In so many ways, it was the archetypal Borussia Dortmund performance. Not the kind that sees the Black and Yellows tear opposition teams to shreds with their youthful exuberance and devastating attacking verve. The other kind of archetypal Borussia Dortmund performance. The ones that could ultimately cost Lucien Favre his job.
On their day, Dortmund are among European soccer’s most watchable teams. When everything clicks into place, they are almost impossible to stop, with Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho in particular among the game’s most exciting young talents. Dortmund frequently blow opponents away.
From time to time, though, they will suffer a shock defeat like they one experienced to Koln on Saturday. It’s these underwhelming performances and results which, over the last two to three seasons, have prevented Borussia Dortmund from taking the next step in their development under Favre.
“We should've played with more tempo, passed the ball with more tempo. And we were lacking the correct movement,” the 63-year-old sought to explain after the 2-1 loss to Koln, who hadn’t won a league game this season before their trip to the Westfalenstadion.
“We had too few clear-cut goalscoring chances. We were expecting a difficult game - and that was the case. Conceding the two goals from corner-kicks is a tough one to take. They flicked on the ball towards the back post twice. We lost, and the result is the only thing that counts.”
This isn’t the first time Favre’s methods have been questioned. This time last year, he looked to be on the way out as Dortmund head coach, with the Black and Yellows winning just one match over a five match stretch. By the time Bayern Munich inflicted a 4-0 defeat on Dortmund in November 2019, most had concluded Favre’s time was all but up.
A stronger half of the 2019/20 season offered Favre a reprieve, but underlying doubts have persisted. Familiar sentiment has bubbled to the surface following the defeat to Koln with many questioning whether Favre is truly the man to take Borussia Dortmund where they want to go. Another poor result and performance against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday could be critical for the former Borussia Monchengladbach boss.
Favre’s system has come under much scrutiny this season, with the midfield in particular something of a puzzle. Emre Can was picked to play through the middle against Koln, but looked uncomfortable when he found himself higher up the pitch and ultimately slotted into a back three for the second half.
The balance isn’t there for Dortmund. The introduction of Gio Reyna, Thorgan Hazard and Youssoufa Moukoko off the bench changed the dynamic of the contest, but this didn’t say a lot for Favre’s team selection. Jude Bellingham has made a strong start to life at the Westfalenstadion following his summer move from Birmingham City, but the English teenager is not yet certain of a place in the lineup. It’s not clear what Favre wants from his side this season.
Bayern Munich’s grip on the German game is a tight one. Favre would likely argue he has achieved realistic objectives during his time as Dortmund boss, taking the club to a second place finish in the Bundesliga last season and the Champions League last 16. Defeat to Koln was desperately disappointing, but Favre’s side are only four points off the top of the table.
Financially, Borussia Dortmund are unable to compete with Bayern Munich. This means the Black and Yellows need a special leader to get them close to the Bavarians, to make up the financial gulf. They had this with Jurgen Klopp, who led Dortmund to back-to-back Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final. But Klopp was a once-in-a-generation managerial talent. Finding another like him isn’t exactly realistic.
Dortmund have had some good coaches at the helm since the days of Klopp. Thomas Tuchel, now at Paris Saint-Germain, achieved some success. Peter Bosz found things tough at the Westfalenstadion, but has restored his reputation at Bayer Leverkusen. Favre was highly regarded after his time at Gladbach before pitching up at Dortmund in the summer of 2018. None have been able to replicate what Klopp did.
Favre is renowned for building dynamic, attack-minded teams, but not winning teams. This criticism can be traced back to his Borussia Monchengladbach tenure and it has followed him to Borussia Dortmund. Defeat to Koln felt like the beginning of the end for him at the Westfalenstadion. The same old questions are still without answers.