Borussia Dortmund have finished a turbulent campaign – described by Hans-Joachim Watzke as "the most difficult season since the near-bankruptcy" in 2005 – in fourth place, which saw the club achieve its most important objective: UEFA Champions League qualification. But the Black & Yellows only made it over the finish line by the skin of their teeth.
"One thing that will always remain the same: Borussia Dortmund will never fall," were the words being chanted by the visiting Black & Yellow faithful following the 3-1 defeat at TSG Hoffenheim. The fans appeared to understand that such a season – which began with the bomb attack of 13 months ago and the summer transfer speculation surrounding Ousmane Dembélé still hanging over the club; continued with an injury-laden Hinrunde and a Rückrunde initially hampered by the difficult departure of top-scorer Aubameyang; and ended with the achievement of the minimum objective – would require a more nuanced, critical evaluation.
"We're absolutely not satisfied"
"We'll conduct an intensive analysis. We're absolutely not satisfied," said Watzke following a season that has resembled a rollercoaster ride: the best start in the club's history preceded the kind of winless run that was last experienced in the 80s, prompting a change in coach. The new man kicked off with a 12-match unbeaten run in the league that saw the club climb as high as second – and now, following a dramatic finish, they still sit in fourth. At one point towards the end of Matchday 34, fifth-placed Leverkusen had narrowed the gap to only two goals and that could have become smaller had they not had a penalty overturned by the VAR in their game with Hannover.
"It wasn't comfortable, it was lucky," declared Sporting Director Michael Zorc as the curtain drew on the 2017/18 season, adding: "We had to overcome the number of problems you usually get over three seasons in the space of one."
"We got off with a slap on the wrist"
The match in Hoffenheim was a reflection of the season as whole. A pleasing first period saw two good chances for Raphael Guerreiro in the opening stages, which were both saved by TSG keeper Baumann, and a top chance for André Schürrle to level at 1-1, before Marco Reus eventually equalised at the start of the second half with his 99th Bundesliga goal. But it was hanging in the balance by the end. Hoffenheim scored twice to make it 3-1 and leapfrog BVB into third, while Bayer Leverkusen came dangerously close to closing the goal gap. "We got off with a slap on the wrist. Today was another reminder of the fact that we're not playing the kind of football that we actually want to play," said Julian Weigl. Nuri Sahin pulled no punches either: "We need to be very honest: this year we simply didn't deserve higher than fourth. In the end I'm happy we managed to get it over the finish line."
"...never again experience a season like this one"
Peter Stöger, who took over with the club in eighth and secured a fourth-place finish (Zorc: "He got results, stabilised the club and he fulfilled the remit that he was given"), will go down in the history books as the 41st BVB coach of the Bundesliga era and deserves the thanks of all Black & Yellows. The Vienna native said that "a new impetus could do the club good, and that this would be most easily injected by way of a new coach". Michael Zorc announced: "We will make some changes to ensure that we never again experience a season like this one." Boris Rupert