Supercup-Preview Part 1: Borussia Dortmund – The Bundesliga’s Coming Champions?
The Supercup features the Bundesliga champions against the German DFB Cup winner or Bundesliga Vice-Champions (if one of the two clubs won the double the previous season). Six times this fixture has been Dortmund against Bayern since the DFL revived the competition in 2010.
Not once has the Supercup not featured at least one of these two teams. Bayern missed the match only in 2011, Dortmund in 2010, 2015, and 2018. Only Schalke (2011) and Wolfsburg (2015) could interrupt the two teams’ winning streak. This in itself is ample evidence of the level of dominance these two teams have reached in the Bundesliga.
Yet a team’s performance in the Supercup does not allow for an accurate prediction of their performance during the rest of the season. Often, there is just too much difference in how far the teams have progressed in their pre-season preparations at this early stage. Nevertheless, the game will be carefully watched once again – perhaps even more so than usual – since a lot of people hope for a change of guard at the top of the Bundesliga this season.
This is in part due to the fact that Dortmund managed to sign their key players early on in the summer. They filled their ranks early, did not suffer crucial departures, and so they are rightly considered a serious title contender who will pose an even greater challenge to Bayern this time around than they could last season.
Which takes us to the other half of the pitch: nobody can quite say for certain whether the Bayern squad will ultimately profit or suffer from its transformation in the first year of its transition. Dortmund, at any rate, is confident that they will be able to take the next step.
Hans-Joachim Watzke, for one, has been unusually forthright in this season’s title ambitions. “We are going into this season with the clear goal of competing for the title”, he said in a recent interview with “Ruhr Nachrichten”.
Marco Reus too publicly mused about celebrating the title with 500,000 ecstatic fans on the “Borsigplatz” recently. Last year’s success really seems to have filled Dortmund with an unprecedented hunger for more. The bitter sting left behind by the inability to clinch the title from a nine point lead last season will play as big a part in this as their remarkable array of signings.
In Julian Brandt, Nico Schulz, Thorgan Hazard and Mats Hummels, four accomplished Bundesliga players have joined the club. While Hummels is supposed to fill a crucial gap in the team’s hierarchy with his experience and seniority, the other three will want to take the next step forward in their careers.
All four of them provide breadth in depth and quality at the top to the squad. Favre will be faced with a lot of difficult choices in squad selection this season. This may in fact be one of his greatest challenges in the coming year. Throughout his career, Favre has had cases of falling out with some of his players. Should he not be able to manage the quantity of his squad adequately, its quality will not matter.
That being said, Favre has a lot of experience too. Dortmund appears to have done everything right to prevent last season’s problems from occurring again this time. Hummels could not just prove an important building block in Dortmund’s hierarchy, he could also provide some of the much needed stability in defense the team was lacking last season.
The 2014 World Champion has already assumed a lot of responsibility in build-up play. The team had significant problems in this department last season, especially in the transition from the first to the second third. Hummels shows early signs of being able to address this deficiency this season. Due to his lack of pace, his off the ball defensive play is not first-rate. As arguably the team’s defensive leader, it is up to him to organize his teammates so that they can best assist him in his weaknesses and profit from his strengths.
To plug the holes on the two defensive wings, Dortmund has also signed the 19 year old youngster Mateu Morey from Barcelona’s youth academy “La Masia”. So far, Morey has shown early promise even though the odd mistake in a match is usual for his age. All told, with Hakimi, Schulz, Schmelzer, Piszcek, Morey, and even Raphaël Guerreiro, who is a capable left-back too, they seem to be well equipped on both defensive wings.
Despite all its promise, the defense has yet to prove itself, the praise of Dortmund’s offense is already huge. Brandt, Reus, Götze, Alcácer, Hazard, Sancho – the names alone make for awe-inspiring reading. Dortmund and Favre have added even more flexibility and variability to the side.
Favre mainly trusted his 4-2-3-1 during preparation, but also tried a 4-1-4-1 with just one holding midfielder. He could be well advised to play with two high offensive midfielders, especially against defensive teams. With such technically accomplished and strategically versatile players as Brandt and Götze at his disposal, Favre certainly has this option. Although Dortmund has won all of its pre-season fixtures (e.g. against CL champions Liverpool), this is not saying much. Hazard especially seems as if he’ll take some more time to find his proper place in the team.
Brandt, in contrast to Hazard, has been tested in several positions and performed everywhere he’s played. On paper, Bayern’s will probably be the only squad in the Bundesliga able to compete with that of Dortmund. However, Dortmund’s new assembly of stars and exuberant youngsters will have to deliver on the pitch what the flamboyant names are promising on paper first. Thus whether Dortmund has in fact compiled a squad able to live up to its promise, remains to be seen.
All these uncertainties notwithstanding, Dortmund is joining the new season full of confidence and trust in their capabilities for the first time in years. Where they have put the breaks on expectations in the past, they now state their ambitions outright and smell the opportunity to catch Bayern off guard in their first year of transition.
This new-found confidence comes with its pitfalls though. For the first time in years, there is real pressure on the club now. The failure to finish off Bayern last season could be attributed to a squad full of young players failing to cope with an accumulation of injury troubles, a streak of bad luck and unfortunate results, as well as the pressures of a growing expectation in public that finally, after all these years, a different club than Bayern might be crowned champions. The club has made a number of key signings to provide a remedy for precisely these issues. It is up to these new arrivals to live up to this challenge.
Still, setting ambitious goals is the right thing to do to get ahead and make progress. Complacent joy about finishing second last season will not dethrone FC Bayern. Dortmund has all the ingredients now to finally manage this feat, team, coach, and self-confidence. Two factors will be crucial in whether they may finally be able to realize their dream of a title: first, how much of their promise on paper will they be able to realize on the pitch? And second, how much resistance will Bayern be able to put up?
The Supercup may provide tentative early pointers for where the season is headed. Because when they meet this Saturday night, first inklings of what may yet be expected from both teams this season will be in evidence. Inklings that will not allow for a full blown season prediction, but signs of where everybody is at. And if just for this reason alone, the Supercup is an exciting event to look forward to.