La Manga - Six months ago, Borussia Dortmund were the club supposedly set to provide the biggest challenge to apparent title favourites FC Bayern München in 2014/15.
'From one catastrophe to another'
At the halfway point in the season, however, BVB’s objectives have required radical alteration, with the club sitting second-bottom in the table - a staggering 30 points behind the leaders from Bavaria - after ten defeats in 17 games. Now, Jürgen Klopp’s target for the remaining 17 games is very simple: “Get some wins on the board and make sure we stay in the division. Right now, where we finish is of no interest to me.”
BVB’s winter training camp in La Manga, Spain has given the players an opportunity to get back onto the training ground and begin intensive preparation for the Bundesliga's resumption, but there is no doubt that their paltry points total in the Hinrunde still rankles. In a candid interview with German football magazine kicker, Dortmund’s coach since 2008 expanded in depth on his comment following Matchday 17's 2-1 defeat to SV Werder Bremen that it had been “the worst first half to a season of our lives”.
“We knew it would be tough, but nobody could have predicted the problems we ended up having, or the chain reactions that made them worse,” said the Stuttgart native. “Where we struggled wasn’t in identifying the problem but in finding the solutions. We tried to deal with the most pressing issues only, and swept everything else to one side. We lurched from one catastrophe to another and in the end didn’t have time to work out a proper solution.”
Positive to the hilt
The glass is always half-full with Klopp, though, and despite the misery they endured between August and December, the coach maintains the ordeal has helped his battered squad grow. With perfect conditions in which to train, prepare, analyse and plan for the second half of the season, and with some key players nearing a return to full fitness, Klopp now glimpses the outline of a bright future from the sunshine of southern Spain.
“In about a week, we’ve been able to train better here than we did than throughout the entire pre-season,” he continued. "We’ve been able to do what we couldn’t do before, and that’s practice our routines with a large group of players. Every player here training in La Manga is further in his development now than he was back in the summer. That’s what makes me optimistic.”
Praise for new arrival Kampl
Well-documented mistakes in defence were blamed as the cause for many of Borussia’s defeats in the Hinrunde, but in fact, a potentially graver problem was their inability to convert chances. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is their top scorer with five league goals, while summer arrivals Ciro Immobile, Adrian Ramos and Shinji Kagawa have added just three, two and one respectively.
To that end, Klopp has been able to add Kevin Kampl, an attacking midfielder with a promising record for previous club FC Salzburg (29 goals and 54 assists in 109 appearances) to the squad, and he is evidently excited at what the 24-year-old can bring to the team. “We need players with talent on the ball and a willingness to work hard on winning it back - he has both." Encouragingly for Klopp, Kampl, a boyhood BVB fan, has slotted in seamlessly into his new surroundings and impressed on his first appearance, a 1-0 friendly win over FC Sion.
'Marco has extraordinary character'
Perhaps of the utmost importance for Klopp, the squad and even the club itself, though, is that Marco Reus will be fit and raring to go when the whistle sounds to begin Dortmund’s game at Bayer 04 Leverkusen on 31 January. After his 2014 was seemingly decimated by various serious injuries, the worst of which prevented him from featuring in Germany’s triumphant FIFA World Cup campaign, 2015 marks a new start for the 25-year-old superstar, even if Klopp admits he will need time to get back to his competitive best.
“I can’t just say to Marco: “Forget that you had a very serious injury. I want you to get stuck in!” That will need time. But I’m not worried because I think he’s an extraordinary boy with extraordinary character, and he feels totally responsible for what has happened to us.”
United we stand
Quite apart from the fact Reus’ return usually makes his team-mates play better, it is that type of selfless, team-oriented approach that Klopp will be looking to channel as die Schwarzgelben attempt to bring a turbulent campaign back under control. It is also in their favour that, regardless of their position in the table, they are only “four or five points from where we want to be".
Dortmund have made sure that the adversity of the first half of the season has made them an even tighter unit, and that will always be the core principle of any Jürgen Klopp side, regardless of its objectives. “We’ve not let ourselves become divided, we’ve not fallen apart and I haven’t lost my job. We’ve all endured a six months that we’d have gladly spared ourselves from, but that’s how things are during the difficult times in life. Now we start doing something about it.”