Jurgen Klopp is famously a man of many faces. His bestubbled visage can contort itself into any number of iconic arrangements, from the cheeky grin which so charms the international media, to the snarling, spitting, referee-intimidating slip of the mask which has frequently seen him sent to the stands.
At the moment, Klopp is wearing neither face. Rather, he exhibits the grim, perplexed air of a man trying to work out why his team have now adopted a similar Jekyll and Hyde routine in the way they play football.
Borussia Dortmund's dismemberment of a limp Arsenal side in the Champions League, and their subsequent dispatch of RSC Anderlecht a few weeks later, were performances which flattered to deceive. Back home, in the supposed two horse race of the Bundesliga, BVB languish in 13 place. From seven Bundesliga games, they have suffered four defeats, conceded twelve goals, and won only seven points. They are already ten points behind FC Bayern.
Last weekend saw the lowest point yet in what has been Klopp's worst ever start to a Dortmund season. A 1-0 defeat to crisis club Hamburg, with Pierre-Michel Lasogga's winner only the second time that the team had found the net this season.
Klopp's message after the game was one of grey-hued optimism: “We think we have identified the problems,” said the Dortmund coach, “now it is simply a case of shaking them off”.
That would be fair enough, but the truth is that there seems to be a lack of consensus about the problems. Many have identified what the problem is not. Klopp himself insists that, contrary to the media narrative, it is not about the line-up. Others say no excuses are to be found in the long injury list, which currently bears the names of Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündoğan. Club legend and former captain Sebastian Kehl, meanwhile, says it is definitely not a problem of attitude. Only Marcel Schmelzer has come up with an idea of what it might be, rather than might not be, explaining to reporters that “we just want too much”.
Apart from Schmelzer, whose diagnosis makes him sound like an uncovered adulterer pleading that there is just too much love in his heart, all have a point. While Klopp's side, reformed to adjust to the departure of Robert Lewandowski, is certainly only beginning to become the cohesive pressing machine it should be, that is a question of habituation rather than a tactical issue. New forwards Adrian Ramos and Ciro Immobile have shown a great deal of promise, and have at times worked very well with the returning Shinji Kagawa. All three appear to have a natural affinity to the Klopp system, but remain a few miles away from making it work in practice.
The injury list, meanwhile, is hardly as crippling as it has been in the past. Dortmund's major problem, after all, has been in defence, and area in which they are more blessed by general match fitness than they were for most of last season. Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are back, and Erik Durm has the experience of a World Cup win under his belt, and yet as a collective their powers appear to have regressed, as they ship goal after goal through individual errors.
There, at least, is a reason for Dortmund's struggles. Individual errors have cost them almost all of the twelve goals they have conceded so far this term, Lasogga's winner for Hamburg being a case in point. Adrian Ramos' appallingly placed pass allowed HSV's Nicolai Müller to begin a mazy run towards goal. Müller then succeeded in drawing both centre backs away from Lasogga, who eventually had so much space in front of goal that he could afford to take a heavy touch before slotting the ball home. Hummels and co. watched like dazed lemmings.
Individual mistakes can be remedied, but when a team is making as many as Dortmund currently are, it does point to there being an underlying problem. The return of Reus, Gündoğan and Mkhitaryan, and the full assimilation of Immobile and Ramos will be invaluable, but that in itself is not an answer to the current catastrophe.
As ever with Dortmund, there is no lack of faith. The world famous “Yellow Wall” showed its unflinching support for the team after the defeat to Hamburg, and was thanked profusely for doing so. Even from outside, many believe this is just a glitch, with no lesser a man than Pep Guardiola repeatedly reiterating his belief that BVB will resurge later in the season.
When asked whether he would change places with Dortmund, however, Guardiola could not say “no” quickly enough. While the Catalan's Bayern team have been equally uninspiring for most of the start of the season, they have garnered points. Therein lies the clichéd difference: Bayern are winning even when they play poorly, Dortmund are sinking despite occasionally playing excellently.
The fans are behind the team, Klopp himself is in no danger, and there are positives on the horizon for BVB. For now, though, the international break represents a chance for Klopp and his colleagues to put on pensive faces, and work out what is actually wrong with Borussia Dortmund, rather than what is not.Reuse content