Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund shows his badge to the crowd after scoring a goal for Der BVB.
This weekend in football featured some high profile failings. Bayern Munich and Chelsea lost. Manchester City beat United 6-1. Lionel Messi missed a penalty. And in all that, one team that had been weird all year returned to normal.
This past Saturday, Sevilla made headlines all over the world for their shutout of Barcelona at the Camp Nou in a 0-0 draw. Unfortunately, the argument and fight between Cesc Fabregas and Frederic Kanoute has made considerably more headlines than the magnificent performance of Javi Varas, but the actual football was as stunning as the extracurricular activities. Lionel Messi missed a penalty, putting the ball right into the body of Varas to give him one of what seemed like two dozen saves.
Sunday got a little weirder. In England, Manchester City absolutely obliterated cross-town rivals Manchester United in a 6-1 thumping before Queens Park Rangers defeated nine-man Chelsea 1-0 in a match where Chelsea got better as players were sent off. Things continued to get crazy in La Liga, as Levante defeated Villarreal to go top of the league, ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Udinese continued their great form in Serie A, winning once again to stay top of the league; the Zebrette sold three of their four best players this summer and purchased cheap, unknown replacements. In Germany, Bayern Munich lost their first match since opening day, falling 2-1 to Hannover 96.
The weekend's results all made little or no sense to those who follow football extensively, and it was probably even weirder for those who follow the game casually. However, these are exactly the kinds of results that have become commonplace for Borussia Dortmund this season.
Last year, Der BVB were far and away the best team in Germany. With Bayern Munich dealing with injuries and Louis van Gaal's seemingly desperate attempts to keep his job with odd personnel decisions, Dortmund had the title all but locked up before the winter break. After a period of footballing decline and financial instability, Jurgen Klopp had completed a three-year rebuilding project, taking the German giants from the brink of relegation and financial peril to a title and the Champions League.
In the summer, one major piece of the team departed, as Turkish international playmaker Nuri Sahin failed to resist the temptation of a move to the Bernabeu. 20-year-old Nürnburg star Ilkay Gündogan, who has since made his debut with Germany's senior side, was purchased as a replacement. Additionally, captain and central midfielder Sebastian Kehl was finally getting healthy. Mario Götze, the now 19-year-old gem of German football, started to integrate into the first team and began to draw Lionel Messi comparisons. The drop-off for BVB should have been minimal.
Instead, star striker Lucas Barrios got injured at Copa America. Gündogan has been a decent contributor, but has failed to take over Sahin's spot on a permanent basis. Kehl has looked very much off the pace. They haven't looked exactly like the Dortmund of last season.
However, they have been far from poor. They've actually been the better team in almost every single one of their matches. In all three of their early season Bundesliga losses, they have had a majority of the possession and created more chances than their opponents. The same was the case in their UEFA Champions League loss to Olympiakos in mid-week, where they should have been up 3-0 before the Greek powerhouse scored a goal. They've been incredibly unlucky, and it's always been obvious that it was not a matter of if, but when Dortmund would snap out of their funk and start playing like the team that easily won the league last season.
That time finally came on Saturday, as they steamrolled Cologne 5-0. In a weekend where everything went absolutely mad and none of the results made sense, one big team finally found their footing and produced the magic they've always been capable of. Shinji Kagawa, the deadly attacking midfielder who has missed sitters all season, finally got on the scoresheet with a brilliant finish. Robert Lewandowski looked every bit the part of an adequate Lucas Barrios fill-in with his two goals. Left back Marcel Schmelzer added a stunning goal of his own, and even Kehl got in on the action with a goal.
Neven Subotic, who has been shaky all season after attracting interest from the biggest clubs in the world, was absolutely flawless. Just days after putting in a poor performance against Olympiakos, it would be nearly impossible to pick out a single instance in which he was not exactly where he was supposed to be on Saturday.
Star winger Jakub Blaszczykowski, frozen out by the emergence of Götze, shined in his 45 minutes on the pitch. Gündogan and another up and coming young star, 18-year-old Moritz Leitner, also put in great performances off the bench. Everyone who stepped on the field for Dortmund played to the best of their ability and they looked like a team that was completely in sync. Cologne were completely overmatched, and Lucas Podolski looked more and more visibly frustrated with his teammates as the match wore on. It was as close to a perfect performance as anyone will watch this season in football.
Dortmund now sit in second place in the Bundesliga, just three points behind Bayern Munich. With a must-win Champions League home match against Olympiakos looming, they're getting back into top form at exactly the right time. The footballing world is going crazy, but Borussia Dortmund is returning to normalcy.