There's a Bundesliga showdown in the offing and Borussia Dortmund's young sharp shooters are ready to come out firing as they look to chase down the division's top dogs, Bayern Munich.
The Black and Yellows may be sitting pretty in second spot ahead of a sumptuous Sunday visit of third-placed Bayer Leverkusen, but it's not for nothing that Marco Rose's energetic outfit have started 2022 in awesome form. With three wins from three Bundesliga games and at least three goals scored in each of those contests since the turn of the year, Dortmund's stated aim is clear: to cut the six-point gap that separates them from leaders Bayern.
A tall order for some, but certainly not for Die Schwarzgelben's fearless collection of young performers who have shown they are up for the fight at a crucial stage of this compelling campaign. For when the chips were down in their first game following the mid-season restart, Dortmund delivered in dramatic fashion. Trailing 2-0 to Eintracht Frankfurt with 19 minutes to go, BVB stunned their hosts with three unanswered goals to take the spoils at the death.
"The fact they managed to do that should show them that it's worth it," coach Rose enthused after one more game that showcased the best of the Bundesliga. "We want to keep going in every situation, even if we've experienced disappointments, setbacks or missed chances. And that's what I sensed from the team today," the tactician continued as his Dortmund side continued to chip away at Bayern's top-flight lead.
Watch: Dortmund's fightback in Frankfurt
On target in the final three minutes of that Eintracht entertainment fest, 18-year-old Jude Bellingham continues to add to his remarkable reputation, with the England international boasting a tally of three goals and six assists to date in 2021/22. "People say I get a little bit emotional sometimes [but] in my head I'm always calm because the goal is always clear," the Stourbridge native explained.
The goal going into their subsequent Bundesliga game was also achieved, and in some style. Freiburg had been flying high in the standings, but Borussia bossed it, the hosts running up a five-goal scorecard to leave the visitors' well beaten. Norwegian scoring machine, Erling Haaland, weighed in with his 14th and 15th goals of the campaign that mid-January day, the 21-year-old once again showing why he's the world's best young striker.
"Everybody has to imagine how difficult it is for such a young player to be as good as him, at his age and every week," Haaland's teammate, Thomas Meunier, enthused after a game in which the Belgian also scored twice.
The BVB roadshow rolled on, hitting a DFB Cup obstacle at St. Pauli before another young gem got his chance to shine at Hoffenheim. If it was a case of answering the call to 'step up Donyell Malen,' the Dutch striking dynamo didn't disappoint. The 23-year-old assisted for Haaland and Reus goals and was key in BVB scoring their third in a 3-2 win, providing a dangerous cross which David Raum bundled into his own net. "I keep doing the same things that I did from the start and now it's coming good," the exciting Malen said after his super display.
And it looks to be about to get even better for Borussia's bright young things with imminent return to action of 19-year-old American attacking-midfield star, Gio Reyna, missing since Matchday 3 with a hamstring injury. "... he's been solid again for quite some time now and he's been training for several weeks," Dortmund's head of first team football, Sebastian Kehl, explained in an update on Reyna's fitness this week.
"[Gio] wasn't involved against Hoffenheim, but that could change by the weekend. We've emphasised how much we've missed him a lot, and we're very, very glad to have him," the three-time Bundesliga winner with the Black-and-Yellows added.
Watch: Gio Reyna's comeback on the cards
Kehl was captain in Dortmund's 2011/12 title-winning campaign, when a BVB side led by Jürgen Klopp overturned a points deficit earlier in the season to finish ahead Bayern.
On whether or not Dortmund's current crop were ready to repeat that feat and bring the famous club a first top-flight title since then, the 41-year-old said, "I think we have to be ready for all possible scenarios. We're too ambitious to give up on the season already, but saying that we have a really good chance of winning the title wouldn't be right either. We know how fast everything goes, and how stable Bayern are, but we also see how much the teams behind us want to catch up and stay in it."
One of those teams is Bayer Leverkusen, who currently trail Dortmund by eight points back in third spot. Should Marco Rose's side wish to emulate their predecessors of 2012 and '96 - when Dortmund at one point trailed Bayern by seven points before going on to be crowned champions - a home win will be the realistic aim. In a fixture that has produced 50 goals in the last ten meetings, this is one shootout in which Dortmund's young guns will be desperate to prevail.
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