Dortmund - Having developed into one of Borussia Dortmund’s most important players, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
'We have to remain positive'
The Gabon international’s second brace of the current campaign inspired his side to a crucial 3-2 win over Hannover 96 on Matchday 26, and with die Schwarz-Gelben steadily climbing the Bundesliga table, the 25-year-old set himself and his team-mates the target of an immediate return to European competition following a chastening exit in the UEFA Champions League in midweek.
"There are only a few points now between us and sixth place and qualifying for the UEFA Europa League," explained Aubameyang after the win in Lower Saxony. "We have to keep looking up the table and remain positive. Now, it's about taking as many points as possible." Even after a heavy defeat at the hands of Juventus FC, the forward is seemingly as swift to refocus off the field as he is at getting behind defences on it.
Domestically, Aubameyang has no shortage of reasons to be bullish about his side’s chances of finishing in the top six. Victory over ten-man Hannover made it seven games unbeaten for Jürgen Klopp’s side, who, with the form of Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa and their 12-goal striker Aubameyang, are showing tentative signs of a return to the all-action style of play which has brought a finish in the top two in each of the last four seasons.
Additional cause for optimism can be found in other sides’ inconsistency. The five teams above tenth-placed BVB all dropped points on Matchday 26, meaning that Klopp’s men are within six points of fifth, a position unthinkable when second from bottom over the winter break. Furthermore, the 3-2 success took the club’s goal difference into the positive for the first time since Matchday 3.
However, where Aubameyang is focusing on Europe, Klopp is steadfast in his mantra that avoiding relegation remains the side’s main target for the remainder of the campaign. "When you look at the table, you can see just how important the victory was," explained the 47-year-old tactician. "We now have an eight-point cushion over the relegation places. Only when we cannot mathematically go down, will we look again at what we can do. Then we’ll see how many matches are left."
'A funny old situation'
With the visit of FC Bayern München immediately after the international break, trips to Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg before the season draws to a close, and the recent absences of Marcel Schmelzer and Nuri Sahin, Klopp’s pragmatic approach is perhaps understandable, and one echoed by Sebastian Kehl. "It’s a funny old situation," he explained after completing 90 intense minutes in central midfield against Hannover, "but we shouldn’t take our eyes off what’s going on below us."
Not even the veteran midfielder, though, could hide his excitement after the side's upward form curve. "There are going to be some thrilling weeks to come. I hope the season comes to a positive conclusion." With a DFB Cup quarter final against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on the horizon, as well as having worked their way into the ideal position for a late assault on the European slots, you certainly wouldn’t bet against Dortmund exceeding even Aubameyang’s expectations between now and May.