“We have to analyse this game.” It was two-and-a-half hours after full-time that the Borussia Dortmund chief executive officer, Hans-Joachim Watzke, finally emerged to briefly address waiting journalists. Watzke emphasised that his late exit from Westfalen was a legacy of staying to watch Bayern Munich’s evening game at Union Berlin rather than, he implied, anything weightier. It needed saying because there was (and is) much to discuss at BVB, and those journalists were hanging around for a reason.
It had been more than just a chastening afternoon chasing Stuttgart shadows, and it proved to be Lucien Favre’s last on the Dortmund bench. Watzke wondered aloud in his exchange with the media when a BVB team had last taken such a beating at home. Some suggested he might like to recall the 4-0 defeat against Hoffenheim as recently as the final day of last season, as it was the same margin as the 5-1 embarrassment on Saturday and even if that previous defeat was fairly academic from a Dortmund perspective, it underlined that while there were plenty of good moments under Favre the lows tended to be particularly stark.
“Five games,” wrote Ruhr Nachrichten’s Tobias Jöhren on Saturday night, “have ensured that much at Borussia Dortmund is in ruins. Whether Lucien Favre can be trusted to sweep up the pieces and put them back together is at least questionable.” By midway through Sunday, we had our answer.
None of this is to diminish Stuttgart’s own achievement. They had played Dortmund off the park, with Silas Wamangituka shining again with a brace and an assist. “He has limitless potential,” his coach Pellegrino Matarazzo said with a smile in his post-match press conference. Tanguy Coulibaly, who tormented the home defence throughout before finally cutting inside Mats Hummels and curling in a sublime fourth just after the hour, was probably even better.
Dortmund, nevertheless, came up way short against a promoted side who made them look the learners. Their 72% of the possession seemed totally irrelevant as they rarely looked like doing anything with it. The first-half equaliser that briefly gave them hope, when Raphaël Guerreiro’s sweeping crossfield ball was expertly killed and then lifted over Gregor Kobel by Gio Reyna, was an expression of individual quality rather than any collective triumph. Reyna’s goal covered a multitude of sins. Roman Bürki had been Dortmund’s outstanding player before the break and the goals that came after it were ones that Stuttgart’s play had merited.
So it was Favre’s assistant Edin Terzić who led the recovery effort at BVB’s Brackel training centre on Sunday, and his brief is to connect with hearts as much as tactical minds. It was clear in the aftermath of the match on Saturday that Favre had lost both, when senior players including Marco Reus and Hummels fronted up in front of the cameras carrying the demeanour of abruptly deflated balloons.
“Stuttgart were superior to us in every respect,” Reus lamented. “They did everything that we were supposed to do. We’re not a team that knows how to defend.” Hummels, meanwhile, talked about a lack of concentration, and “a huge ball-loss rate” conditioned by attempting to be too intricate, too precise. “If it works, it looks good – it looks like great football,” the defender said. “But it rarely works. Unfortunately, we play risk in areas where the return is small but where the defensive consequences are very big.”
Terzić’s task will not just be tactics but projection, though – something with which Favre struggled. The 38-year-old, who scouted and worked in the BVB youth academy under Jürgen Klopp before assisting Slaven Bilić at Besiktas and West Ham, is charged with connecting emotionally with the players, whose lethargy and “lack of emotion”, to quote Jöhren, underpinned not just the Stuttgart loss but other performances in the recent winless run.
That jocular, fist-pumping shadow is as hard to escape as ever. “[Favre] is very often compared to Jürgen Klopp,” said Max Eberl, the Borussia Mönchengladbach sporting director who had him as his coach, “but they are apples and pears.” Terzić could help to fill that hole in the short term, with his desire “to see aggressive football, coordinated, gripping pressing and a fast game”, as Kicker’s Matthias Dersch says. His receiving the post until the end of the season is interesting, suggesting a move for a big target – Gladbach’s Marco Rose, a rising alpha and coach with clear identity, is the early favourite – is on the cards for next summer. Rose is believed to have a set release clause that kicks in after this season.
What was viewed internationally as an inevitability was not necessarily the same locally, however. Dortmund’s last mid-season sacking – also in December – was that of Peter Bosz, three years ago almost to the day. The Dutchman’s departure was forced by a run of one win in 13 games (against third-tier Magdeburg in the DfB Pokal) and the surprising appointment of Peter Stöger, recently fired himself by the bottom-placed Köln, did the trick in terms of salvaging a top-four spot. It wasn’t pretty, though, and when the Dortmund deciders discussed their next move on Saturday, there will have been a degree of reticence elicited by a desire to avoid a repeat of that water-treading exercise of 17-18.
In a way, Favre is the victim of his own success since, having taken over an unstable team from Stöger and largely brought balance as well as reviving the expectation that BVB should be the next best after Bayern. Expensively acquired experience such as Hummels and Emre Can to supplement the club’s young stars left little room for manoeuvre, and this recent poor run merely acted as confirmation bias for those frustrated by Favre’s conservative nature and who felt a ceiling had been reached.
Terzić said on Monday that he “never dreamed of being in this situation”, adding: “I was nine years old the first time I was here in the stadium.” His job for his childhood favourites, it seems, is to set the table for his successor, starting at Werder Bremen on Tuesday – and to leave more appealing fare on that table than the admirable Stöger was able to do three years ago.
• Despite their dreadful weekend, BVB are still only five points behind Bayern, who received a real going-over at Köpenick from a Max Kruse-less Union and escaped with a point thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s equaliser.
• Peter Bosz, then, rules the Bundesliga roost in an interesting twist given what has happened at Dortmund this weekend. His Leverkusen side carried on their unbeaten run with a 4-1 victory against Hoffenheim, set on the way by two Leon Bailey goals – one sublime, the other slapstick after an awful Andrej Kramarić backpass. Leipzig completed a great week with a 2-0 win against Werder Bremen, which puts them level on points with the champions at the top.
• Schalke were within a whisker of putting an end to their epic winless run despite the usual catalogue of mishaps at Augsburg. They lost Mark Uth to a worrying head injury – he is recovering in hospital from concussion, mercifully – and went behind with a Suat Serdar own goal in the first half, before Benito Raman and Nassim Boujellab struck to turn it around.
Leverkusen 4-1 Hoffenheim, Augsburg 2-2 Schalke, Union Berlin 1-1 Bayern, Dortmund 1-5 Stuttgart, Freiburg 2-0 Arminia Bielefeld, M’gladbach 1-1 Hertha Berlin, Mainz 0-1 Cologne, Leipzig 2-0 Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt