Less than 12 months ago Borussia Dortmund’s players sunk to their knees on the grass at Wembley Stadium, they’d just been beaten 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League final by German rivals Bayern Munich.
Dortmund captured the imagination of fans (especially hipsters) across the world, as their dramatic run to the final saw them beat Real Madrid and Manchester City in the group stages and then dramatically beat Malaga in the quarterfinals, before shocking Real in the semis.
Led by eccentric manager Jurgen Klopp, Dortmund have tried to build on being runners-up in last year’s tournament, but with injuries and other personnel issues hampering his side this season, it has been much more of a struggle for the Bundesliga outfit.
With star striker Robert Lewandowski on the way out of the Westfalenstadion this summer to rivals Bayern Munich, following in the footsteps of Mario Gotze, Dortmund are trying desperately to build on the team that got them to the final of Europe’s elite club competition. But instead they have been forced to play with a patched up squad for most of 2013-14, as captain Jakub Blasczcykowski, central defender Neven Subotic, midfielder Ilkay Güdongen and the versatile Sven Bender are all currently injured.
Add to that Lewandowski being out with illness and it was no surprise Dortmund lost to relegation fodder Hamburg 3-0 at the weekend. Zenit Saint Petersburg have already stated they fancy their chances of upsetting the German powerhouse, with the key absences set to stretch Klopp’s squad to its limits.
But if Dortmund make it through the trip to Russia unscathed, then their home fortress will surely see them qualify for the quarterfinals. Against Zenit on Tuesday evening temperatures are set to be just above freezing and the Russian fans will create a hostile atmosphere. It will be a huge test for Dortmund, not because Zenit are that good (they aren’t, as they qualified for the knockouts by earning just six points, a record low) but because their squad players must step up and believe they can propel Dortmund to the latter stages of this fine competition.
Klopp and his coaches always preach that the team is bigger than one individual, and it really is a collective effort when it comes to BVB’s success over the past few years. However with the team third in the German top-flight and a tricky UCL knockout round to negotiate, it may be tough for the side that made waves in the Champions League last season to replicate it this year.