With our new players in place, we approached the defense of our title with great enthusiasm. A preseason tour of South Korea saw us score 9 goals, conceding 0. The focus was put on embedding the new signings into the team, whilst getting up to scratch with the new roles I had in mind for the likes of Julian Weigl et el, after the departure of Ilkay Gundogan.
We returned to Dortmund to host the inaugural “Westfalen Pokal”, which featured Fiorentina, Villarreal and Stoke City. More success for us, as we ran our 3-0 winners of the Italian side in the final. (Stoke would win the third placed match against Villarreal). Our final match of preseason saw is travel East to play Rostock, and continue our 100% win rate.
This was all well and good, but could it translate to a positive season? Our first match was the super cup against Bayern, and whilst this game could be seen as a glorified friendly, there was no such thing when it came to match ups against the Bavaria giants. This would be the first match with new boss Carlo Ancelotti. They had spent BIG in the summer, and were ready to take it to us.
Bayern played a narrow diamond, something I had not expected, and the result was a stalemate between us. The lottery of penalties would decide the match. Kagawa and Reus would both have their efforts saved, with only Bayern’s Thomas Muller missing his for them…that was that. Disappointing, but at least any sense of entitlement and invincibility would be dismissed from our team. We would have to work hard once again.
We began the season proper with a 5-0 cup win over FC Nöttingen of the Baden-Württemberg regional division. A great start for the new boy Sebastian Driussi, who scored a hattrick! We then went into the bundesliga season with a good 3-1 win over Frenkfurt, only to lose on matchday 2 to Leverkusen. This spurred us on, with the team gaining some fantastic results, including a brilliant 3-0 win over Bayern (who were having a very average season) and a 2-0 win over Schalke.
October saw a drop in form, and whilst results in the league were ok (you can see a draw against Köln and Mainz), our performances were questionable. We just weren’t playing with purpose, and I genuinely felt we were lucky to be winning or even drawing in some matches.
An interesting group in the Champions League saw us against Real Madrid, Celtic and Young Boys, with us losing away to Real, but drawing at home. Our away match at Celtic Park was the most frustrating, as we failed to make chances pay, and drew. This annoyed me, as Celtic boss Ronny Della had been vocal after his defeat at the Westfalenstadion, saying we weren’t as good as we were hyped up to be…
These draws came during the particular bad run, which also saw us get ditched out of the cup by Hertha Berlin. As you can see, it was a bit of a poor run.But a 1-0 win over Stuttgart, followed by a 4-1 win over Hamburg saw us finish the first half of the season on a good note, with us remaining top of the league going into the break.
Despite the mixture in form, the first half of the season saw a few injuries to key players (Reus and Aubameyang were out for most of the first half), which gave rise to several younger players breaking through. Gabriel Barbosa’s indifferent form on the right wing meant that Andrjia Zivkovic could come into the team, becoming the teams top scorer (until the return of Aubameyang). Young American Christian Pulisic was also knocking on the door, demanding first team action, and boy, did he deliver. Playing in the Advanced Playmaker role, his inspired performances secured him 2 man of the match performances in a row, and over 9.0 performance ratings.
So the winter break was upon us, and transfer began…We had already agreed the transfer of talented youth Mahmoud Dahoud from Gladbach. Roman Weidenfeller announced a week before the break that he would be retiring at the end of the season, leaving a big gap in the squad, and a serious need for a senior keeper to help Timo Horn develop, and play a crucial role in the team.We identified German speaking Bosnia international Asmir Begovic, who would move to us on a €5m deal from Chelsea.
A team trip to Spain would help us prepare for the second half of the season…
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Can we defend our title?