This isn't the way things were supposed to go for Borussia Dortmund this season. After finishing a distant second two years in a row, this was supposed to be the season that BVB put in a real challenge for the title again.
Yes, Robert Lewandowski was gone, joining Mario Götze at Bayern, but Dortmund had absorbed big losses before and gone on just fine. Ciro Immobilie and Adrián Ramos were coming in to help replace him, after all, and surely a manager as smart as Jürgen Klopp could figure out how to make it all work, right? Add in the celebrated return of Shinji Kagawa and the additions of Matthias Ginter and Ji Dong-Won, as well as getting Ilkay Gündogan back from a long-term injury, and things looked fairly promising.
It seemed that things were getting off to a strong start when Dortmund triumphed over Bayern in the German Supercup, but it wasn't long before warning signs started flashing. BVB was thrashed by Bayer Leverkusen in their Bundesliga season opener, then struggled to beat Augsburg and Freiburg in their next two matches. Then the losses started. Mainz. Schalke. Hamburg. Cologne. Hannover. Bayern. Frankfurt. Hertha. Now Werder Bremen is added to the list. Nine losses, already two more than they suffered all of last season. All those losses, plus three draws and just two more wins in the league have left Dortmund drifting in the relegation zone, a place they've spent far too much of the season in.
What went wrong? How did Dortmund get here? How could a team this good and as dominant as they've been suddenly look so broken and, at times, even helpless?
Injuries are almost always a culprit in such slides, and they've certainly played a role in what's happened to BVB. Key players such as Marco Reus, Sven Bender, Mats Hummels, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Jakub Blaszczykowski have all missed stretches of the season with various injuries, making it difficult for Dortmund to settle in to a "best" starting lineup and gain some consistency in their campaign.
Age has also played its part in this nightmarish season. Klopp has had to rely on Sebastian Kehl far more than he'd probably planned to, and the 34-year-old midfielder hasn't always held up well to the ever-faster Bundesliga. The same goes for Roman Weidenfeller, whose performance level in goal has seemingly fallen off a cliff, forcing Klopp to turn to Australian goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak recently despite Langerak's relative inexperience and lack of ceiling as a top-level goalkeeper.
At least some of the fault lies with Jürgen Klopp himself, though. At times he's too stubbornly stuck with plans and tactics that aren't working, or players that aren't performing. For example, Erik Durm performed admirably at left back while Marcel Schmelzer was out with a broken hand, but despite Schmelzer's indifferent form, has played just once since the more senior player returned -- and that was at Durm's less-preferred role at right back.
Other such examples are scattered throughout the squad: Ciro Immobile started up top match after match while rarely playing well, but Adrián Ramos is seemingly pinned to the bench. Sebastian Kehl left to struggle as the defensive midfielder when Matthias Ginter could capably step up from his role as the reserve center back to give the veteran a rest. Ilkay Gündogan shoehorned in to a more attacking midfield role than he's generally comfortable with when Shinji Kagawa is right there to be used.
The club's struggles and Klopp's seeming refusal to adjust has also lead to a crisis in confidence and, seemingly, in motivation as well. Dortmund's defense has simply switched off too many times this season, causing them to drop points when it seemed they had a chance to eke out wins. They've managed to stay focused in the Champions League, taking thirteen points in a tough group, but that focus is frequently lost in the league, leaving them with just 15 points from 17 matches, scoring just 18 goals while surrendering 26 -- and leaving fans to wonder how things can possibly get turned around.