgan Hazard seems to have played a number of games without injury, while young American Reina played well despite the general collapse of the team.



Jan Aage Fjortoft examines whether Erling Haaland will leave Borussia Dortmund to earn silver.

Haaland came to the rescue – the lone goal-scoring machine continued to score goals to keep Dortmund on the right side of the table – but when he injured himself in training in early December, the BVB were unable to replace the danger. They looked flat without him, but they also suffered without Haaland’s support to hit long balls into the opponent’s half and run deep. With no prospects in sight, U23 captain Steffen Tigges was quickly integrated into the team, giving Terzik more opportunities to attack. They also called on a talented teenage girl, Mukoko, to add a spark, although it will take time for her to get used to the steps.

They also lacked dynamism on the right side. Dortmund lost Ashraf Hakimi in the summer: The right-back returned to his home club, Madrid, and joined Internazionale for just under €40 million. Dortmund have analysed their team and believe that Hakimi cost him in terms of defensive concentration failures, sources told ESPN. They had hoped to bolster their back line with the signature of full-back Thomas Meunier, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. But the Belgian international doesn’t offer the same attacking power as Hakimi, who was eliminated further down the pitch.

Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and others to bring you the latest developments and discuss the biggest stories. Streaming on ESPN+ (United States only).

Terzik also had to see through their system. Their pressing game has weakened under Favre, and the team fears it will take time to find him under Terzic, sources told ESPN. However, some promising signs in the Leipzig game suggest that it may not last that long.

Under Favre, Dortmund played with three central defenders in a 3-4-3 system for much of the season, leaving them with no attacking power. Terzic returned to a 4-2-3-1, which offers more balance and consistency in attack.

At the time Terzic was signed, sources told ESPN that the club feared too many players were out of form, with players like Sancho and Reus lacking the explosiveness of last season.

It would normally take an entire summer of preparation to fix this problem, a source told ESPN, but instead Dortmund had a busy month of games against most of the teams in the first half of the championship. They played Union Berlin in late December, then Wolfsburg, Leipzig, Mainz in the second division and finally Bayer Leverkusen, who open in 2021. Friday’s match at Borussia Monchengladbach and the home game against Augsburg mark the end of a busy January.

She’s missing 12. Male

The plan is for Terzic to finish at least this season at the top of the team, sources told ESPN, and fans are excited to see one of their own on the sidelines. But Terzic will need to produce a top-four performance to guarantee Dortmund not only a steady stream of Champions League income, but also appease an increasingly disgruntled public.

Dortmund – perhaps more than clubs like Bayern or Leipzig – was missed by its fans at home. They have already lost three of their eight games at the Westfalenstadion this season; there were only three defeats in all of last season, all after recovery, and only one in 2018/19, a winless defeat to local rivals Schalke.

Will Borussia Dortmund fans return with the same energy as before the pandemic? Friedemann Vogel – Pool/Getty Images

Without fans, the numbers are even darker. They have won just one of their five games behind closed doors this season, following three consecutive wins over Monchengladbach, Freiburg and Schalke in front of a packed crowd. Since the start of the pandemic, they have scored just 10 out of a possible 30 points in league games played behind closed doors.

No other club in Europe can do without 81,365 home fans, Watzke told me earlier this week, referring to both the economic impact and the power of a full stadium. Heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Dortmund recorded a loss of €44 million after a 2019-2020 season that included only a handful of games without fans. They registered their first defeat since 2010, and it won’t stop there: Sources have informed ESPN that the club’s board of directors expects a further loss of around EUR 75 million this season.

Well aware that the club has no fans, Terzic told Sky after the win in Leipzig: Of course we miss our fans. Every time we go on the pitch, they sing Let’s go to Dortmund, fight and win – that’s the slogan we work hard for.

Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorz told Bild he was watching the draw in Mainz: We miss the south stand. It helps a lot to have the fans behind us.



Steve Cherendolo does not expect Marco Reus to score Dortmund’s next penalty after his defeat against Mainz.

Aspiration for a prosperous past (with budget)

Like many clubs on the continent, Dortmund felt the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which also affected activity in the transfer market. Last summer, a decline in revenues was expected, which impacted long-term planning. Dortmund added 17-year-old Jude Bellingham to their growing list of prodigies in July by beating Manchester United to his €23m signing for his former club Birmingham City. They also kept Sancho at the club after the Red Devils failed to qualify for the €120 million England international.

BVB is still the best club for this type of player, an agent told ESPN. But they need the Champions League [football] to remain an attractive, top class club.

This is where the beautiful game is at home. Unlock coverage of top leagues, tournaments and teams in world-class football. Log in to watch football live on ESPN+

– Sydney vs. central coast (3.00 ET)
– East Bengal vs. Mumbai (8.55 ET)
– Gladbach vs. Dortmund (14.20. ET)
– Benevento at Turin (14.30 ET)
– Stoke at Watford (14.40 ET)
– Chorley at Wolves (14.40 ET)
– Arbroath at Dundee (14.40 ET)

Financial constraints will prevent Dortmund from adding players to the squad this winter, while they are open to offers for players such as German internationals Julian Brandt, Nico Schulz and Mo Dahoud, sources told ESPN. Online striker Reinho could also leave the club and return to Real Madrid after almost five months in Germany.

Despite the excellent development and exploitation of international talent at Dortmund, the transfer fees paid for German internationals since 2016 have not paid off on the pitch or in the stands. Brandt, Schulz, Dahoud – the under-21 international when he signed at Gladbach – and former players Mario Götze and Andre Schurrle arrived with combined transfer fees in excess of €110 million. The latter two have since left the club without transfer fees, one to leave professional football at the age of 29, the other for a free transfer to PSV Eindhoven.

Financial constraints are a problem for any club, but they seem especially acute for Dortmund, who are in danger of falling behind. Bayern Munich, who won the treble last season, will pay €356 million in 2019-2020, while Dortmund will pay €205 million – far more than any other club in the league. Leipzig is on the rise and despite announcing a self-imposed wage freeze, sources told ESPN that other major German clubs are struggling to match the salaries offered by Nagelsmann’s 11.

After four games in the new year, Dortmund are ten points behind Bayern, Leipzig six. Bayer Leverkusen moved three points clear of BVB on Tuesday, while Union Berlin, VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt are hot on BVB’s heels in the battle for the remaining place in the Champions League: Only seven points separate fourth from tenth place. Dortmund’s margin of error has shrunk as they try to reboot their system in the face of a pandemic, with no fans in the stands and no players looking to find form.

In just three weeks, Dortmund have gone from a title contender to a potential crisis club by the end of 2020. The final two games in January will determine whether BVB will experience a season in which it could miss out on the 2021-2022 Champions League.

We’re not happy. We are not satisfied with all the results. We are not happy with the way we have played in many games. We still have a chance to change things and turn the situation around, Terzic said after the game against Leverkusen. But time is running out.

You May Also Like