Borussia Dortmund must overcome their inconsistency in 2017
28th December 2016. By Ryan Baldi.
With the Bundesliga in the midst of its winter break, Borussia Dortmund fans will be reflecting upon what has been a rather frustrating start to the 2016-17 campaign.
Despite the loss of key players Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan over the summer, BVB were once again expected to be the closest challengers to Bayern Munich after replacing the outgoing stars with a mixture of prodigious youngsters and experienced top-flight professionals.
Yet, with 16 games played, the Black and Yellows are sixth in the table, a full 12 points adrift of Bayern and trailing behind the likes of RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim. Six draws and three defeats have left Dortmund outside the Champions League qualifying positions as they struggle to find the kind of consistency which saw them collect 78 points in total last term – a tally which would have seen them crowned champions in all but four seasons throughout Bundesliga history.
After losing the aforementioned key players, Dortmund pulled off some of the most impressive business of the last window to secure 19-year-old French wonderkid Ousmane Dembele from Rennes, versatile Portuguese full-back-cum-midfielder Raphael Guerreiro from Lorient and teenage Turkish winger Emre More from Nordsjælland.
In addition to these hot prospects, they added a vast amount of Bundesliga experience in the form of Sebastian Rode, Andre Schurrle, and the returning Mario Gotze, while picking up ball-playing centre-back Marc Bartra from Barcelona for just €8 million.
With so many additions in a single transfer window, it’s understandable that coach Thomas Tuchel might require time to foster the requisite degree of harmony and cohesion to mount a serious title challenge, but, regardless, there can be no doubt that the former Mainz boss would have hoped to be in a much healthier league position by this stage of the season.
Injuries have also hampered BVB’s progression this term, with star forward Marco Reus ruled out of the early months of the campaign with an injury which precluded his participation in the European Championships over the summer. Guerreiro, Schurrle, Nuri Sahin, Sorkratis Papastathopoulos and goalkeeper Roman Burki have all endured spells on the sidelines.
At times, Dortmund have looked absolutely exhilarating, just as they had for the majority of last season. In beating Darmstadt 6-0, Wolfsburg 5-1 and Hamburg 5-2, BVB looked at their imperious, free-flowing best, and even produced a thoroughly professional and disciplined display to defeat champions Bayern 1-0 last month at Signal Iduna Park.
But reverses at the Hands of RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt have highlighted the Black and Yellows chronic inconsistency.
A favourable run of fixtures in the lead-up to the mid-season break appeared to present Dortmund with a chance to claw themselves back into the title picture, but three consecutive draws – against Cologne, Hoffenheim and Augsburg – have seen them slip yet further behind the pace setters.
In contrast to their topsy-turvy domestic form, BVB have been excellent in the Champions League, securing top spot in their group ahead of Real Madrid, Sporting Clube de Portugal and Legia Warsaw. After racking up 14 goals in their two games against Legia and recording home and away wins over Sporting, Tuchel’s men came back from 2-0 down to earn a last-gasp 2-2 draw at the Bernabeu in their final group game to snatch top spot; they will face Benfica in the last-16.
Despite the underwhelming Bundesliga results, there have been plenty of positives for Dortmund. The way Dembele has adapted to life in Germany to instantly become a key player has been the biggest bright spark, as the youngster continues to bolster his burgeoning reputation with weekly displays of unstoppable dribbling and creativity.
The teenage French international has scored five goals and registered 12 assists in 21 appearances. His mesmeric display against Hoffenheim two weeks ago – in which he created goals for Gotze and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – ensured that his side came away from the Rhein-Neckar-with a point despite twice going behind and being reduced to 10 men when Reus was sent off.
And in the 2-2 draw against Madrid, Dembele shone once again with his confident direct dribbling style. The European champions reportedly used the meeting as an opportunity to sound out Dortmund about the possibility of securing a first option on the player.
With an average of 4.1 successful take-ons per game – the most in the Bundesliga – Dembele is fast becoming the most exciting player in Germany. If he continues to develop at his current rate, Dortmund will have a genuine world-class star on their hands in a few years.
After netting 39 goals last season, Aubameyang has picked right up where he left off, having already scored 20 goals in the current campaign.
The 27-year-old converted winger has become one of the most feared and sought-after strikers on the planet over the last 18 months. With his pace, vision and finishing ability, Dortmund always have a chance whenever he is on the pitch.
However, with the Gabonese forward having made no secret of his desire to someday play for Real Madrid, the reduction of Los Blancos’ transfer ban, which means they will now be able to sign players next summer, could be bad news for BVB.
The most important task for Tuchel in the second half of the season – aside from crossing his fingers and hoping the injury bug stays clear of his best players – is to find a level of consistency that will help them get back into the top four.
The highly-rated 43-year-old coach has favoured a 4-1-4-1 formation this season, but with his available personnel constantly changing, he has flitted between his first-choice set-up and a back three-based system in recent weeks.
It might be much easier said than done, but with the vast array of talent at his disposal, Tuchel must identify which of his players he intends to build his side around. Julian Weigl, the gifted 21-year-old playmaker, is one of the first names on the team-sheet, while Aubameyang, Reus and Dembele will, if fit, start the most important games together.
But the likes of Rode, Gotze, Shinji Kagawa, Gonzalo Castro and Schurrle seem less assured of their role.
The title might already be out of reach for them this season, but, with the right organisation and a little bit more luck, Dortmund should be able to secure Champions League qualification.