Asian jaunt key to Dortmund's European redemption
Following four straight seasons finishing either first or second in the Bundesliga, Dortmund slumped all the way to seventh last year, 15 points outside of the Champions League qualification places.
It has left the ‘Black and Yellows’ facing a much earlier start to their season than usual, with the third round of Europa League qualifying commencing on July 30.
Under first-year manager Thomas Tuchel, who took over the team after Jurgen Klopp ended his seven-year spell in charge, Dortmund have romped through three pre-season games thus far.
No less than 28 goals have been scored without reply in victories over regional outfit VFL Rhede, a German Olympic selection and Japanese club side Kawasaki Frontale.
Next up they face Malaysia Super League champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in Johor on Thursday night.
Star midfielder Ilkay Gundogan told a press conference upon the team’s arrival at its base in Singapore that every moment of pre-season is precious before the new campaign gets underway.
“Every training, every game is really important for us because now we have a new coach, we have several new players … so training and games are really important,” Gundogan said.
“We don’t have much time until the first game. Qualification for the Europa League begins at the end of July, so this (JDT match) is also a really important game for us.
“We have to do our best in these three weeks to reach our best level.
“Then the coach will decide which best 11 to put on the field.”
Gundogan and central defender Mats Hummels, who was also at Wednesday’s press conference, have both been heavily linked with moves away from Dortmund during the off-season.
Hummels in particular has been the subject of repeated rumours about a shift to Manchester United, but the 2014 World Cup winner has pledged his immediate future to Dortmund.
“There have always been rumours about almost every one of our players, but I decided not to make the move this year, just like Ilkay did,” he said.
“Of course when the big clubs are interested, and Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world, it’s an honour.
“But I decided I wanted to stay here.”
A dreadful start to the 2014-15 campaign, when Dortmund were stuck at the bottom of the table for long periods, was the catalyst behind their disappointing finish.
Hummels concedes confidence was an issue, something the team is intent on rectifying 12 months later.
“The first thing is to prepare for the season. That’s something that didn’t work out very well last year,” he said.
“We had players that weren’t 100 per cent. Ilkay was injured for a long time and I had lots of small injuries, so that’s the first thing.
“Then it’s very much about confidence. Last year confidence was a big problem for us.
“This is something we don’t want to have again, such a bad first half of the year, and we’re working on it every day.
“I think we’ll be much better than we played at the end of 2014.”
Dortmund enjoyed an extremely successful period under Klopp, which included consecutive Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012.
They are now embarking on a new era under Tuchel and Hummels is already noticing some subtle differences under the new manager.
“It’s hard to compare 10 days with the seven years we had with Jurgen Klopp,” he said.
“But you see some small differences in training and with what he wants us to do with the ball especially, that’s the biggest difference.
“The way he talks, the way he analyses the game is a little bit different, but to really compare the two coaches will take some more time.”
Photo: Weixiang Lim