After four consecutive matches without defeat in the Ruhr Derby, Borussia Dortmund signaled stronger than ever on how much the league means to them this season – not a lot, as Robert Lewandowski was the only sign of life from a team that has put all their chips on the Champions League this season and are left very far away from touching or disrupting Bayern’s title run.
Last season, in two matches, there was no doubt to who was the best team in the Revierderby, not with the ability and not by the result. This season, the boundaries have faded away and Schalke, a team with more and ups and down than any other top team in the Bundesliga, managed to be the superior side in both encounters, claiming their first derby double since the 2009-2010 season, a year before Dortmund’s two-year rule began.
It’s not that Dortmund were completely outplayed, but it’s mostly about the focus that isn’t there. Not like it was against Shakhtar or against any other opponent for nearly two years. Players aren’t robots, and giving your best every time is impossible. Eventually, fatigue and a shorter blanket to cover the widening gaps and holes isn’t enough. Marco Reus wasn’t in the lineup, and his enterance did spark a change in the second half, but too little too late.
The most disappointing factor? The terrible marking and defending, as Mats Hummels isn’t the best defender in Germany, at least not in league matches this season. Dortmund have allowed 30 goals in 25 matches, while giving up a total of 47 in the previous two seasons combined. Sven Bender hasn’t been as effective as expected, injuries halting him along the way, and the effort and ability he left on the home pitch in the 3-0 win against Shakhtar in the more important UCL match couldn’t be duplicated.
Dortmund will be in the Champions League next season, and that’s the important thing. With nine matches left to go, they have a six point lead over Schalke at fourth and a 8 point lead over Frankfurt at fifth. This season was going to be about making a name for themselves in Europe, which can only be done by succeeding in the Champions League, not by dominating Germany. The plan was always to become the second super-power next to Bayern Munich, not to try and turn the league into a one-horse race every year. Keeping this squad together by showing its potential strength in European competition is the goal, not swapping Bayern at the top each season.