It seems a sensible approach to back Barcelona to succeed in the Champions League for the third time in five years. Even with a new manager, a new set of ideas on the pitch and a defensive line which has seen more line-up changes than Black Sabbath, the Catalans have stormed out of the gate in La Liga and still possess all the key elements of their most recent European triumph.
But like with any domestic league, the Champions League should be a competition that doesn’t always favour the obvious. That much was true last season when Chelsea trudged past the elegance of Europe’s finest and captured the trophy in Munich. But it would also be pleasant to see luck smile down on those who do deserve it and have been exceptional in the competition so far.
Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund have already dominated Germany, successfully defending their Bundesliga title last season and proving that their challenge to Bayern Munich’s might is no fluke. They’ve also bounced back incredibly well from their disappointing Champions League campaign of last year.
Dortmund was stale last season, inexperienced and largely forgettable. It also would have been easy to assume they’d stumble this year in the ‘group of death’, being drawn against Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax. But keeping with German tradition, Dortmund was efficient, clinical and also largely exciting to watch.
Their draw against Manchester City at the Etihad stadium, which is easy to remember as a win, was comfortably one of the most outstanding performances seen on English soil for a long time. Such was their attacking ferocity and genius, they surpassed Athletic Bilbao’s performance of last season, who also went to Manchester and picked up a positive result.
Were it not for a late equaliser, Dortmund would have picked up six points out of six from the two games against the reigning La Liga champions Real Madrid, and they’ve most recently annihilated Ajax 4-1 in Amsterdam.
It’s not just a good team that Klopp has assembled in the west of Germany, it’s a dynasty in the making. It’s a team who might not retain their Bundesliga title this season, but such is their talent and ability to go on a formidable winning streak, they could very easily regroup over the winter break and go unbeaten for the remainder of the season. Such a feat is not unheard of, they did so last season after a sluggish start. And now with Marco Reus added to a hugely talented attack at Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund have another player who can tear apart the very best in Europe.
You need a good defence to win a title; that much will be true from soccer to the NHL. In Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels, Dortmund have one of the most impressive and coveted centre-back pairings in European football. In goal, Roman Weidenfeller provides the necessary experience in a youthful defensive setup, sharing captain’s responsibilities with one of the only other ‘older heads’ in the team Sebastian Kehl.
It’s not a case of saying they may fall in the knock-out phase of the competition when they face better opposition; there are few tougher than Real Madrid and Manchester City, and they overcame both in convincing fashion.
Their football can be mesmerising at times, with the speed of their attacks slicing through opposition defensive lines. It really would be a dream tie to see them paired with Barcelona at some stage in the next round of the competition.
Their domestic form has been inconsistent, as they currently sit nine points behind league-leaders Bayern Munich, but they’ve certainly not shown any frailties in Europe. There’s nothing lucky about their approach to the winning in Europe, simply it’s a case of their overwhelming talents shining brightest against their opponents.
You’d also like to think that this is a side who have matured beyond the borders of Germany and are ready to extend their dominance onto the European and world stages. If they don’t make it this year, then Klopp will be confident of hanging onto his stars. So far, the key talents have resisted the overtures of other European powers, citing their eagerness to remain at Dortmund and continue building on their impressive successes.
As the Champions League progress, Dortmund’s greatest asset may be the element of surprise. Many may not want to accept a team from Germany as rightful challengers, other than Bayern Munich of course, but this team have risen to the occasion and may score another fantastic point for good football come May.