A season of highs and lows that ended on a bitter note is behind us. We look back at the 2022/23 season and focus on a major comeback. Here is Part 2 of the Season Review. (Click here for Part 1.)
The Asia Tour at the end of November takes BVB to Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. The squad is led by Marco Reus, Mats Hummels and Emre Can, with many U23 and U19 players complementing the travelling contingent, delighted to get their first experience with the professional squad. Sixth place seems a long way away in Asia: the Black & Yellows are welcomed euphorically everywhere. "Borussia Dortmund, welcome to Vietnam!" shouts an inhabitant of Hanoi when he recognises Borussia. Wherever the BVB players go, they are warmly received. The people wave at them, pull out their smartphones and quickly ask for selfies and autographs. But even in Asia, sixth place is lurking in the back of the players' and coaches' minds. In addition to sightseeing and marketing appointments, work is conducted on the training ground.
Score more goals
The preparations for the second half of the season begin shortly after the turn of the year. Now the things that the coaching staff have talked through in numerous discussions are implemented. Both defensive and attacking topics are addressed, with the poor goal return chief among them. One of the biggest topics throughout the three-week winter preparation period is the occupation of the penalty area "in order to increase the probability of scoring goals," as Terzic explains.
We can hardly believe our eyes: Sebastien Haller is also there when the players report for the performance diagnostics tests on the first day of the new year. The striker seems to have defied all the laws of nature and has seemingly returned to competitive sport in record time. We see no signs of his severe illness. He stands on the training ground, powerful and with great presence. He laughs and jokes with his team-mates, completes the sweat-inducing strength and mobility exercises and runs through the programme, which lasts for several hours, without problems. Haller also flies to Marbella.
The coaches and players want to lay the foundations for a successful second half of the season during the training camp. Blood, sweat and tears could be the motto for their time spent under the Andalusian sun. Terzic uses the 12 intensive training sessions to rehearse things. Many discussions – individually and as a group – also form part of the training camp agenda. As do two friendlies. The first takes place against Fortuna Düsseldorf. BVB claim a 5-1 win, but that is of secondary importance on this day. The man wearing the number 9 shirt on his back stands on the edge of the pitch in the 74th minute, waiting to come on. Six months after his transfer, Sebastien Haller makes his first appearance in Black & Yellow. Team-mates, coaches, staff, opponents, fans and journalists all applaud the man who has beaten cancer. "It was a wonderful moment on the pitch. I've missed that feeling," he says afterwards. His coach adds: "We're proud that he has come through this in such a manner and that we've been able to experience this today."
The next friendly follows three days later. BVB run out 6-0 victors against Basel. And Sebastien Haller also contributes towards the result, the striker notching a hat-trick on his second appearance for the Black & Yellows. "It's the best-possible feeling: to come back, score goals, help the team and feel the improvement in my body every day. I couldn't have imagined anything better, neither for me nor for the team," he says. "We will try to keep going like this together. I hope that I can be effective and useful for the team."
The preparations have an effect and the ideas bear fruit; almost all the players are available and they raise the intensity on the training pitch. Everyone must battle for their starting place. When the Bundesliga campaign resumes at the end of January, Borussia Dortmund face Augsburg on home turf and start an eight-match winning run. The team quickly put sixth place behind them and climb up to second spot. Midfielder Julian Brandt flourishes, scoring a goal in four consecutive appearances and winning the Bundesliga Player of the Month awards for both January and February. Emre Can settles into his guardian role in defensive midfield and thwarts many attacks before they can even get near the goal. Left-back Raphael Guerreiro is deployed in midfield at times and his performances earn him the Player of the Month award for March. As he has done in the months beforehand, Gregor Kobel makes some strong stops to save his team. In front of him, Mats Hummels, Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Süle share the two central defensive berths. Whoever is needed is there. At times with strong sliding tackles, which have always been celebrated like a goal in Dortmund. Marius Wolf fares so well in the right-back berth that he becomes a Germany international. Jude Bellingham has an outstanding campaign at the heart of the midfield and is ultimately voted as the Bundesliga Player of the Season.
The return of Sebastien Haller seems to give the team a boost – both on a personal and a sporting level. The striker's ambition is infectious; on the pitch, he creates valuable seconds and space for pacey wing players Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen. Both players did not find the net in the Bundesliga before the turn of the year, but they flourish in the new year. Adeyemi drives opposing defenders to despair time and again with his sprints. He scores six times in the new year and notches five assists too. Opponents can't stop Malen either, with his nimble runs and changes of direction. He scores nine goals and seven assists in 2023 and is named Player of the Month for April.
Sebastien Haller improves from one game to the next. He plays his first competitive game for BVB against Augsburg. He is on the pitch for half an hour. The number of minutes he plays increases on an almost weekly basis. First as a substitute and then in the starting line-up. First he assists a goal, then he scores himself. He makes it 3-1 in the game against Freiburg, notching his first competitive goal for BVB in the process. On International World Cancer Day of all days. In front of the South Stand. Goosebumps.
"It was unbelievable how loudly the stadium chanted his name after the goal. A goosebumps moment, not only for Seb," said Julian Brandt following a match which was ultimately all about one thing: Sebastien Haller's goal. A cross from Guerreiro, a header – goal! "It means a great deal to him, it means a great deal to us," explained Edin Terzic. "We hope that it is the first of a great many goals."
The winning streak ends against Schalke of all opponents. Despite their dominance, BVB cannot get over the line in the derby and make the short journey home with only a point in the bag following a stalemate. But a week later, after a comfortable 6-1 home victory against Cologne, BVB go top of the table for the first time all season. The joy is short-lived, however. Next up for the Black & Yellows is a trip to Munich – and they immediately hand pole position in the table back to FC Bayern Munich following a 4-2 defeat.
Euphoria and disappointment
At this stage of the season, the mood alternates between euphoria and disappointment on a weekly basis: home games end in victory, while the team struggle away. Not only against Schalke, but in Stuttgart too. BVB lead the relegation candidates 2-0 at the break and are a man up too. The Swabians initially restore parity, only for Giovanni Reyna to score the supposed winning goal in stoppage time and prompt great celebrations. But VfB manage to level the score up once again, leading Gregor Kobel to speak of a "missed opportunity" afterwards.
Nonetheless, sporting director Sebastian Kehl is in a combative mood in the following days. "We want to become German champions," he says with a greater degree of clarity than at any previous point this season. BVB are still in second place, two points behind the leaders.