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Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League at PSV Eindhoven: heart for utopia

There are a few remarkable thoughts that go through Niklas Süle’s head before Borussia Dortmund’s entry into the knockout phase of the Champions League at PSV Eindhoven. “The way I got to know the team, how we tick, we will put on a full-throttle event,” says the central defender in an interview with Klub TV before the first leg this Tuesday in Eindhoven (9 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for Champions League and Prime Video).

That sounds promising, but the subtext also means that within this team a distinction is made between full-throttle events and other games. After the 1-1 draw in Wolfsburg on Saturday, sports director Sebastian Kehl accused the team of playing “arrogantly”. Dortmund have long since been eliminated from the DFB Cup and are 17 points behind leaders Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.

It’s strange: the really big dream that moves most fans is actually about winning the German championship, because winning the Champions League is utopian. But the players seem to have their hearts set on the premier class.

In a round of 16 game in the Champions League, “you don’t need any push anymore,” says Süle. “If we play there and someone has motivation problems, then they are somehow out of place.” That’s how they are, these Dortmund players. There are games in which motivation problems are explainable, perhaps even forgivable. And there are evenings like the one in atmospheric Eindhoven where they go full throttle.

BVB remains a mystery

So far they have always been able to mitigate the annoyances of everyday league life with good performances in the premier class, and BVB even somehow goes into the duel with the Eredivisie leaders as favorites. But the Dutch are competing with a team that is consistently successful in the domestic league. PSV is ten points ahead of second place and has a goal difference of 70:10. Old master Luuk de Jong scored 19 of these 70 goals, and the fact that the club was among the top 16 teams in the Champions League for the first time since 2016 is seen as a great success.

BVB urgently needs its premier class face to survive this round. So far, the transformations between the Biedermeier Bundesliga and the Champions League spectacle have actually worked brilliantly, but precisely because of these fluctuations, which are difficult to forgive for a professional football team, BVB not only remains a mystery, latent dissatisfaction is also a constant companion.

Nico Schlotterbeck’s belief, fueled by a lot of confidence, that one could rely on the team in Eindhoven to play “a completely different game” than in Wolfsburg, is not only dangerous against this background. At the moment it is particularly unclear what kind of condition the Dortmund team is in.

The start to the new year after the winter break, which was celebrated as an upturn, with four wins and two draws, was achieved in games in Darmstadt, Cologne, against Bochum, in Heidenheim, against Freiburg and in Wolfsburg. There were times when six convincing victories would have been expected in these duels, and every loss of a point would have been burned into the memory as a missed opportunity. Or should this team, which is focused on the big games, be praised for the fact that it scored a lot of points without much shine, especially in this phase?

Daniel Theweleit Published/Updated: Recommendations: 13 Christian Otto, Wolfsburg Published/Updated: Recommendations: 4 Christian Otto, Wolfsburg Published/Updated: Recommendations: 3

BVB is still a team full of enigmas and will have revealed at least some of its secrets at the end of the round of 16. After the second leg in mid-March it will be clear whether Borussia can still dream of achieving something very special in this overall unsatisfactory season. For example, another semi-final or maybe even a final in the Champions League. The Dortmund team would definitely be very focused if the worst came to the worst.

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