Photo Credit: bvb twitter
A strange evening at the Etihad in the ever-bizarre situation of a stadium bereft of fans was all the more unusual for the confidence that oozed from both teams when the team news came through. Manchester City eventually took advantage of some seriously incompetent refereeing by Ovidiu Hategan but left their Champions League quarter-final with Dortmund finely poised ahead of the second leg with a One goal lead to the blues. All the talk in the build-up to the game was of freakishly prolific striker Erling Haaland that the Man City and other European superpowers are chasing in the summer transfer window, and he did enough to show why there is so much interest including an assist for the late equaliser by Marco Reus. City, on the other hand, had the last laugh owing to goals scored by Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden as well as former Dortmund player Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez registering as assist. This is Borussia Dortmund’s second consecutive defeat, deepening their chances of losing out of Champions League football next season.
“Missing out on the Champions League would be a sporting and financial catastrophe,” defender Mats Hummels said in view of the seven-point gap between them and Frankfurt in fourth. On the evidence of Saturday, Dortmund may stand a better chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League by winning this season’s tournament. However, Dortmund were lacklustre and crashed to a 2-1 home defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt followed by UCL loss at Etihad, causing Edin Terzic’s team staring at the abyss.
It was the usual, deeply unnerving combination of disembodied, half-baked attacks and lack of focus at the back. A string of defensive errors littered an entertaining game with Mats Hummels, Manuel Akanji, Emre Can and stand-in goalkeeper Marwin Hitz all culpable to some degree. Dortmund had enough opportunities to win the game twice over, but their “technical deficiencies” (Hummels’ words) and propensity to make the wrong decision rendered their attempts hapless.
Edin Terzic has been thrown in at the deep end and will likely become the fall guy, either now or within a few months. But presumably, he's not asking Hummels and Akanji to over-commit and Canto play his man onside for the opener or Hitz to flap tamely at a routine cross to allow City a second. For some time now, the focus has often been on Favre, Terzic, tactics, and culture, but it's time to ask whether the individuals and the defensive recruitment are good enough. It is, of course, Terzic's job to get the best out of these players, and it's difficult to argue that he is right now. But to point the finger at him alone would be to ignore the bigger problems. Terzic, 38, a novice at this level, didn’t just have to radically alter Dortmund’s passivity without the ball but also instill a “win-at-all-cost” mentality that too few of the many talented youngsters in the squad seem to possess. He wasn’t able to do so, which is less a reflection on him than on the natural drawbacks of the club’s policy to surround a small core group of seasoned pros with a dozen “high potentials” destined to reach their peak performance levels elsewhere. The team’s transient nature is the enemy of consistency. The hope is that incoming new boss Marco Rose can overcome that structural deficit by the force of his charisma and tactical input in the next season.
Dortmund set up relatively thin at the back are. This applies above all to central defense, for which you only have three skilled workers – Mats Hummels, Dan-Axel Zagadou and Manuel Akanji. It happened the way it had to: Zagadou fights for one Knee injury for months to return to the field and Akanji sometimes falls with Uncertainties on and has been going backward in terms of performance displays. Emre Can therefore probably be permanent with operations in the Chain of three Have to befriend, there are enough alternatives for him in defensive midfield. Hummels, on the other hand is experiencing a sharp decline in his defensive displays
On the outside the situation didn’t seem so drastic before the season: with Raphaël Guerreiro, Nico Schulz, and Marcel Schmelzer on the left, and Thomas Meunier, Lukasz Piszczek, Felix Passlack and Mathieu Morey on the right, you are at least quantitatively well occupied. However, if you take a closer look, there are gaps here too. Schmelzer, a BVB veteran, plays almost no sporting role and struggles with protracted injuries. Morey is regarded as a young hope but is far from ready to run regularly. Leonardo Balerdi does not appear up to the standard required. Passlack delighted the Dortmund fans with his goal against SC Freiburg but comes from a year-long low form. Reliable alternatives are currently only Meunier, Guerreiro, and veteran Piszczek.
Dortmund are adamant that missing out on the Champions League will not change their stance over Erling Haaland’s possible departure. Whether the most exciting young centre-forward in world football will accept life on the lesser stage next season is uncertain, however. In financial terms, Dortmund are looking at a minimum hit of €30 million if they finish fifth instead of fourth (unless they somehow win this season’s Champions League, which would guarantee qualification). The real difference could well be more than double, though, depending on performance. BVB are currently on course for receiving €82 million in prize money from this season’s Champions League. It’s money that Dortmund, as a publicly-traded company, can ill-afford to lose in COVID-19 times. Last season saw them post losses of €43 million. Estimates suggest it could be a little more in 2020-21. That’s not enough to put the club’s liquidity in question as they have secured a €120 million credit line with the banks, but the well-overdue reengineering of the squad, especially in defensive positions, will be much harder to get right under these circumstances.