Cologne - Without wanting to sound churlish, it would be fair to say VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund have both fallen on hard times in 2014/15, but while one continues to flounder below the waterline, the other is starting to show the green shoots of recovery.
Reus hitting his peak
Successive league wins have taken Jürgen Klopp’s revitalised troupe four points clear of rock-bottom Stuttgart ahead of Matchday 22’s showdown at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena, the Yellow-Blacks’ confidence levels suitably replenished following a campaign of unheralded underachievement.
“We’re very relieved and pleased,” admitted BVB midfielder after his side followed up Matchday 20’s 3-0 win at SC Freiburg with a thrilling 4-2 home success over 1. FSV Mainz 05. “It was a fully deserved win for us. Mainz made us work hard in the first half and forced us into errors in our build-up play. But we made a great start to the second half and scored two quick goals. After Mainz’s second goal we were able to step up our game even more. We put them under a lot of pressure and played some great football.”
At the heart of last Friday’s quintessentially Dortmund display was Germany international forward Marco Reus, who celebrated committing his long-term future to the club by scoring one and making another at the Signal Iduna Park. The local lad turned BVB icon is fast becoming synonymous with the Ruhr district outfit’s upturn in fortunes, those nagging ankle troubles seemingly a thing of the past. “He’s just world class,” conceded then Mainz head coach Kasper Hjulmand after the game.
To single out Reus and Reus alone as 15th-placed Dortmund’s catalyst for change, however, would be to do his esteemed colleagues a great disservice. Gündogan, for one, is thriving at the heart of the midfield following a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a back injury, while fit-again Turkey international Nuri Sahin is fast approaching the kind of form that caught the eye of Real Madrid CF in summer 2011. Add to that a string of energetic displays from Japanese megastar Shinji Kagawa and it’s not hard to see why BVB are beginning to purr.
Klopp, of course, deserves a huge amount of credit for staying true to his own unique philosophy that once yielded back-to-back league titles and took the Yellow-Blacks all the way to the final of the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League. Recognising that the likes of Ciro Immobile and Henrikh Mkhitaryan needed more time to acclimatise to the demands of his energy-zapping game, the 47-year-old has remoulded his starting line-up around players for whom Gegenpressing has become second nature - eight-goal leading scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang very much included.
For Friday’s hosts Stuttgart, a Dortmund side high on confidence and determined to draw a line under their domestic malaise is probably the last name on their wish list in their own bid to beat the drop. Die Schwaben haven’t sampled that winning feeling since beating Hamburger SV on Matchday 16 and currently have the second most porous back line in the division after 17th-in-the-table Hertha Berlin. What’s more, in a fixture that has produced 40 goals in the last five years alone, Baden-Württemberg’s capital club have triumphed just once.
In some ways, the head-to-head statistics mirror the steadily diverging paths the two founding Bundesliga members have taken in recent years. Stuttgart won the title in 2006/07, but it’s Dortmund - save for this season’s aberration - who have since become far more accustomed to battling it out for league honours alongside FC Bayern München than scraping the barrel for points at the foot of the standings. Labelling Matchday 22’s curtain raiser as a meeting between two of German football’s sleeping giants wouldn’t be all that far off the mark in the current circumstances: the only difference is one’s beginning to stir.