It was surprising to nobody when Borussia Dortmund announced Lucien Favre’s dismissal. The humiliating 5-1 defeat on Saturday to newly promoted Stuttgart was the straw that finally broke Dortmund’s patience with a manager who promised much, but failed to deliver a trophy. The question now is where now for the eight-time Bundesliga Champions.
Close But No Cigar
Favre arrived to Dortmund in 2018 with a reputation for stylish play. His OGC Nice team had played attractive football in Ligue 1, but failed to win a trophy. What followed at Dortmund was close to carbon copy. The high point came early with Dortmund taking the early lead in the 2018-19 Bundesliga. The football was high octane and saw the rise of a new superstar in Jadon Sancho. When the winter break kicked in, Dortmund held a six-point lead at the top of the table and had defeated Bayern Munich in front of the Yellow Wall. However, when the season restarted, Bayern hit form. They closed down Dortmund’s lead and hammered them 5-1 at the Allianz Arena. An early cup exit and surprise loss to Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham in the Champions League saw Dortmund complete the season empty-handed.
A positive summer transfer window that saw the captures of Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard and Mats Hummels plus victory in the Super Cup had many predicting this would be the year Dortmund broke Bayern’s stranglehold on the title. However things started to go wrong almost immediately and another heavy defeat in Munich saw Dortmund fall off the pace. Bayern stuttered but it was RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach who made the early running. Favre rejigged his team into a 3-4-3 formation and in January Dortmund shook the football world by announcing the capture of Europe’s hottest property: Erling Braut Haaland. Dortmund pushed up the league with Haaland scoring for fun, but a 1-0 loss to Bayern at an empty Wesfalen proved fatal to their title challenge. Coupled with another last 16 Champions League exit this time to PSG and former manager Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund saw their season fizzle out and finish 13 points behind Bayern.
Many predicted that would seal Favre’s fate, but Dortmund stood by their coach and spent again, resisting the temptation to sell key players and adding another young star in Jude Bellingham. This time Bayern started the season as overwhelming favourites, and Dortmund fell off the pace in just the second week of the season with a shock defeat to Augsburg. A home defeat to Bayern followed in November and although Dortmund won their Champions League group, Favre looked increasingly like a manager on borrowed time. So it proved in Stuttgart on Saturday.
The Shadow of Klopp
Favre can have few complaints about his dismissal, Dortmund have backed the manager repeatedly in the transfer market. Ever since their near bankruptcy in the early 2000’s Dortmund have been a club that developed talent and sold on and whilst Dortmund haven’t attempted to outspend Bayern they have held onto their prized assets for longer. Dortmund however too often in recent years looked like a club happy to finish runners up and there’s a real danger that despite furthering the careers of the likes of Sancho, Haaland and Giovanni Reyna, the club will waist the chance to win trophies with them.
The new man in the hot-seat for now at least is former assistant coach Edin Terzic. Like Favre, Peter Stoger, Peter Bosz and Thomas Tuchel, the new manager will inevitably be measured against Jurgen Klopp. Klopp took Dortmund to new heights with a domestic double and back to back titles and although he would eventually see Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski poached by Bayern, his legacy remains the benchmark for Dortmund managers. Klopp’s shadow hangs over the Westfalen every bit as much as Sir Alex Ferguson’s has over Old Trafford.
There were more than a few hints in recent weeks that Favre had lost the dressing room with Hummels openly critical of the team’s tactics on Saturday. Club legend Marco Reus, deployed in an unfamiliar central striking role was equally scathing.
The first task for Terzic is a trip north to face Werder Bremen on Tuesday followed by a tricky away day against in form Union Berlin, before the winter break kicks in. Dortmund’s initial stance has been Terzic will be charge for the remainder of the season, but a good start is critical in cementing the new coach’s position with both fans and players.
That would give Terzic time to work with the squad, the player he most obviously needs to work on is Sancho. The winger appears to have lost his zip this season and has yet to score a league goal, his head seemingly turned by talk of a move to Manchester United. Sancho isn’t the only player struggling in attack with Brandt and Hazard both going backwards this season. In total Haaland has bagged 10 goals in the league this season, the rest of the squad have just 13 combined, by contrast Bayern players other than Lewandowski have scored a combined 22.
Another major priority has to be tightening Dortmund’s aforementioned leaky defence. Dortmund have conceded 15 goals this season, that’s fewer than Bayern, but Dortmund’s misfiring attack isn’t blowing opponents away in the same way. Leaders Bayer Leverkusen and third placed Leipzig have conceded just nine each by comparison. With Haaland absent at least until the season restarts, adopting a more pragmatic approach would appear sensible if Dortmund are to avoid losing further ground.
The Road Ahead
Such is their status inevitably other managers are being linked with Dortmund, speculation that is unlikely to disappear if Terzic doesn’t hit the ground running. Marco Rose is an obvious candidate after guiding Borussia Monchengladbach to the Champions League, any pursuit of Rose would have to wait until the summer which chimes with the decision to put Terzic in charge for the remainder of the season. Rose plays attractive football and would be a popular appointment.
Jesse Marsch would be another front runner, Marsch like Rose has made his name at RB Salzburg and looks a nice fit, however it would represent a big step up to go to Dortmund. Mauricio Pochettino is inevitably being mentioned and would be available now should things fail to improve under Terzic. Pochettino’s style would suit Dortmund but he would be expensive. It would also be an odd move to sack a manager who didn’t win trophies for another whose CV is short of silverware and who lost 7-2 at home to Bayern.
Ultimately Dortmund have an excellent squad and are just five points off the top of the Bundesliga, whilst winning their Champions League group gives them a theoretically easier tie in the last 16 draw. However there’s great risk as Dortmund currently sit outside the Champions League qualification spots. Failure to get in the top four would fatally undermine Dortmund’s negotiating position over Sancho and ability to retain Haaland. It’s unlikely Terzic or any other manager can gain the same hold over the Dortmund fans as Klopp, but this a club that desperately needs to regain the belief they can again be champions.