Erling Haaland banging in the goals, Jadon Sancho looking sharp, Jude Bellingham fitting right in and a watertight defence… as Dortmund prepare to face Bayern Munich tonight, is this the season they FINALLY end their rivals’ Bundesliga dominance?
- Borussia Dortmund have started the new campaign in encouraging fashion
- They sit joint-top of the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich ahead of Der Klassiker
- Lucien Favre appears to have a very good blend of youth and experience
- Erling Haaland has started the season in blistering fashion with 10 goals
- English duo Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham have hit the ground running
- Wise head Mats Hummels is helping to patch up a sometimes leaky defence
Mats Hummels may not have known what to expect when he decided to leave all-conquering Bayern Munich and return to Borussia Dortmund last year.
But the 31-year-old defender certainly appears to have found his groove.
‘My role is easy to define,’ Hummels said this week. ‘Leading by example and being a role model.’
Jadon Sancho (left), Erling Haaland (centre) and Thorgan Hazard celebrate during Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League win over Zenit St Petersburg
Haaland (left) was again in sensational form as Dortmund beat Club Brugge 3-0 on Wednesday
17-year-old English starlet Jude Bellingham has impressed in Dortmund’s midfield so far
This elder statesman is loving his job of guiding light to Dortmund’s team of exciting tyros, from Erling Braut Haaland and Jadon Sancho to Jude Bellingham and Giovanni Reyna.
The presence of Hummels in Dortmund’s defence – and captain Marco Reus, also 31, further forward – really does skew the average age of Lucien Favre’s team upwards.
But Hummels still occasionally gets the opportunity to upstage the young guns as he did by scoring both goals in Dortmund’s 2-0 win at Arminia Bielefeld last weekend.
Fans of Dortmund, and those who yearn for a more exciting Bundesliga title race after years of Bayern Munich dominance alike, will have been encouraged by the season so far.
Dortmund seem to have found the effective blend of youthful exuberance and wisdom that was Favre’s pre-season intention.
Experienced defender Mats Hummels heads home one of his two goals at Arminia Bielefeld
Dortmund manager Lucien Favre is hoping he has the right blend of youth and experience
Dortmund made light work of Belgians Brugge to move top of their Champions League group
They have won five of their six Bundesliga matches so far and are level with Bayern at the top ahead of their Klassiker at the Westfalenstadion this Saturday.
In the Champions League, Dortmund responded to a 3-1 defeat at Lazio by tweaking their formation and got back on track with a 2-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg.
This was followed by a comprehensive 3-0 win away to Club Brugge on Wednesday night – in which Haaland scored twice to continue his incredible scoring run – to boost chances of being in Europe’s elite competition post-Christmas.
Most encouraging though has been the number of clean sheets the team has kept so far this season – all five of their Bundesliga victories saw no goals conceded.
It suggests that Dortmund have fixed one of the major problems that saw them once again fall short in the title race post-restart.
Dortmund are joint-top of the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich ahead of this weekend’s meeting
Sancho is starting to hit his stride as Dortmund compete at the top of the Bundesliga and in a Champions League group containing Lazio, Zenit and Club Brugge
Haaland has started the season in blistering fashion with 16 goals for club and country so far
Bundesliga unless stated
Saturday Bayern Munich (H)
November 21 Hertha Berlin (A)
November 24 Club Brugge (H)
Champions League group stage
November 28 Cologne (H)
December 2 Lazio (H)
Champions League group stage
They started the current season with three at the back – Hummels, Manuel Akanji and Emre Can.
But when they lost to Lazio in the absence of Akanji and Can, Favre reverted to the favoured 4-2-3-1 of early last season and they haven’t conceded since.
Hummels was afforded extra freedom to bring the ball out of defence in the 3-4-2-1 but the four-man defence offers greater security and could be here to stay.
Bayern will test that to the limit on Saturday but the Treble winners have a chink of defensive vulnerability this season that will offer Dortmund hope.
They lost 4-1 at Hoffenheim and conceded three to Hertha Berlin. Red Bull Salzburg matched them until the final stages in the Champions League on Tuesday night before Bayern plundered four late goals to win 6-2.
Dortmund themselves were able to slice through Bayern’s defensive line for Julian Brandt and Haaland to score in September’s Supercup though they ultimately lost 3-2.
Dortmund’s midfield and forward line is starting to purr without getting near their best on a regular basis yet this season.
Bellingham, the 17-year-old Englishman signed from Birmingham City in July, was expected to be eased in with a spell in the reserves.
Not a bit of it. The teenager has started four Bundesliga and one Champions League game so far and looks right at home. He was excellent in a box-to-box role alongside Thomas Delaney at Bielefeld.
Bellingham settled quickly at Dortmund and is pushing on with German learning in lockdown
Bellingham sees compatriot Sancho as the perfect role model as he looks to make an impact
‘The way they integrate young players into the first-team squad is next level,’ Bellingham said this week. ‘There is not a club in Europe that does it quite like them.
‘It is as clear as day that if you come here and do the right things, you are going to get your opportunity.’
Bellingham deserved particular praise to adjusting to life in a new country during a pandemic and is not only determined to learn German fluently but is also finishing off studies for a BTEC in sport.
Sancho, who at 20 must himself sometimes feel like one of the older Dortmund players, isn’t exactly showing signs of regret at not pushing to join Manchester United in the summer.
Two goals and four assists so far suggest he could match last season’s incredible numbers of 20 goals and 20 assists.
Sancho and Haaland celebrate one of Dortmund’s goal in the 3-0 derby win over Schalke
German lockdown restrictions mean Dortmund are back to playing behind closed doors at their cavernous Signal Iduna Park for the foreseeable future
Then there’s the irrepressible Haaland, who is already up to 16 goals for club and country Norway this season.
Two goals against both Borussia Monchengladbach and Freiburg, plus goals in each of his last four games against Lazio, Schalke, Zenit and Brugge confirmed the very short turnaround between seasons hasn’t dulled his clinical instincts.
It won’t please Haaland that Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski has scored double the number of Bundesliga goals so far but there’s a long way to run yet.
Throw in the likes of Reyna, 17, and Reinier, 18, and Dortmund’s average age for league games this season has been 25.5 years.
Their teams in the 2-0 defeat at Augsburg and the 3-0 win over Gladbach averaged 25.2 years. Take out Hummels and 31-year-old Axel Witsel and you’re down to 23.3.
A 2-0 reverse at Augsburg remains Dortmund’s only Bundesliga setback so far this season
Hummels celebrates his goal at Bielefeld with Thomas Meunier and Manuel Akanji (right)
Favre deserves credit for favouring his young charges and fearlessly driving down the age of his team.
Perhaps he hopes his youngsters can offer the kind of bravado needed for Dortmund to finally come out on top in games such as this Saturday’s meeting with Bayern.
It was just 10 days into the Bundesliga’s restart in May that Bayern came to Dortmund and won 1-0, effectively ending the title race to the disappointment of the neutral fan.
This time, although Bayern look as formidable in attack as ever, there are weaknesses to exploit at the back while Dortmund look stronger defensively.
Their mix of bright young things and wise old heads could carry them far.
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