ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae dissects Borussia Dortmund without Erling Haaland: Can they make do and mend in the temporary absence of their emerging world superstar?
You could almost hear the gasps and groans from BVB fans worldwide when coach Marco Rose uttered those fateful words at his news conference last Friday. “Erling will be out for a few weeks.”
The Norwegian trailblazer had only just come back from a thigh injury and reportedly felt good in the 3-1 win over Mainz, registering two of his nine Bundesliga goals so far this season. The subsequent 4-0 hammering in Amsterdam against Ajax — Dortmund’s record Champions League defeat — left a different taste. Only goalkeeper Gregor Kobel got passing marks and Haaland was, for once, a disappointment.
Poor one-off performances can happen and Haaland was looking forward to shrugging off that bad night and making amends against Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga and then Ingolstadt in the DFB-Pokal, but the fates and the doctors have determined that his hip pointer injury needs time, rest and healing.
To many fans these days, Haaland is Dortmund and indeed represents the very personification of what the club believes itself to be: emotional, relentless but also stylish and with a flair for the dramatic and the unexpected.
The truth is that sum of Dortmund as a whole is a lot more than just their admittedly unique star striker. Football is a team game after all. We were reminded yet again on Saturday that in Jude Bellingham, BVB have brought in another top talent. I believe it’s important to stress that last part and it’s something Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke spelled out on a recent appearance on the Sunday Doppelpass panel discussion show on Sport1.
Watzke made the point that talented youngsters could choose to go to any club, but it is at Borussia Dortmund — see: Haaland, Bellingham, Giovanni Reyna, Jadon Sancho — where they have enjoyed the expertise and superior guidance to take them to an even higher level. Bellingham’s background also owes much to Birmingham City, but he chose Dortmund as a destination for a reason, and it has nourished him as a footballer.
Watzke is banking on some of the world’s finest young players continuing to view BVB as the perfect place to develop their careers in a city where everything you do really matters — and it looks like tremendous fun to boot. Who wouldn’t want the rush of playing in front of the famous Yellow Wall? When the time comes for his prize asset to leave, Watzke hopes and expects to already have the next Haaland on board.
Let us not forget Dortmund find themselves just a point off Bayern Munich’s pace at the top of the Bundesliga table, and the two big guns are on a collision course on Dec. 4 at the Signal Iduna Park in the first Klassiker of the league season. It’s crucial that BVB stay at least within touching distance of the Rekordmeister ahead of such an important occasion.
BVB’s next two Bundesliga opponents are FC Cologne at home (Saturday, 9:20 a.m. ET; stream live on ESPN+) and RB Leipzig away (Nov. 6, 1:20 p.m. ET; stream live on ESPN+). You might think the second one would hold more fear than the first but for whatever reason, Dortmund are Leipzig’s angstgegner — the great German word for “bogey team.” Their past seven meetings have produced five Dortmund wins and two draws.
Cologne prevailed in Dortmund last season and have improved themselves with a more up-tempo style under Steffen Baumgart. They will not be pushovers.
Either way, against Cologne and Leipzig, BVB must find a way without Haaland and likely with Donyell Malen once he recovers from the stomach virus that laid him low earlier this week. The Dutchman, signed from PSV Eindhoven, to be charitable has been patchy since moving across the border. There have been decent moments but a paucity of brilliant all-around performances.
Eventually, a time will come when Borussia Dortmund have to make do without Erling Haaland — permanently. Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
Other striking options are thin on the ground at the club’s Brackel training ground. Youssoufa Moukoko is still learning and has been injured; Ansgar Knauff remains fast and promising but raw; while Steffen Tigges, honest trier though he certainly is, could hardly be thought of as BVB’s striking future. When you’re built around a superstar like Haaland, it’s difficult to work in others who can share that lofty stage.
Plus we have to remember other key players have been on the casualty list — especially Reyna, Raphael Guerreiro, Mahmoud Dahoud and, on Saturday, keeper Kobel, too. Emre Can had to step up and take his first ever Bundesliga penalty in Bielefeld, not someone you would normally associate with such duties.
This is when a coach truly earns his corn. Over the next few weeks, Rose will have to cleverly tweak his depleted team to find advantages against opponents like Cologne, Leipzig and Ajax again. Mind you, individual quality helps greatly and Dortmund still have an abundance of it. Just look at the classy goals by Bellingham and Mats Hummels from the weekend.
A player like Thorgan Hazard, who won the Tuesday Pokal tie against Ingolstadt after coming on, can also have a more significant role to play. But the fact remains that some day, Haaland will leave for good. The time is now, to show that Dortmund can still put a consistent run together in his absence. For the long term, Watzke must hope his successor has already been identified.