Lucien Favre was the best Borussia Dortmund manager since Jurgen Klopp. His sacking from the helm of Signal Iduna Park comes at a bizarre time, with the club topping their UEFA Champions League group. Although results haven’t gone their way in the league recently, Favre was an outstanding coach for Dortmund and did not deserve the sack. This article will explore the legacy of Lucien Favre at BVB, and why Dortmund might regret sacking him in a few months time.
2018-19 – THE NEARLY YEAREmbed from Getty Images
2018-19 under Favre was the most fun I’ve ever had watching Borussia Dortmund. Playing in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, the Dortmund manager had the team clicking on all cylinders right from the very first day he arrived. Marco Reus had one of his best ever, relatively injury free seasons, and the announcement of 17-year old Jadon Sancho on the world stage set the Bundesliga on fire. Paco Alcacer up front was a revelation, breaking all kinds of records in his first few months of the club; while Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel formed the best midfield partnership in the league bar none, despite never having played together before. Everything Favre concocted worked, and the club were incredibly unlucky to miss out on winning the title, in what was only his first season in charge. Playing Raphael Guerreiro as a left winger and Julian Weigl as a centre-back were just two examples of Favre’s innovative thinking that helped to propel Dortmund to the top of the table throughout the vast majority of the 2018-19 season.Embed from Getty Images
One of the main reasons why Dortmund were so fun to watch in 2018-19 was the fact that the chemistry at the club was at an all time, resulting in goal after goal, game after game. BVB came from behind on several occasions with last-gasp winners, spearheaded by their “super-sub” Paco Alcacer, who couldn’t quite nail down a place in the starting 11 because of Mario Gotze’s overall play up front and chemistry with Marco Reus. The club even had solid performances in the Champions League, such as their 4-0 thrashing of Atletico Madrid. By Christmas, the title well and truly appeared to be in Dortmund’s hands. At one point, they had a nine-point lead. But then it all fell apart.Embed from Getty Images
Around January, Dortmund started to let things slip away. Christian Pulisic’s departure for Chelsea was an unnecessary distraction, especially considering he was the club’s third-choice left-winger at the time. Even worse, the centre-backs couldn’t gain a breath of consistency and Julian Weigl was forced into playing at the back far more than Dortmund fans and Favre himself would have liked. Bayern Munich started to pick up momentum, and BVB played out a 1-1 draw to Eintracht Frankfurt, despite completely dominating. After that match, Marco Reus got injured in the cup, furthering Dortmund’s injury woes. The team couldn’t get their act together and they suffered draws to Hoffenheim and Nuremburg, before crashing out of the Champions League to Spurs. But still, Dortmund had the points on the board. A last minute winner against Hertha Berlin meant that the team would be well and truly still in the fight by the time Der Klassiker came around, which ended in a nightmare. The club’s heavy defeat to the Bavarians killed any confidence they had, and Dan-Axel Zagadou’s crucial role in the back-four. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Defensive mistakes from Abdou Diallo and Manuel Akanji, by in large, cost Dortmund the title that year. That’s really hard to say. It’s hard to blame it on two players, because surely that can’t be true? But it was their mistakes that cost Dortmund against Bremen and Hoffenheim respectively, that cost Dortmund precious points in the final seconds of games. If Dortmund hadn’t suffered late goals to one of either Frankfurt or Hoffenheim, they would have won the title. If the club hadn’t suffered last minute goals to both Bremen and Augsburg that season, they would have won the title. That’s hard to take, but fans were still optimistic about the job Favre had done. The team were playing some of the best football they’d played since Jurgen Klopp, and they nearly won the title in his first season in charge. Unfortunately, by missing out on the title by two points, Favre always had an uphill battle from then on out to keep his job.
2019-20 – A YEAR OF INNOVATIONEmbed from Getty Images
Although Lucien Favre is not the only one in charge of this, Dortmund’s transfer business during the time of Favre’s reign in charge has been something quite special. Erling Haaland proved to be better than Aubameyang, Sancho proved to be better than Mkhitaryan, and Witsel proved to be better than any central midfielder Dortmund have had in the 2010s. 2019-20 was something absolutely remarkable for Dortmund though in terms of transfer business. They added Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt, Erling Haaland, welcomed the return of Mats Hummels, and secured Madrid’s Achraf Hakimi on loan for another year. This, coming after the arrivals of Delaney, Witsel and Alcacer in the Favre era, Dortmund were building an incredible squad, capable of winning the league. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Dortmund performed well in 2019-20, finishing second above Leipzig and Monchengladbach for another year, but it wasn’t quite as amazing as 2018-19. They also had Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich to contend with, who were just on another planet in 2019-20, even winning the UEFA Champions League. If Favre needed to win the league to keep his job, it just wasn’t going to happen with Flick in charge of Bayern. But still, Favre proved to be an innovative, forward-thinking manager, incredibly astute at recognizing the appropriate solution for a desperate problem. Dortmund’s desperate problem at the start of 2019-20 involved their struggles at centre-back. The aging Mats Hummels couldn’t cope with the heavy responsibility on his shoulders to perform at the level he did his first time around with the club; and Manuel Akanji looked susceptible as always (just x5). Abdou Diallo, Omer Toprak, Matthias Ginter and Sven Bender had all been let go during Favre’s time in charge, meaning Dortmund only had Dan-Axel Zagadou to rely on at centre-back as a tertiary option to Hummels and Akanji. Zagadou was also battling with his own injuries, after faring very well in Dortmund’s nearly year in 2018-19. Fortunately, Dortmund’s stellar attack continued to perform.Embed from Getty Images
Dortmund’s attack got their defense out of jail so many times in the early stages of the season, but too many unnecessary draws at the start of the season due to those defensive woes meant their quest for the title was going to be nearly impossible. But still, the signs were positive and the football was immaculate. Marco Reus started the season in dream form once more, while Jadon Sancho was on par with Lionel Messi in terms of goals + assists. Favre was also up to his old tricks again – playing Achraf Hakimi as a right winger, converting Raphael Guerreiro back to left-back, and relying on Julian Brandt to be his saviour in central midfield alongside Axel Witsel as Delaney recovered from injury. But when the new year came around, Favre knew a change was needed at the back if Dortmund were to perform better, and so he switched to a back-three. This was a revelation at the club. The 4-2-3-1 had suited them so well in their nearly year, but the 3-4-3 was unlike anything else. It got the absolute best out of Dortmund’s wing-backs, Guerreiro and Hakimi, while solving Dortmund’s defensive issues. Zagadou was eventually reinstated ahead of Akanji, but the veteran, experienced defender Lukasz Pizsczek also did wonders to increase the back-line’s stability as a right-centre-back. The Dortmund legend’s omission from the side this season has perhaps been one of Favre’s grave mistakes in preparation of his sacking. Depending on personnel, the 3-4-3 formation would look like 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2, with Marco Reus playing mostly as the false nine until Erling Haaland took the wheel and Reus went out injured. Erling Haaland hit the ground running better than anyone would have dreamt of at Dortmund, and the club soared ahead of Leipzig again. Between the time of the formation change and the COVID-19 lockdown, the Black and Yellows won 10 Bundesliga games, played out 1 draw, and suffered just 1 loss. It was an incredible run of form, and again, the club were performing well enough in the UEFA Champions League. Unfortunately, one late goal to PSG in the Round of 16, and they were out. But following the return to action, some tip-top performances against the likes of Schalke and Leipzig helped the club earn second place for another year, and Favre could rest easy knowing his job was safe.
2020-21 – FAR FROM DISASTEREmbed from Getty Images
Although this season hasn’t been everything Dortmund fans would have hoped and dreamed for, no one was expecting the club to win the league off the back of Bayern’s stellar 2019-20 season. Lucien Favre’s side performed decently well in the league and unfortunately, he’s been sacked for only a 3 game-stretch of unimpressive results. BVB topped their UEFA Champions League group as expected, and were playing well in their 3-4-2-1/3-4-3 formation, despite injuries galore to their back-line. Erling Haaland has impressed yet again and so too have the likes of Jude Bellingham and Gio Reyna, showcasing just how much trust Favre has in giving youth players a chance. Some really key things have gone against Dortmund this season, most notably the departure of Achraf Hakimi, and the slight decline in form of Jadon Sancho. It cannot be understated how important Hakimi was to Dortmund in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, playing in a variety of different positions and contributing assists at a near Trent Alexander-Arnold level. The club should have done more to secure his signature for a long-term deal, and not relied on Thomas Meunier coming in to fix all of their problems. Meunier is a quality wing-back who has experience playing for PSG and Belgium, but he is nowhere near as dynamic (or young for that matter) as Hakimi. The Moroccan would have been such an important player again this season, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, and he left for Inter Milan for a relatively low fee. On the other side of the formation, Guerreiro struggled at the start of the year with injuries, causing BVB to rely on the productive but far less glamorous Felix Passlack. Finally, Jadon Sancho’s decline in form after not getting a move to Manchester has caused the club a great problem. The Brit is almost unquestionably Dortmund’s best player on paper, but he hasn’t shown it on a regular occasion enough this season, especially not in comparison to the incredibly high standards he set for himself in his first two seasons. When you add in the fact that the likes of Thorgan Hazard, Marco Reus and Emre Can haven’t been able to be game changers as per usual due to injuries, Dortmund have been fairly unlucky to be where they are at the start of the season. Despite all of that, they still topped their UEFA Champions League group, with the club performing well. This makes Lucien Favre’s sacking all the more confusing and Dortmund may very well regret their decision in only a few months time. When the club sacked Thomas Tuchel, it took them far too long to work out a proper solution. Peter Bosz was a nightmare and Peter Stoger wasn’t much better. The club could easily go through a similar phase this time around, with not many top quality German managers open for business at this time. With Favre’s sacking from the club, I worry that Dortmund could be in for another season in which they come up short of their expectations, finishing 3rd or worse in the league and crashing out of the Round of 16 in the Champions League again. It’s really unfortunate that the club pulled the trigger on their greatest manager since Jurgen Klopp. But Dortmund fans will never forget the time they spent with Lucien Favre. Thank you Lucien for two and half great years.
So there it is! Why Lucien Favre will leave behind a legacy at Borussia Dortmund. Be sure to check out more BVB articles, and share your thoughts on Twitter @mastermindsite or the comments below. Were the club right to sack Favre or should he have been given more time? Have your say the comments! Thanks for reading and see you soon.