Brilliant Bellingham and resurgent Reus: The story behind Borussia Dortmund’s stunning rise

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Borussia Dortmund took the Bundesliga’s top spot overnight with a 1-0 win at Hoffenheim on Matchday 22, further extending the best record in Europe at the moment. tracks the superb success story behind their rapid rise to the summit since the New Year.

After a 4-2 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach on 11 November left them sixth and nine points behind leaders Bayern Munich over the winter break, even the most optimistic Borussia Dortmund fan is unlikely to have forecast them taking the top spot around a month after the restart. Indeed, the last time the Black & Yellows were able to look down on the rest of the Bundesliga pack was back in August 2019.

It has been a new year bursting with new promise for Dortmund’s thrilling squad, however. They can proudly claim to be the only team in Europe’s top-10 leagues still boasting a 100 per cent record in 2023, with nine wins in nine competitive matches. When it comes to the Bundesliga, seven wins on the bounce and 20 goals in the process make the club that last won the title in 2012 very much Germany’s most in-form side.

With a real sense that the stars might be starting to align for Edin Terzic’s side, picks out a few of the key factors behind Dortmund’s current wave of success…

Bellingham the beating heart

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Amid all the noise swirling around Jude Bellingham, you can almost overlook what he does so well week in, and week out. He quite simply provides the perfect fulcrum to Dortmund’s increasingly well-functioning machine.

The 19-year-old’s energy and intelligence in the middle of the park offer support to both BVB’s vibrant attacking arsenal and steady defence – with only Union Berlin matching Dortmund’s measly three goals conceded in the first five Bundesliga matchdays of 2023 and the 1-0 win in Hoffeheim marking their third clean sheet of the year already.

Meanwhile, the 4-1 win over Hertha Berlin on Matchday 21 saw Bellingham become the youngest-ever player to record 50 Bundesliga wins and, at the current rate, he will add many more to his haul by the end of the campaign.

The Englishman’s maturity beyond his years has undoubtedly helped keep his teammates’ eyes on the tasks in front of them as they have claimed victory after victory. He provided a goal and an assist in a nervy 4-3 victory over Augsburg that saw them start their glut of the new year wins, and captained the side in a 2-0 success at Bayer Leverkusen a week later along with the 1-0 UEFA Champions League win over Chelsea.

Key contributions

A wealth of talents in a squad comes in very handy if you start a year, as Dortmund have, looking to make a major mark in three competitions, but you need your key men to step up at the right time in order to succeed.

Julian Brandt is having his best season yet at the club since his move from Bayer Leverkusen in 2019. The German international’s improved physicality and increasing drive have impressed onlookers this campaign and Brandt is regularly appearing on the scoresheet as a result.

It was fitting that the brilliant Brandt – who was named Bundesliga Player of the Month for January – glanced in the winner against Hoffenheim that took Dortmund top, netting in his fourth consecutive Bundesliga match in the process. No wonder coach Edin Terzic has been impressed, saying: “It is not just the running he does but the strength he provides. Julian has taken a clear step forward in that.”

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Karim Adeyemi arrived in the summer with high hopes after earning a transfer from Red Bull Salzburg. His frightening pace was always apparent, and he set a new all-time Bundesliga speed record in a 5-1 win over Freiburg. Yet it was not until Dortmund’s current run that he demonstrated his true goalscoring threat.

After scoring his first goal for his new club in the win at Leverkusen in January, Adeyemi promptly smashed three strikes in three Bundesliga appearances – as well as a stunning solo goal that clinched the 1-0 win against Chelsea. Having claimed Rookie of the Month honours in January, the club will hope he returns as soon as possible after sustaining an injury in the win against Hertha Berlin.

Much has been made about the increased resoluteness of the Dortmund defence, but the backline has a key performer both in front and behind them to thank. Emre Can’s experience has been vital in defensive midfield, and he has started in six consecutive wins since the 2-1 triumph in Mainz in January.

Gregor Kobel’s assured goalkeeping has meanwhile helped him to eight clean sheets so far this season. That matches the number of clean sheets he gained over the entire course of last season and puts him on track to surpass his personal record of 11 shutouts in 2019/20 while at VfB Stuttgart.

Reus’ return

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Like any ship on such a strong course, it ends up in uncharted waters, the presence of an inspirational captain is a vital factor for Dortmund.

It is no coincidence that three of the side’s six Bundesliga defeats so far this season came during the time ankle problems kept Marco Reus sidelined over the autumn. The 33-year-old has been finding ways to prize open opposition defences for over a decade – and boasts over 100 goals and assists in the Bundesliga.

He has returned to the team in the new year looking at the peak of his powers. Having been rested during the first-leg Champions League win against Chelsea, he started against Hertha and teed up Adeyemi for the opening goal before slotting in a stunning free-kick for a vital third.

Reus said after that match that his team are “all eager to win titles” but they “cannot afford to give up an inch” in the crucial weeks to come. He’s right, and he duly led by example in delivering the free-kick for Brandt to pounce and put the side top in Hoffenheim.

The challenge for Dortmund is to now keep their immense momentum going as they prepare to face Leipzig, Chelsea (Champions League second-leg), Revierderby rivals Schalke and Bayern during their next five fixtures.

Should the five-time Bundesliga champions succeed in prolonging their current wonderful form, it could turn out to be a season to remember in Dortmund.