By Jonathan Gold
Despite Arsene Wenger’s protestations that the English Premier League needs a winter break, the Bundesliga is currently the only major European league to provide one. It’s an excellent idea, giving the season a two-part feel and, more importantly, resting the players.
I’ll admit, I was pretty sure Dortmund was going to make it to the break undefeated. They have looked untouchable in their domestic campaign, despite having crashed out of the Europa League to a badly out-of-sorts Sevilla. Given their last fixture before the holiday break was Eintracht Frankfurt – hardly a match to make an undefeated side with a double-digit lead at the midway point of the season quake with fear. There’s no way they could lose that, right?
Oh yes there is. The Borussians missed chance after chance and were undone by a scrappy late goal from Theophanis Gekas. Hmm, played better, missed a lot of chances, lost because of a late goal…gee, they’re taking tips from Arsenal now.
Self-pity aside, there’s still little reason to think Dortmund will do anything besides win the league at this point. Bundesliga opponents won’t always be as stalwart as Frankfurt, and based on their general lethality in front of goal, it seems unlikely Dortmund will be as profligate with their chances in the future.
But, as ever, some people will insist that this marks a turning point for the league leaders. “Cracks in the facade!” they will yammer, “the wheels are coming off!” Crap.
If Borussia Dortmund had lost to Frankfurt in the way, for example, that Stuttgart did to Bayern on Sunday, then I’d say you have some legitimate cause for concern. Stuttgart got whipped without mercy. The team was really wretched, and the 5-3 scoreline flatters them enormously. In a way, this is actually pretty good for Dortmund, since it demonstrated that despite complete and total domination, Bayern Munich can still cough up three goals. (To second-from-bottom Stuttgart, no less. Picture Chelsea beating West Ham 5-3 and you’ll have some idea, though for all sorts of reasons, that is an impossible scoreline.)
The Bundesliga is a wild place, people. Dortmund, who had actually flirted with relegation as recently as 2006-2007, still must be considered the prohibitive favorites this season. Perennial heavyweights Bayern, the reigning champs, are inconsistent and plagued by infighting and scandal. FC Schalke have been title contenders recently, but they’re way down in 10th place at the break.
And the list goes on. Werder Bremen’s renaissance is well and truly over, turning from a team able to beat Real Madrid a few years ago into a bunch of bunglers who lost, 2-1, to a hardly overwhelming Kaiserslautern team last weekend. “Free-fall” is the term that gets thrown around a lot, and I can’t really argue. Hoffenheim’s climb through German soccer’s ranks – propelled by a local software magnate’s money – has stalled out a bit, though they’re still sitting comfortably in eighth place.
All that said, it looks like this season is Dortmund’s to lose, and the hiccup against Frankfurt, I think, will prove to be just that. In short, it just doesn’t matter.
One thing that matters a great deal, however – and which has gone largely unremarked by most people writing about Dortmund’s first loss in months – is that the black-and-gold league leaders restart their season at tied-for-second-place Bayer Leverkusen. An exhausted team’s narrow loss after a brutal Europa League exit – to a goal from the league’s current top scorer – is one thing. A Dortmund squad fresh from an extended break, with no Europe to worry about, has no excuse for missing the opportunity to take points from one of its closest competitors, however.
If Barrios, Kagawa and company spring right out of the blocks on January 14, there will be no stopping them. If, however, Dortmund loses back-to-back games to bookend the winter break, there might be something a bit more serious going on.
Jonathan Gold is a contributing writer for TheSoccerGuysOnline.com. Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.
P.S. – Does anyone else find it kind of tragic that Mario Balotelli is completely deranged? Seriously, kid, what have you actually accomplished? You’re damn right Messi is better than you, and so are a lot of people, now shut your big yap and go score some goals.