24th August 2016. By Ryan Baldi.
So close, yet so far: the 78 points that Borussia Dortmund accumulated last season would’ve been enough to win the title in all but four seasons in Bundesliga history. But despite this mammoth points haul, BVB still finished a full 10 points behind champions Bayern Munich.
It was the fourth season in a row that Bayern had claimed the Bundesliga crown, and despite Dortmund’s superb return to form under Thomas Tuchel last term, there was a distinct sense of inevitability about how the Bavarians were marching towards another title, long before the season reached its closing stages.
And before the tickertape had even been swept up from Bayern’s title celebrations, the 25-time Bundesliga champions swooped to sign Dortmund captain and star defender Mats Hummels, before the two sides had even faced off in the season-closing DFB Pokal final.
Of course, this was nothing new for Bayern. Indeed, they pulled a similar move three years earlier by meeting Mario Götze’s €37 million contractual buyout clause, and agreeing terms with the Dortmund youngster prior to the two clubs facing off in the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium. The following year, Robert Lewandowski swapped Signal Iduna Park for the Allianz Arena on a Bosman free transfer.
Further to the departure of Hummels, BVB have also lost midfield playmaker Ilkay Gündoğan to Manchester City, and last season’s leading assist-maker Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Manchester United.
So with the loss of three key players, and Bayern strengthening with the addition of teenage sensation Renato Sanches in addition to Hummels, how can Dortmund hope to close the gap on the Bundesliga champions?
Tuchel’s plan seemed to be to recruit a string of young, hungry and hugely talented players to add depth to the squad, with a view on them becoming future stars in Germany.
Mikel Merino was brought in from Osasuna in the Spanish second division. The 20-year-old midfielder is unlikely to see a huge amount of first-team football this season, but, when called upon, the youngster has the maturity, physicality and temperament to adapt quickly to top-level football, and will be expected to play a part as BVB juggle their domestic and Champions League obligations.
Teenage winger Emre Mor has been signed from Danish side FC Nordsjælland, and the confident speedster looks like having a huge future ahead of him. Denmark-born Mor represented Turkey at the recent UEFA European Championships in France, and the youngster looked a cut above many of his more senior team-mates. With his blend of skill, pace and supreme confidence, Mor will be unafraid of the giant leap in completion he has taken by joining Dortmund.
Portuguese left-back Raphaël Guerreiro was one of the revelations of Euro 2016, where he was the starting left full-back for Portugal on their historic journey to securing their first ever major international title. Signed from Ligue 1 side Lorient, the 22-year-old set the Black and Yellows back a hefty €12 million. But Guerreiro is widely regarded as one of the most promising young defenders on the Continent, and will be the long-term heir to fan-favourite Marcel Schmelzer in the left-back position.
The crown jewel of Dortmund’s young summer recruits is versatile French forward Ousmane Dembélé. Still only 19, the former Rennes player is possibly the best teenager in the game at the moment, alongside new Bayern signing Sanches.
Dembélé only made his professional debut in November 2015, but he quickly marked himself out as one of Europe’s elite talents, as he netted 12 goals and registered five assists in Ligue 1.
Throughout last season, Dembélé was utilised in a host of different positions for Rennes, flitting between the right and left wings as well as playing centrally as a number 10. He was able to do this so effectively because, unlike the vast majority of footballers, Dembélé is truly two-footed. So much so, in fact, that he prefers to strike free-kicks with one foot, and takes penalties with the other.
This ambidextrousness also makes the teenager a greater threat when dribbling, as he is able to change direction at speed, and is just a comfortable moving to his left as he is to his right. Dembélé’s superior dribbling skills were on display in a match against Manchester United on Dortmund’s pre-season tour of China. The gifted Frenchman left Luke Shaw in his wake and outfoxed Marcos Rojo to the extent that the Argentinian defender ended up on his backside, before crashing a rocket of a shot in off the post.
And in addition to the young up-and-comers, Dortmund have added a handful of experienced players to balance out their squad.
Spanish international centre-back Marc Bartra has been brought in from Barcelona for the bargain price of €7 million. Although the 25-year-old may be a level below Hummels in terms of overall quality, he is stylistically similar to the German in that he is confident with the ball at his feet and can instigate attacking manoeuvres from the back with accurate forward passes, meaning that Tuchel will not have to overhaul his system following the loss of his former captain.
World Cup-winning winger André Schürrle has been signed from Bundesliga rivals Wolfsburg for around €30 million. The former Chelsea player has the pedigree to come straight into BVB’s starting eleven, and his pace and finishing ability will make him a goal-threat to any opponent.
In a reversal of the usual dynamic, Dortmund have also managed to snare a couple of Bayern players this summer.
Firstly, there is Sebastian Rode. The 25-year-old impressed for Eintracht Frankfurt before making the move to Bayern in 2014. But playing time was hard to come by at the Allianz Arena for the former Germany under-21 international, and he has been snapped up by BVB for £10 million. He may not have the subtlety of finesse of Gündoğan, but Rode is a reliable and consistent performer, who will strengthen Dortmund’s spine.
The second player moving to Dortmund from Bayern, is the returning Mario Götze. After three years in Munich, Götze is returning to the Black and Yellows with his tail between his legs somewhat, and with a point to prove. Many Dortmund fans held a grudge against the World Cup-winner for the way he departed the club in 2013, so he will have his work cut out to win them over.
And Tuchel will be banking on Götze to rediscover his best form at Signal Iduna Park this season, as he will be relied upon to replace some of the creativity lost through Mkhitaryan’s move to Manchester.
Aside from the new signings, arguably Dortmund’s biggest success in the transfer market this summer was holding on to superstar striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Gabonese forward was heavily linked with moves to Manchester City and Real Madrid earlier in the transfer window, but he will be staying with the Bundesliga runners-up for at least one more season. And they’ll need him to replicate the kind of form that saw him net 39 goals in all competitions last season. Along with Marco Reus, Aubameyang remains BVB’s most important attacking player.
And the new season will begin with the likes of impressive 20-year-old midfielder Julian Weigl and 17-year-old American prodigy Christian Pulisic more experienced than they started the last, and even more prepared for the high expectations upon them
Bayern ran away with title last season, and, with their nearest challengers losing three key players, they will be expected to do the same this time around.
But Dortmund have made some astute and progressive purchases during the off-season. Under the tutelage of the ever impressive Thomas Tuchel, they will be prepared to rebuild and recommence their fight for Bundesliga supremacy.