BERLIN (AP) — Borussia Dortmund’s success in the Champions League is giving it confidence it can recover its faltering Bundesliga campaign.
Dortmund defeated AC Milan 3-1 away on Tuesday to reach the knockout stage of Europe’s premier competition despite a poor start to what many regarded as the toughest group with big-spending Paris Saint Germain and Newcastle.
The German team lost 2-0 at PSG in its first game, followed up with a scoreless draw with Milan at home, but recovered with back-to-back wins over Newcastle before Tuesday’s win in Italy.
“It’s a real statement to qualify from the group already in the fifth match-day,” Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl said. “Not many believed we could do it.”
Part of the reason for that is Dortmund’s patchy form in the Bundesliga so far this season. The team ended a run of three games without a win in the league last weekend with a 4-2 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach, but had looked set for more disappointment after finding itself 2-0 down after 28 minutes.
Instead, hopes are high again after two consecutive wins including Tuesday’s success in Milan.
But Dortmund next faces a trip to unbeaten Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday — a team that has averaged more than three goals a game so far and is already 10 points clear of Dortmund after just 12 rounds.
Leverkusen leads 11-time defending champion Bayern Munich by two points. Bayern can move provisionally top on Saturday with a win at home over struggling Union Berlin — a team that hasn’t won any of its last 15 games across all competitions.
Leverkusen faced Swedish team Häcken away in the Europa League on Thursday.
Before that game, Leverkusen had won every match across all competitions this season with one exception – a 2-2 draw at Bayern in the fourth round of the league.
Since Xabi Alonso took charge of the team in October last year, Leverkusen has only failed to score in its own stadium once — against Dortmund last season in a 2-0 loss in January. That defeat ended Leverkusen’s five-game winning run.
But Alonso’s team seems to have more resilience this season — Leverkusen has the second-best defense in the league with 10 goals conceded compared to Bayern’s nine. Both teams are the only unbeaten sides after 12 rounds.
“I think we are more mature as a team this season, both with the ball and without the ball,” Leverkusen’s Ivorian defender Odilon Kossounou said, looking ahead to Dortmund’s visit. “It will be an open game. We will play the same way we have all season. I think if we stick to our strengths and respect the challenge, we can pick up a positive result.”
By CIARÁN FAHEY AP Sports Writer