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When Ivan Perisic equalised in the opening moments of the second half of Saturday’s showdown against Hamburg, Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp turned to his bench and let out an animated sigh of relief.
As they had done at Nuremberg in their previous away fixture, Die Schwarzgelben had come from behind and looked set to maintain their long undefeated run in the Bundesliga – one that had stretched back 31 matches to September 2011.
But this time there was a sting in the tail, as goals from Son Heung-Min and Ivo Iličević quickly gave HSV a two goal buffer Dortmund could do no more than half before the fulltime whistle.
The ever-present Bundesliga side had shaken off their relegation form to conquer the reigning champions, winning the game and ending Dortmund’s undefeated streak in the process. It almost seemed as though some kind of divine force was intent on seeing Hamburg’s own 36-match unbeaten spell of 1983 remain German top flight football’s longest.
Son Heung-Min celebrates Hamburg's decisive third goal
Of course, the reality was that this was in no part due to some mythical deity - Jurgen Klopp’s side have been coasting through games since the start of the new season and it was only a matter of time before a team hungry for points, such as Hamburg, were going to cause a shock.
Being fifth in the league with eight points from five games doesn’t signal the strongest start to a title challenge, especially with habitual title contenders Bayern Munich is such impressive form.
Bayern top the table having taken the full fifteen points from their five matches, scoring 17 goals to Dortmund’s 11. But if we dig in to the finer details, such as average number of passes per game (Bayern lead by 591.2 to Dortmund’s 514.4) or average attempts on goal per game (Bayern again lead with 19 to Dortmund’s 17.6), it’s obvious that Dortmund aren’t attacking teams with the same ferocity as their Bavarian rivals.
One of the key factors in this recent attacking malaise has been the lethargic debut of Marco Reus. Initially signed as an instant replacement for Shinji Kagawa, the German international has yet to spark the Dortmund attack in the fashion he previously did for Gladbach. In his final season at the Foals, Reus scored eighteen goals in thirty-two games – roughly a goal every 154 minutes. Since joining Dortmund, that figure has risen to one goal every 192 minutes.
Reus start at Dortmund has been far from perfect
When we compare Reus’ stats to those of predecessor Shinji Kagawa, who managed a minutes per goal ratio of 185 minutes before departing for Manchester United, we begin to understand the gaping hole in the production of goals in the Dortmund midfield.
Such symptoms aren’t specifically restricted to Dortmund’s new signing - his compatriot Mario Gotze has similarly stumbled through his club’s opening fixtures, scoring twice, but not yet fully hitting his stride.
While Polish pair Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek have chipped in with three and four goals respectively, this hasn’t been enough to secure maximum points from the opening run of fixtures. This is because the troubled troop of trequartistas is only half the story at the Ruhr side, with an equally incompetent defence adding misery to an increasingly frustrating start to the new campaign.
In shipping eight goals in five matches, the club have already conceded more than they did in the opening ten games of last season, with the six goals conceded against Hamburg and Frankfurt – two sides considered fit for relegation prior to the start of the season – seen as particularly concerning.
Anderson heads in Frankfurt's third on Tuesday evening
Perhaps even more worrying will be the manner of the goals conceded in their midweek draw with Frankfurt. The champions blew a 2-0 and then 3-2 lead, thanks in part to the newly-promoted side twice finding acres of space between the Dortmund midfield and defence - a feat considered nigh on impossible last season. Frankfurt’s third – a set-piece drill straight off the training pitch which didn’t see a Dortmund player touch the ball until it was in the back of the net – was similarly farcical.
‘Uncharacteristic’ would seem the perfect word to describe the performance, especially when compared to the standards Klopp has set over the past two years, yet the real fear is that this isn’t just a blip, rather the start of a permanent decline of a side who had shone so brightly, so quickly.
“The fact is we are going through phases when we are conceding lots of goals.” the Dortmund coach admitted after praising the perfect football of Frankfurt, who now sit three places and five points above Dortmund.
Whether or not this is just a phase is yet to be seen.
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