Football Features

Borussia Dortmund’s title challenge will be powered by an English-born quartet this season

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:58, 19 September 2020

Borussia Dortmund got their Bundesliga season underway with a superlative 3-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in front of a limited home audience.

Lucien Favre’s men, who are chasing a first championship since Jurgen Klopp’s all-conquering black-yellow squad, had to watch rivals Bayern Munich humble regional nemesis Schalke 04 which must have been somewhat demoralising.

Nevertheless, this youthful side (laced with plenty of experience), went about their business and in the process accepted the challenge in what should be another gruelling campaign. Today’s victory though was hardfought as Gladbach, whom Favre previously coached with some distinction, posed some difficult questions which BVB’s bright future expertly answered.

Each of their emerging stars proved to be productive either in terms of finishing or creating. For example Dortmund ended the game with 10 shots on goal, but 80% of those efforts coming from what could turn out to be their own ‘fab four’ (currently boasting an average age of 18.5), they say you’ll never win anything with kids’ and this season is their chance to prove that wrong.

Evolution not revolution

Normally there’s plenty of chances made after enduring a disappointing year, but in Dortmund’s case they’ve repelled any knee jerk reaction, whilst staving off reported moves for their prized assets. The powers that be, however, dipped into the summer transfer market and succeeded in acquiring the services of much vaunted English midfielder Jude Bellingham, strongly linked with Manchester United, and who doesn’t turn 18 until next June. The native of Stourbridge, after signing from boyhood club Birmingham City, would have expected to ease his way into BVB’s first-team but after impressing in preseason manager Favre didn’t hesitate to put him in the club’s opening lineup.

His inclusion meant no fewer than four England-born players — Giovanni Reyna and Erling Haaland were raised in Sunderland and Leeds respectively — started for Germany’s second most successful club. Elsewhere there was a place for multifunctional Belgian international Thomas Meunier who happened to be the other major signing, but in his case no fee was paid (as he was a free agent), being stationed at right wing-back the former Paris Saint-Germain man role was to be that outlet subsequently allowing their eclectic front line — in a fluid 3-4-1-2 shape — to seamlessly interpret space/interchange positions which they did to devastating effect despite Gladbach’s relentless pressing especially in the opening 45 minutes.

Graduation

Bellingham being thrusted into the deep end somewhat justified his decision to follow compatriot Sancho’s lead. Germany’s top division has become a realistic destination for young English footballers to go — thus shunning the Premier League’s bright lights — and continuing their development. It felt like an establishment of a new era when the English duo lined up with Haaland and Reyna, all four at the beginning of their careers, but even so there’s a degree of experience.

Haaland is unquestionably BVB’s first choice ‘number nine’ and bagged another brace — from just five shots — to open his account. Since joining from Red Bull Salzburg this past January he’s registered 15 goals across 16 league appearances only the legendary Hamburg striker Uwe Seeler enjoyed a better start (16 goals in 16 matches). Reyna, meanwhile, appeared sporadically last term and many expected the American international would again be deployed in a utility role, but that wasn’t the case, and he repaid Favre’s faith by putting Dortmund ahead, in the process scoring his first ever Bundesliga goal.

It was fitting that he was teed-up by the other 17-year-old (Bellingham) on the pitch. Anything they could do, so can the 20-year-olds, first Haaland smoothly converted a penalty — won by Reyna — leaving Gladbach ‘keeper Yann Sommer rooted on the spot. “Sommer tried to get into my mind,” he told reporters afterwards. “But he had no chance.” Such confidence exuding from this youngster is frightening. Shortly later he slotted home, another fine left-footed effort, to give Sancho his first assist of the season.

After creating an impressive 17 goals during 2019/20 it was inevitable that he’d be linked with a move away, notably from 20-time English champions Manchester United and those reports will not be going away anytime soon especially on the back off Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side being embarrassed at Old Trafford by Crystal Palace. So with the market shutting down in a fortnight’s time the fate of two clubs hinges on whether a seemingly improbable agreement is reached. BVB have been indebted to Sancho and losing him this early could ultimately prove costly in their pursuit of ending Bayern’s monopoly.

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