By Jamie Thomas.
Borussia Dortmund team-mates Mats Hummels and Roman Weidenfeller breached the ‘Yellow Wall’ to confront fans after their defeat by Augsburg and with it broke down the mental barrier contributing to their winless streak.
Since then, they’ve recorded impressive back-to-back victories in the Bundesliga to give the supporters renewed optimism about the remainder of the season. Commentators had initially questioned the players’ actions – why risk being abused? Even gaffer Jurgen Klopp looked bemused at the time.
It’s been a tumultuous season for Dortmund. Less than two years after the high of reaching the Champions League final, they have spent most of this term languishing at the bottom of the Bundesliga. The expectations are great for Klopp’s men, who’ve become accustomed to rivalling powerhouse Bayern Munich.
And so the inevitable questions have been asked: should the manager be axed? Are injuries to blame? Or have they just been unlucky this season? The problem was more complex: the Dortmund once branded ‘monsters of mentality’ by their manager were being stifled by the negativity which creeps in during a slide.
But after Hummels and Weidenfeller had the courage to face up to the team’s frailties, they’ve rediscovered their strength. There was an immediate reaction in the Freiburg game: you could see the elation on the players’ faces as Marco Reus kick-started it all in the sumptuous 3-0 away victory. By the time Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s double sealed it, they were back playing as their usual confident, hyper-aggressive selves. Dortmund had recaptured their fire.
However, the real boost came following the announcement star man and Premier League target, Reus, had signed a new four-and-a-half year contract, with his €25m release clause removed. Sceptics believe this only means those clubs tracking him – including Real Madrid – will have to pay more if they want to sign the 25-year-old playmaker in the summer.
But it seems unlikely Reus will turn his back on a team that he’s constantly professed his love for now. More likely, this will inspire other vital players, such as Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan, to commit their futures to the club.
The news lifted Dortmund to another important victory against Mainz. They fought back from conceding an early goal to win 4-2, which is something they would not have had the confidence to do just last month. It saw Klopp’s side – who are currently 10 points off sixth place with 13 games to play – climb out of the danger zone and back into contention to challenge for a place in Europe.
It would not be an insurmountable challenge for a confident, fit Dortmund to claw back 10 points. You wouldn’t even bet against them mounting a top-four bid, given they’re significantly better-equipped than teams around them in the table. Against Mainz, Dortmund looked a real unit for the first time since their first-half performance against Bayern in November, with Gundogan, Reus, Aubameyang and Shinji Kagawa all starting to click.
Dortmund will look to key players, including Gundogan to manage space on the pitch efficiently and press the ball intelligently and Reus for his attacking prowess, in the remaining fixtures. After averaging less than a goal a game in the league this season, resurgent Dortmund have scored seven in the last two. Now they’ve overcome those mental hurdles, Klopp’s men can surely do the same with the gap in the Bundesliga.
Read more from Jamie Thomas here.