Dortmund need positive result against Spurs to reverse downward spiral
DORTMUND -- When Borussia Dortmund host Tottenham Hotspur at the Westfalenstadion on Tuesday night in the Champions League, one can't help but feel that a big element of excitement has been removed.
The expectation was that this match would significantly determine which of these teams was to secure a top-two finish in Group H. Reality is that Spurs are already qualified and can even afford to lose in Germany and still finish on top of the table, while BVB's sole motivation will be to not do worse than APOEL Nicosia.
After two measly draws against the Cypriot minnows, the Black and Yellows have seen their European campaign gone from underwhelming to embarrassing under Peter Bosz. The only pressure they will feel is to grab a positive result after having only won one match of their last eight matches across competitions.
In the Bundesliga, Dortmund have plummeted from enjoying a five-point margin at the top of the table to fifth place after their most recent 2-1 loss away to Stuttgart on Friday, with Bosz describing the goals his side conceded as "ridiculous."
Indeed, the goal Marc Bartra and Roman Burki gave up after four minutes can be described as comical. The goalkeeper could not control an overhit backpass from his centre-back and Stuttgart attacker Chadrac Akolo merely had to walk the ball into the net.
It was a moment reminiscent of Dortmund's infamous 2014-15 season, the last campaign under Jurgen Klopp, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong and saw the Ruhr side on 18th place shortly after the winter break. Back then, the roster boasted the likes of Mats Hummels and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, yet they still lost 14 league matches out of 34 while only winning 13.
It was a toxic mix of injuries, players lacking form after a World Cup and opponents simply having caught up with Klopp's style of play. Eventually, Dortmund were not only outsmarted by opponents but also committed inexplicable mistakes at back to similar levels of hilarity as the goal they conceded Friday.
Dortmund managed to run as far as seventh place in the table in 2014-15, but the downward spiral that led to a freefall of confidence and results alike should be a cautionary tale to this team.
Winning breeds winning, they say. But on the flipside, losing can also breed losing. At Monday's press conference, Bosz explained the mentality his team showed in Stuttgart.
"It was important for me that the team showed the right attitude," he said, adding, "and continued to play good football afterwards, applied pressure, and created chances for themselves."
For what it's worth, Dortmund played one of their best 45 minutes since September in the first period Friday and scored a deserved equaliser before half-time. However, instead of taking that momentum and forming it into a win, another silly error in defence saw the hosts take another early lead and this time, Dortmund did not recover. Their heads dropped, and it was the promoted team pushing for a winner rather than the Champions League outfit for the remainder of the game.
The symptoms are in the open for everyone to see. Next to issues of not executing the coach's ideas to 100 percent, and too many players not playing at the heights of their own capabilities, the Westphalians are playing with the sort of fear in their hearts that comes to light after an extended run of bad results.
And right now, it seems as if nothing is going their way. Star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang not only has gone off the boil -- being without a goal in four consecutive games -- but had been suspended for a match due to disciplinary measures, while scout-in-chief Sven Mislintat -- a prized asset -- left the club for greener pastures at Arsenal.
The atmosphere in Dortmund is already gloomy, but it can go from bad to worse really quick with the Revierderby looming on Saturday against bitter foes Schalke, who are in an upswing of form and have just leapfrogged BVB to claim second place in the table.
There are no two ways about it: Dortmund desperately need a win against Schalke or the member's assembly in the following week could come across like a funeral.
So even though Tuesday's result will have little relevance for Dortmund other than the comparison with Nicosia, it is still a must-win for them in order to build the tiniest shred of confidence ahead of a game that could mark their season more than any other.
Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino hinted at fielding a rotated team at Monday's news conference after the 2-0 defeat away to Arsenal during the weekend. Maybe that could be a straw to clutch on for the Black and Yellows, as they are likely to go up against a Premier League outfit with reduced strength.
Meanwhile, Bosz confirmed that Aubameyang will be back in the lineup and should be willing to bounce back from a week of negative headlines. Dortmund will likely have to seek a win without Christian Pulisic, though. The U.S. international missed the final team training.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.