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Can Borussia Dortmund end Bayern Munich’s decade-long monopoly?


Uplifting comeback: Dortmund has lost just one of its 18 matches in the league since striker Sebastien Haller’s inspiring return from cancer. | Photo credit: Getty Images

The man for the job: Edin Terzic has done a remarkable job as Dortmund manager. Having grown up as a fan of the Black and Yellows and spent time as a scout and assistant manager at the club, he had a clear understanding of the issues that needed addressing. | Photo credit: Getty Images

The man for the job: Edin Terzic has done a remarkable job as Dortmund manager. Having grown up as a fan of the Black and Yellows and spent time as a scout and assistant manager at the club, he had a clear understanding of the issues that needed addressing. | Photo credit: Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund enters matchday 34 of this season’s Bundesliga in a position to do what no team across the length and breadth of Germany has managed over the last 10 years: prevent Bayern Munich from winning the title. 

Ahead of Saturday’s final round of matches — all nine games kick off at the same time (7 p.m. IST) — Dortmund is two points clear. To win its first Bundesliga title since 2012, the Ruhr Valley club needs a victory at home against ninth-placed Mainz only if Bayern beats tenth-placed FC Koln away at Cologne. If Bayern draws or loses, Dortmund will be the champion even if it loses.

The winner will receive the ‘Meisterschale’ (champion’s bowl), which is commonly referred to as the ‘salad bowl’ because of its appearance. In recent years, Bayern has usually had the bowl in the bag by now. With the exception of the 2018-19 season, when the Bavarian powerhouse beat Dortmund by two points, Bundesliga title races simply haven’t been this close. But even on that occasion, Bayern held the upper hand going into the season-finale, thanks to a two-point lead.

Unaccustomed role

This time, the German giant is in the unaccustomed role of fighting from behind, its destiny no longer in its own hands. Bayern (68 points) faces a tricky trip: Koln had led the reigning 10-time champion 1-0 until the 89th minute in a 1-1 draw at Munich’s Allianz Arena in the reverse fixture. 

Bayern will be confronted by a tough Cologne crowd, which isn’t merely hoping, but also praying, for Dortmund’s success. Koln’s fan-base has a longstanding friendship with Dortmund’s, and according to Sport Bild, the club plans to announce, over the stadium’s public address system, any goal Dortmund scores, so the crowd can cheer, turning the heat up on Bayern.

Dortmund (70 points) hosts Mainz at Signal Iduna Park in what is sure to be a nervy affair, given what is at stake. In the reverse fixture at Mainz, it had needed a stoppage-time goal to secure a 2-1 victory and will hope for a less fraught game this time around.

The Ruhr Valley club’s last Bundesliga title win dates back to 2012, when it successfully defended its 2011 championship, under then coach Jurgen Klopp. This season, Dortmund has kept pace with the Bavarians in a title race where the lead has changed hands several times. It has pounced on Bayern’s rocky 2023, taking a slim lead last week by beating Augsburg, thanks to a Sebastien Haller brace, after Bayern was stunned by RB Leipzig. 

German tabloid Bild rejoiced after the win, running the headline ‘Haller-luja, Dortmund close in on the title’. The mood in the city of Dortmund is understandably joyous, but the club is desperate to keep a lid on the bubbling euphoria until the job is done. 

“I don’t really want to stop the euphoria but we still have one game left to play,” Dortmund sports director Sebastian Kehl, the captain during the 2011 and 2012 triumphs, said of the tightest Bundesliga race in years. “We still need 90 minutes. We cannot allow this to be taken from us.”

Rollercoaster season

Kehl is aware that winning the Bundesliga would be an unexpected success for Dortmund following what has been a rollercoaster season that started with new signing Haller being diagnosed with testicular cancer in July. Haller had been brought in to replace top striker Erling Haaland, who joined Manchester City, but following surgeries and chemotherapy, he had to wait until 2023 to make his competitive return.

Haller’s replacement, last-minute signing Anthony Modeste, never delivered, forcing coach Edin Terzic to come up with other attacking solutions. Terzic was also without talismanic captain Marco Reus for months due to the ankle injury that also ruled him out of last year’s World Cup.

Dortmund was in sixth place before the end of 2022 and looked out of the title race but bounced back impressively in the second half of the campaign as Bayern started to falter. The Black and Yellows’ resurgence coincided with Haller’s inspiring return. Dortmund has lost just one of its 18 matches in the league since Haller came back, winning 14 and drawing three.

The Ivory Coast striker has nine goals, including five in the last three games, and has played a key role creating space and chances for other forwards like Donyell Malen and Karim Adeyemi. 

Terzic said Haller’s return from cancer was the season’s “biggest miracle”, highlighting the forward’s “important” presence. The manager said the 28-year-old scores “important goals” but “also lets the others next to him shine”. Terzic said he hoped Haller would replicate his success on Saturday, “so he’ll be the hero of the season, but we’re already very happy with him anyway”.

Terzic has done a remarkable job himself in his second stint as Dortmund manager.  Born in 1982 to parents who had emigrated from Yugoslavia, Terzic was raised in the town of Menden — about a half-hour drive from Dortmund — and grew up supporting the club. 

After an unremarkable playing career in Germany’s lower leagues, he joined Dortmund as a scout and an assistant coach in the youth academy. In his first spell as interim manager (2020-21), Terzic guided Dortmund to the DFB-Pokal title. He assumed the newly created technical director’s post in 2021-22 before being hired as manager on a permanent basis in 2022 when Marco Rose was sacked after just a season in charge. 

Understanding the assignment

With first-hand knowledge of Dortmund’s inner workings, Terzic understood the assignment. The club’s strategy of signing the best young talent to sell at a profit has treated its fans to stars like Jude Bellingham, Haaland, and Ousmane Dembele over the last few years, but it has also meant the club is in a constant cycle of rebuilding, against a Bayern team with a stable core. The focus on young attacking players has also been blamed for Dortmund’s persistent fragility in defence in recent years, especially at big moments.

Rose’s Dortmund shipped in 52 goals — the most conceded by a top-eight Bundesliga side in 2021-22 — and Terzic has worked to address this. The 42 goals it has let in puts it among the four tightest defences this season. Terzic has also had to devise ways of scoring: the team has spread the goals around, with no player reaching double figures, but the 81 it has scored is second only to Bayern’s 90.

“You cannot possibly buy a moment like this,” said Terzic in a rallying call ahead of the final round. “We have suffered a lot. Now it is all about taking the final step together with our fans in our stadium in our city to finally bring the championship trophy back to Dortmund.”

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