BERLIN — Borussia Dortmund is experiencing another bout of reflection, self-criticism and doubt just before Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Manchester City.
It has become a regular occurrence at the club in recent seasons, and usually strikes when everything appears to be going well.
Dortmund had lost only once in its previous nine games before Saturday’s potentially decisive match at Eintracht Frankfurt. Decisive, because a win for Frankfurt would give the visitors a huge advantage over Dortmund in the clubs’ fight for Champions League qualification. Frankfurt duly grabbed a 2-1 win to leave Dortmund seven points adrift of the last qualification spot for Europe’s premier competition with seven games of the Bundesliga to play.
“I have always defended the team. But I can’t do that anymore after the performance against Eintracht Frankfurt,” chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke told the Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper a day after his team’s lacklustre showing.
“In a final like this, we have to show a different attitude and give a more determined impression on the day,” Watzke continued. “Everyone has to see that we want to leave the pitch as winners and that we defend our goal with all our might. That was missing for me. It’s a question of willpower, and the team has disappointed me hugely.”
Sporting director Michael Zorc also blasted the players, saying he had “expected much more.”
The realization that Dortmund is on course to miss out on the Champions League for the first time since Jürgen Klopp’s team finished seventh in 2015 has taken hold.
“Being realistic, even with six or seven wins I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to reach fourth place. So for now that shouldn’t be our issue,” Dortmund defender Mats Hummels said after the game.
Amid speculation linking star striker Erling Haaland with a move away after just one and a half seasons in Dortmund, Hummels acknowledged that missing out on Europe’s most lucrative competition will make it harder for the club to hold onto top players and attract other exciting prospects.
“Of course the financial aspect has consequences. It can be that you can’t buy a player you want, or that you need a sell a player that you don’t want to sell,” Hummels said. “I don’t know the numbers, it’s not my area. But not reaching the Champions League would be a catastrophe from a sporting and financial point of view, and that’s what we’re close to.”
Dortmund managed to fend off a bid from Manchester United for England forward Jadon Sancho last summer. Another summer of uncertainty awaits, with Haaland likely to be the main focus this time.
Spanish media reported that the 20-year-old forward’s father Alf-Inge Haaland and agent Mino Raiola held meetings with both Barcelona and Real Madrid officials last week.
“Fake news travel quick and far,” Raiola responded in a tweet.
Haaland’s importance to Dortmund cannot be overstated. The strong Norwegian’s 21 goals in 22 Bundesliga appearances have carried the team in the league this season. He was also the decisive factor in Dortmund’s progress against Sevilla in their Champions League last-16 tie.
Haaland has scored in each of his six appearances and is the competition’s top-scorer with 10 goals. He will be keen to add to that tally against his father’s old club on Tuesday. But he cannot do it alone, and the speculation over his future is bound to have a negative impact on the team.
There’s already a feeling Haaland has outgrown Dortmund. Without Champions League soccer, Dortmund will find it harder to convince him to stay.
Dortmund defender Emre Can summed up the mood among the players after the loss to Frankfurt.
“I’m not bothered playing in the Europa League. I want to play in the Champions League,” Can said.
Dortmund’s preparations for Tuesday’s game have also been hit by injuries. Sancho will miss the return to his former club with a thigh injury, Axel Witsel is out with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and defenders Marcel Schmelzer and Dan-Axel Zagadou are both out for the rest of the season.
On Monday, Dortmund said 16-year-old star forward Youssoufa Moukoko will miss the rest of the season with a ligament injury in his foot.
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