This article is part of our Bundesliga Watch series.
Borussia Dortmund head into Champions League action Tuesday on the back of their best run of form all season. Three straight wins against Freiburg, Mainz and Stuttgart have propelled the club up to midtable after a treacherous opening half of the Bundesliga campaign and now fans are starting to believe that the season may not yet be over.
So, why the sudden turn around? On the face of it, the squad has changed little to that which struggled pre-winter break. Only the acquisition of Kevin Kampl from Red Bull Salzburg and underachiever Ji Dong-Won's move to Augsburg have made slight changes to personnel. Instead, the most important bit of business was done internally, to everyone's surprise, as star man Marco Reus penned a contract extension until 2017 despite a plethora of rumors that he was ready to move on.
Meanwhile, despite all the rumors, captain Mats Hummels' decision to also stay showed the unity and loyalty that runs deep through the group. A recent great string of results in the wake of those positive developments suggest that the darkest days may now be over and Dortmund's season-long dogmatic faith in coach Jürgen Klopp is finally paying off. Indeed, perhaps the club's belief in what the manager is doing is the reason for the team's turnaround more than anything. How many top sides in Europe would stick with their manager if the side was bottom in January?
Looking at the statistics, a huge reason for Dortmund's recent upturn in form has been a return to their free-scoring ways of previous seasons. The team only scored 18 goals in their first 19 games of this season but have now scored 10 in their last three. Klopp had a big problem over the summer in replacing the void left by departing top-scorer Robert Lewandowski and hoped that the signings of 15-goal Hertha Berlin top-scorer Adrian Ramos and 22-goal Serie A top-shooter Ciro Immobile would be the answer.
However, the two frontmen have only yielded five league goals between them all season, and Ramos hasn't found the net since September. Klopp gave them plenty of playing time but has recently appeared to cut his losses. They've been benched and faith has been put into converting winger Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into the out-and-out striker the team requires. The Gabonese international has come good so far, netting four goals in the last three games and spearheading a league revival. Aubameyang's league tally is up to nine goals as it stands, an impressive 32 percent of his team's goals, a contribution only seconded to Alexander Meier's at Eintracht Frankfurt.
It's not just the strikers that are a factor in the turn around. It seems like some time ago since Dortmund were in the midst of a late-summer/early-fall injury crisis, but the toll it took on the team's preparations and on the start of the Bundesliga campaign cannot be underestimated. Reus, Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Nuri Sahin and Neven Subotic were just a few key players that had long periods on the sidelines. This left a much weakened side to begin the campaign, the starting midfield was reliant on inexperienced fringe players such as Milos Jojic, Matthias Ginter and Kevin Grosskreutz, leaving the side looking unbalanced and toothless. Although the big name absentees later returned, their progress was slow, many took time to be match-fit and came into a team low in the table and lacking in confidence.
However, now that a vast majority of these players are back fully fit and in form, Dortmund seem far more threatening. Gundogan first returned to play a bit-part role in October but has improved steadily in recent weeks and netted Friday, while key man Reus has hit fine form in February, and after scoring Friday is on a three-game goal streak. A lot of Reus' success has been down to his willingness to shoot, as the midfielder's strike-rate averages 3.4 per game, the highest at Dortmund and fourth-highest in the league. If the offense as a whole can keep performing at such levels, the team should really start flying up the league.
Yet despite all the reasons that can be touted for their erratic Bundesliga form, the Dortmund Champions League story has contrasted significantly. The competition has been an entirely different world, as Dortmund were ruthless in the group stage of the competition. They finished group winners in style, achieved a goal difference of plus-10 and goal-shy Immobile netted four goals in six. Perhaps because of the lack of league pressure, or because of a knack of stepping up their game against better quality opposition, Dortmund were the polar opposite of the side propping up the domestic table at the tail end of 2014. Now, with their league form coming together, they face Serie A champions and runaway-leaders Juventus in the second round on Tuesday.
The Turin side are on a 15-game unbeaten league streak and their only defeat since October was a loss on penalties to Napoli in the Italian Super Cup. Yet no one in their right mind would write off Dortmund's chances of winning the tie or even having a shot at the entire competition. That's a huge testament to a side that sits only 11th in their domestic league and shows that there is still real belief that this group of players has the quality to achieve big this season.