The Journeyman | BVB: Part 5 – Title Race Goes to the Wire

Despite being unbeaten after 16 games heading into 2035, Borussia Dortmund somehow found themselves in second place in Bundesliga behind the relentless Bayern Munich.

A nice winter break saw the players come back rested and in flying form as we breezed past our January opponents with convincing wins over Augsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and a 4-1 victory over Hamburg in which midfielder Matías Sarue bagged a hat-trick.

That took us into three huge games in February, away to two top-six side RB Leipzig and Wolfsburg and, the biggest of the lot, a Der Klassiker derby at home to Bayern Munich.

We began this little streak well as right-winger Jajá scored the only goal in the first game at Leipzig. That took the Italian international’s fantastic form to nine goals and four assists in his last 12 games, which earned him a new £90,000-a-week contract.

Der Klassiker was next and Jajá celebrated his new deal by scoring after just four minutes. Bayern came back into it and drew level with a wonderful team goal just before half-time, but the other winger Martyn Talbot stepped up to score even sooner into the second half on 47 minutes. And this time we kept Bayern at arm’s length to seal a 2-1 win that earned us the double over our biggest rivals and took us to the top of the league.

Striker Cataldo Strambelli had a bit of a nightmare against Bayern with a 6.1, but he made up for that with a superb performance at Wolfsburg, where he’d spent last season on loan. He scored twice in the first 20 minutes, Jajá scored yet again just after the break, and Strambelli wrapped up his hat-trick on 65 minutes to move onto 17 goals in 19 league games!

That little streak gave us the confidence to kick on and ease past Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1, before Bayern lost at Leipzig to extend our lead at the top to six points. Big-money summer signing Martin Flores had finally started to show signs of the form we’d expected, which was proven by him scoring and creating one in a 5-1 win at Heidenheim in which Strambelli bagged a brace and Jajá scored and created two.

We somehow only beat ten-man Hoffenheim 3-1 despite having 36 shots to 4, and let our loanee striker Morten Hansen score against us… Then drew 1-1 at Schalke before a solid 3-0 win over St Pauli saw us confirm a Champions League finish. Then a 3-3 draw at Stuttgart came on the same day as Bayern drew at Hoffenheim, in which our man Hansen scored twice!

Champions League progression

The first knockout round of the Champions League pitted us up against Inter Milan, and it arrived in the middle of Jajá’s sensational run of league form. And the Italian winger proved the difference as we edged a 1-0 win in the home leg. We double that lead early at the San Siro as our former centre-back Jhon Mina scored a hilarious own goal, then curled in a ridiculous free-kick to equalise. But we went defensive to seal our place in the quarter-final.

Up next was Atletico, against whom we were again at home first. We started well as Strambelli ran through on goal and converted, only for Kaio Jorge to equalise just after half-time. But Strambelli had the last laugh, turning home from a corner after 55 minutes to seal a narrow 2-1 first leg win. But Atletico scored after 7 minutes in what was, ridiculously, the only highlight of the match – as if that would happen the other way around!

Anyway, there goes the Champions League for another year…

Six games for the title

That left us four points clear of Bayern with six games remaining. Away from the on-pitch action, midfield favourite Daniel Braganca will no longer be our player next season after he decided to head back to Portugal when his contract expires. He’s been good again this season, but his form has tailed off in the last couple of months. Unfortunately, he’ll be joining Benfica, which lowers my estimation of him.

The title showdown began with hosting Holstein Kiel and a Strambelli brace, which took him to 35 goals for the season, sealed a 2-0 win. But we slipped to a 1-1 draw at Bochum, who are doing very well this season and sit 4th in league, on the same day Bayern won to reduce the deficit to 2 points.

Midfielder Sarue had been ruled out for a few weeks and he was joined by left-back Djordje Stankov, which both made for some interesting selection issues. But the big worry over the last few games was the lack of form from all three of our attacking midfielders. However, that changed abruptly as they all scored to put us 4-0 up at half-time at home to Fortuna Dusseldorf, and Strambelli bagged his 35th of the season to seal a 5-1 win.

But now it started to get tough as we faced a trip to seventh-placed Hertha BSC, welcomed third-placed Bayer Leverkusen and travelled to sixth-placed Augsburg.

That man Strambelli stepped up again to put us ahead after 5 minutes at Hertha and we held on for the rest of the match, seeing off 16 shots to edge a 1-0 win. We were now just 4 points away from the title and still unbeaten after 32 games.

Leverkusen then came to town and took the lead on 15 minutes, only for Braganca to score an equaliser 6 minutes later. We kept pushing and Jajá put us in front on 65 minutes, but their wonderkid winger Andreas Achtstetter scored an 88th minute equaliser. However, Bochum came big for us and held Bayern 2-2 away, which took the fight to the final day.

The final day of the season took us to Augsburg, and just so happened to my 800th game in football management. And the boys came up big with Strambelli settling any nerves by scoring inside 40 seconds, then Nakajima doubled the lead after 8 minutes. We were looking good going into half-time but Strambelli made it even better as he doubled his tally on 41 minutes.

A quiet second half ensured we came home 3-0 winners to wrap up Dortmund’s second successive Bundesliga title! And this is my tenth league title as a manager in this save – six in Portugal, two in Spain and two in Germany.

The final day win not only took us to an unbeaten Bundesliga campaign, it also broke the league’s all-time record for most games without losing – taking us past the 53 games set by Bayern in 2013/14.

Join us next time as we reflect on a record-breaking season of success for Borussia Dortmund!


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