After matchday 22 in the 2011-12 Bundesliga season, Borussia Dortmund were sitting at the top of the table, three points clear of then second placed Borussia Mönchengladbach. Coach Jürgen Klopp was en route to witnessing his side complete a memorable domestic double and at the center of it all was the attacking genius of Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese international had a scintillating domestic campaign, scoring sixteen goals and assisting fourteen in just thirty six games.
About five months before Dortmund completed this remarkable feat, the club managed to ensure the return of former youth player Marco Reus back from Gladbach, although this was supposed to take place only during the summer of 2012. Reus’ arrival, the player’s dream and Manchester United’s need for an attacking midfielder fueled Kagawa’s move to England in the very same summer. This brought a huge load on the shoulders of the immensely talented Marco Reus and there was a sense of skepticism as to whether or not Reus could do what Kagawa did.
Not a soul doubted Reus’ ability. In fact, some may even go to the extent of saying that Reus is a better player than Kagawa. Whatever the case may be at the individual level, the reasons for this pessimism were the intricacy that was involved in Klopp’s system and whether or not Reus could really fit into it.
In terms of league standing and domestic silverware, Dortmund are nowhere close to where they were last season. Fifteen points behind a rampant Bayern Munich and with a quarter final tryst with the Bavarians ahead of them, the Yellow and Blacks have their hands full this season. Is Reus’ “inability” to fill in to Kagawa’s shoes the reason for this drop in position? The answer is undoubtedly a resounding no.
The first and foremost reason for this is Bayern’s heavy spending in the summer. Reinforcing their squad with the likes of Dante, Xherdan Shaqiri and Mario Mandzukic, Die Roten have transformed into probably the best squad in the world. Expecting Dortmund to keep up with such a deep and powerful squad over an entire year is somewhat impractical, especially because of their relatively quiet summer and winter transfer windows.
The second reason for Dortmund’s inability to keep their spot at the top of the summit is their defensive shakiness. Their over reliance on Mats Hummels has come to haunt them this season with the German center back unable to keep up his brilliance week in and week out. The duo of Neven Subotic and Marcel Schmelzer haven’t helped much either and catalysed the widening of Dortmund’s defensive gaps.
Now that Reus has been cleared of any guilty charges, the question of whether he has aided the team in a manner equivalent to what Kagawa did arises. And it seems more than fair to say yes. The versatile attacker has already scored twelve goals and assisted ten in twenty four games. His recent hattrick against high flying Eintracht Frankfurt is testament to his incredible brilliance. The Reus-Lewandowski duo is possibly better than the Kagawa-Lewandowski one.
The biggest improvement that Reus’ arrival at Signal Iduna Park has brought about is the club’s sensational continental form. After an abysmal showing in the Champions League last season (where Kagawa managed just a solitary goal in 354 minutes of playing time), Dortmund were expected to fail miserably after being drawn into a group containing Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax. But how differently things have panned out. The defending German champions topped this group, managing to stay unbeaten throughout, completely outdo Real Madrid at the Signal Iduna Park, obliterate Ajax in Amsterdam and were within inches of beating the Spanish giants at the Bernabeu.
A key figure in this superb campaign has been Marco Reus. The 23-year-old has scored thrice in the Champions League so far, one each against Madrid, City and Ajax, and in all cases away from home. Even in their recent 2-2 draw against Shakhtar Donetsk, it was Reus who was a constant threat to the Ukrainians. This was followed by a hattrick last weekend against Armin Veh’s Eagles, and the sky seems to be the only limit for Reus at the moment.
From Kagawa to Reus, Dortmund have only grown as a side. Silverware might not be entering their cabinet this season but Klopp’s side is all but surely building a solid foundation to become a regular threat in Europe. With the Champions League first knockout round tie poised in their favour, Dortmund will be looking for the usual brilliance from Reus to book their place in the quarter final of the biggest club competition in Europe.
Putting Dortmund in the same boat as the likes of Bayern and Barcelona may be a little too far-fetched but with the talent of Marco Reus in their arsenal almost anything seems possible. A trophyless season mustn’t discourage the Ruhr side at all and only spur them to spend wisely, remain tactically sound and utilize Marco Reus to the fullest.