The Journeyman | BVB: Part 8 – So Close, Yet So Far

Borussia Dortmund moved into 2036 narrowly behind Bayer Leverkusen at the top of Bundesliga, with perennial challengers Bayern Munich lingering. And our strong form was being inspired by a watertight defence that conceded just five times in the first 16 league games.

There wasn’t a huge amount of work needed in the transfer window, but we did bring in £74 million in transfer fees for two players and snapped up a few more young talents. The two departures were English left-winger Martyn Talbot, who’d been inept this season, for £49 million then backup striker Ricardo Martinez, who attracted a £25 million bid. And both joined my former club Valencia, which was a bit weird.

In their place came exciting Brazilian defender Formiga, for whom we met his £21.5 million minimum fee clause, and Argentinian attacking midfielder Roque Ferrer, who cost just £1.5 million from Boca. We also bolstered the squad depth with the loan of midfielder Llion Davies, who’s been part of my England squad for a year or so.

Bundesliga resumes

A nice relaxing winter break ended with a flurry of injuries heading into the first match of 2036. But no bother as we thumped Wolfsburg 4-1 led by a Cataldo Strambelli hat-trick that took him to 12 goals in 17 league games after last season’s tally of 31 in 31. The next day Leverkusen drew 3-3 at Bochum, who scored twice in the last ten minutes.

We then went to Freiburg and won 1-0, then another Strambelli brace led us to a convincing 4-0 win at home to Hamburg. And we backed that up with another dominant win at fourth-placed Wolfsburg, in which the main attacking trio of Hitoshi Nakajima, Strombelli and Jajá all scored.

Leipzig replaced them in fourth, they were next up and we again dismissed our opponent with a dominant performance. This time Jajá netted a hat-trick and laid on a screamer for Martin Flores, who was beginning to flourish playing deeper in the ‘Braganca role’ in centre midfield. But the great form dipped with a 1-1 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt.

And that teed up a vital Der Klassiker derby at home to Bayern managed by Jurgen Klopp, who’s been on an odd career path via Barcelona, Germany, Spain, France and Real Sociedad. We got off to a great start as Lautaro Rojo poked home after a goalkeeper howler then Joao Ribeiro smashed home from long range. Bayern pulled one back late on but we held on for a 2-1 win. On the same day Leverkusen lost at Hertha, which moved us 4 points clear of them and 11 ahead of Bayern.

We then raced into a 2-0 win at Bochum only to throw it away, but young midfielder Gen Uchida came off the bench to score just his second goal of the season and nick all three points. The defence continued to creak as we conceded the first shot at home to Hoffenheim but recovered to win 4-2 led by a Matías Sarue free-kick and penalty, and sealed it with academy product midfielder Bjarne Hayer’s first goal for the club.

The shaky defence continued as we fell to a 2-1 defeat at rivals Schalke. But we bounced back with a 4-0 thumping of St Pauli, in which Sarue scored twice again and they didn’t even have a shot, to seal Champions League qualification again.

And that nicely teed up a huge game away to Leverkusen, who we were one point clear of with seven games remaining. Our trusty defence returned but the attack went missing in a dull 0-0 draw that keeps us top.

Six games for the title

The season finale began with a potentially tricky trip to ninth-placed Hertha BSC, but Strambelli’s magnificent four-goal haul led us to a 4-2 win. Then we had the striker to thank again as he scored twice in a 3-2 win at home to Stuttgart, which came the day after Leverkusen lost 3-2 at home to Wolfsburg. That stretched our lead at the top to four points with four games remaining.

Then another big day in the Bundesliga saw us edge past Borussia Monchengladbach 1-0 with a Flores penalty on the same day that Leverkusen were losing 3-0 at fourth-placed Leipzig. And that moved us two points away from the title.

That should have had the team on a high, but we inexplicably went to Augsburg and lost 4-1! However, Leverkusen continued their dramatic loss of form by drawing 0-0 at home to Frankfurt, which all but handed the title to us.

And we duly wrapped up a third consecutive title with a dominant 2-0 win at home to Fortuna Dusseldorf. The win was fittingly sealed with Jajá’s 20th of the season and Strambelli’s 33rd.

We drew 1-1 on the final day in a pretty terrible game at Werder Bremen, with Bjarne Heyer’s penalty ironically – given what happens below – sealing the point. We finished seven points clear of Leverkusen and eight ahead of Bayern, and that earned us a cool £96.2 million for lifting the league title!

Champions League adventure

Our reward for getting through a tough Champions League group was drawing PSG in the first knockout round. We raced into a 2-0 first leg lead with a Jajá penalty and a Strambelli goal.

The second leg in Paris didn’t start well as 37-year-old Kylian Mbappé scored inside 20 seconds, then doubled his lead 22 minutes later. But Jocemar Campestrini – in for the injured Jajá – got us level 6 minutes later, we held on for extra-time and Strambelli bagged a vital winner.

We then took on Juventus in the quarter-final, with the home leg again up first. Uchida put us ahead in the first-half, but Juve equalised in the second and we drew 1-1. And another 2-2 draw sent us through to the semis! Our former striker Facundo Soto put them ahead, only for Strambelli and a Jajá penalty to send us through despite them equalising immediately.

And the tough run continued as we were drawn with Liverpool in the semis, with the home leg again up first. We gave our chances a boost as we edged the first leg 1-0 with Strambelli scoring the only goal and having one narrowly ruled out for offside. But we missed a host of chances in a game we dominated by 19 shots to 8.

We went to Liverpool up against it but defended pretty well to hold them to a 1-0 defeat that took it to extra-time. And we defended even better to keep them out during the extra period, but created very little until the last few minutes when Strambelli had a goal very narrowly ruled out for offside.

That took us to penalties, and youngster Heyer missed our third spot kick while Liverpool unsurprisingly scored all of theirs. And that’s the Champions League dream ended for another season – so close, yet so far!

Join us next time as we reflect on a third successive successful season in Germany with Borussia Dortmund!

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