Today marks the beginning of the second half of the Bundesliga season as the loveable success story of Jurgen Klopp’s young Dortmund side take on Leverkusen at the BayArena in Leverkusen.
Dortmund have surprised fans and journalists alike this season with a fantastic record of only two loses at either end of the first seventeen games of the season as Klopp dragged the European champions of yesteryear back to the summit of Germany’s Bundesliga with ten points to spare.
You’ll be forgiven for wondering where exactly this young, rough-stubbled, vibrant German manager came from. In a league often dominated by the authoritarian nature of Felix Magath or under-pressure nature of Louis Van Gaal- Jurgen Klopp had seemed to of evaded most season previews and any expectations of interest.
Klopp had been buzzing under the European radar for the past decade prior to this season with his impressive spell at Mainz. He brought the Rhineland club to the top league with a shoe string budget in 2004, and then on to a European qualification spot, the following season. The club stayed in the top league for three years as Klopp built up a reputation as a manager who could get the most out of his squads and humble budgets, before the club got relegated and parted ways with the manager when he resigned after failing to finish first the season after.
He then took over the post at Dortmund in the summer where he began the rebuilding job of returning the sleeping giants to some sense of dignity after the last few years of financial difficulty. The appointment made sense. Dortmund needed a coach who could make the most of an underachieving squad and make changes without spending too much – and he didn’t let down.
The revolution began with smart signings brought in to replace the expensive dead wood that had failed to live up to promise from the past regime. This included Marc Ziegler and Nelson Valdez, as a list of summer bargains, particularly Shinji Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski, represented Kopp’s depiction of a cheaper Dortmund with better results.
Shinji Kagawa, the 21 year old signing from the J-League’s Cereza Osaka, has especially outdone himself this season. Having spent most of his career in the second division of the Japanese domestic game, few predicted him for great things considering a modest transfer fee of just under £300,000 but with thirteen goals and three assists including a brace in the 3-1 victory over Schalke late last year, few can deny that the player has quickly developed into one of the best midfielders in the league.
But this Dortmund side isn’t just something of a one season wonder. Klopp has been smart in not only bringing in players and building a squad that can be relied upon to reach its goals, but has also forged a side full of youth that can allow the manager to capitalise on its longevity and propose a real threat to the stranglehold Bayern Munich currently have(or had) over the league.
The average age of the squad is 24 with the spine of the squad being on the better side of the standard with the centre back pairing of Subotic and Hummels as well as midfield maestro Nuri Sahin all recently celebrating their 21st birthdays.
Die Schwarzgelben can put their form down to a fantastic work ethos that has spread throughout the squad, which Klopp and his eager man management can no doubt claim responsibility for. The side have the best defence in the league which boast’s half as many conceded goals as second place Mainz, and a third as many as 3rd place Leverkusen. The club also benefit from the best offensive record in the league which is mostly down to the fantastic goalscoring of their aforementioned Japanese midfielder and Paraguayan international striker Lucas Barrios who have both scored eight goals each.
BvB now go into the second half of the season hoping to strive on and pick up their first league title in nine years, beginning at Leverkusen the same team that beat them on the first week of the season. Bayer Leverkusen currently sit in 3rd spot, and will be as eager as the remainder of the pack to pick off points from Klopp’s kids. God knows someone will have to.