My piece for the Boot Room on Borussia Dortmund’s chances of challenging Bayern this season
Borussia Dortmund’s start to the 2016/17 season has been disappointing.
In a season in which Bayern Munich, regardless of their quality, are going through transition, the expectation was that Dortmund would provide a strong challenge for the Bavarian side.
One of those losses came at the hands of the Bundesliga’s surprise team so far this season, the newly promoted Red Bull Leizpig. Red Bull are currently Bayern’s sternest challengers, and are level on points with the champions, but have yet to face the juggernaut. The other teams above Dortmund include TSG Hoffenheim, who drew with Bayern at the weekend, and Hertha Berlin.
History suggests the cream usually rises to the top and these teams will eventually fall off but Red Bull in particular seem capable of pulling a Leicester, as it were. Dortmund, meanwhile, have their own issues to sort out.
The laundry list of outgoing and incoming changes at Signal Iduna Park makes the slow start somewhat understandable. Dortmund finished 10 points off the pace last season in second place but three key faces left during the summer. Any team would have found it difficult to replace the varied talents and experience of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Dortmund’s approach saw the club bring in players who have failed to live up to their full potential, like Mario Gotze and Marc Bartra, and wonder-kids like Ousmane Dembele. The effect has been mixed.
The stand-out performer so far from the new signings is Raphael Guerreiro, the Portuguese left back who has been extremely impressive in a midfield role. Both Dembele and fellow wonder-kid, Emre Mor, have shown flashes of their potential while Bartra put in some decent performances early on. Gotze and Andre Schurrle haven’t been hugely disappointing so far but more is expected from two well-established senior internationals. Marco Reus’ constant injury issues are further cause for frustration and one can envisage a much stronger side when all the senior players are fit and firing. In total, seven new players have been brought that have played a decent role so far.
Tuchel has tried to rotate things to keep players happy and that has played a part in the early form. Those decisions will help keep legs fresh towards the end of the season, but also means players like Shinji Kagawa have yet to find their best form. Consistency across the board has been a key issue for Dortmund so far this season.
There have been good signs from some players though, with Christian Pulisic continuing to progress well and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang retaining his prolific form. Aubameyang’s goals are the cherry on top of a league-leading 25 goals, to go along with 11 in the Champions League.
That attack hasn’t suffered too much after the departures but there is work needed in the defense. The 12 goals conceded in the Bundesliga is the worst among those currently in the top seven although it is keeping in line with the 34 goals conceded in 34 games last season. More time to adapt to Hummels’ departure and the new talents to adjust defensively should fix that issue.
The January transfer will be key for Dortmund, as Tuchel will need to streamline the squad without ridding it of too much depth or quality. A place in the knockout rounds of the Champions League has already been secured and a decent run will be expected in the German Cup. Bayern will also be fighting on three fronts and their focus on the Champions League might leave them vulnerable domestically.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side has only shown glimpses of the imperious form that was on display under Pep Guardiola. The Italian’s track record in league campaigns isn’t the greatest and that has shown in Bayern’s rocky start. The league leaders will visit Dortmund when league play resumes and that game will show how much work needs to be done. It is only 10 games into the season, 11 after the derby is complete, but if Bayern find a groove it will be hard to catch up.
There is a long road ahead and certainly no need for Dortmund to panic. This is a youthful squad shorn of a few leaders, both through transfer and injuries, so some growing pains can be expected. Dortmund has the talent to surpass those ahead of them not named Bayern Munich. If the likes of Gotze, Schurrle and Reus provide the quality they are capable of then the end of the Bundesliga season will be a lot closer than previous seasons. A win against Bayern in their first meeting would be a good way to start. Dortmund bought for the future over the summer but they can get something out of the present as well.
For the third time this summer? Why leave Dortmund? I just don’t get it. I think Mkhitaryan will end up staying, especially with Gundogan gone, but I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if one more big star leaves. Maybe Monchi should go to Dortmund.
My piece on Dortmund Continually Losing Their Best Players
Borussia Dortmund’s resurgence this season has been a positive for German football. It’s not all good news for the Ruhr valley club though.
Bayern Munich still clinched a fourth consecutive title with one game to play but were kept on their toes by Dortmund. As was the case after Dortmund’s back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12, Bayern has responded to the challenge by looking to weaken their title rivals.
The Guardian reported at the end of April that club captain, Mats Hummels, was interested in joining Bayern. The elegant central defender would be returning to his hometown and his previous club. Those are certainly logical reasons to want to leave Dortmund, in addition to Bayern’s status as perennial Champions League contenders. Hummels would become the next star to follow the not so recent trend of leaving the Ruhr for supposedly greener pastures if he joins the club. His former teammates, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski, played a major role in Dortmund’s previous successes then left the club weakened upon joining Bayern.
The theme has continued with other stars such as Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus, Pierre Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan being linked to clubs across Europe, and Bayern, at various times in recent seasons. While none have shown similar intent as Hummels, the nature of today’s transfer market means anything is possible. According to the Daily Mail, Gundogan’s recent injury has put a potential move to Manchester City on hold.
All that transfer talk leads to one question. Why does Borussia Dortmund continue to lose players? Or even more ominously, why do players consider leaving Dortmund?
Bayern’s rule in the Bundesliga has long been documented but Dortmund has been the one club to really challenge that dominance in recent seasons. Jurgen Klopp’s arrival in 2008 saw the club ascend to the status of challengers, then winners and even Champions League finalists. The disappointing 2014/15 campaign aside, Dortmund is the club that the current iteration of Bayern fears the most domestically. A stumble in this season’s Europa League campaign, at the hands of a Klopp-led Liverpool side no less, was another disappointment but the chance for silverware remains with the German Cup final against Bayern.
Dortmund has always been a side with talented players. The likes of Jan Koller, Tomas Rosicky, Lars Ricken, Andreas Moller, Jens Lehmann, Dede, Christoph Metzelder and numerous others worn the yellow and black. There is a history of winning too, with a Champions League title in 1996/97 and eight Bundesliga titles overall. A side with this history is not a stop-gap for players seeking big moves.
Thomas Tuchel has built a flexible, cohesive side with a mixture of youth and experience that can challenge regularly if given the chance. The increased financial lure of the Premier League poses one problem. The call of Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid present another. One can’t put all the blame on the players though.
Lewandowski was somehow allowed to join Bayern without a transfer fee, and it took two seasons for Dortmund to replace him. Gotze was closer to the end of his contract than was beneficial and may have warranted a bigger transfer fee had his release clause been adjusted or removed altogether. Hummels could leave on a free transfer next season but it appears Dortmund will be looking to avoid that as ESPN FC reports that he may sign new deal.
That would be good news for Dortmund, and German football. Bayern flies the flag regularly on the European stage but the continued rise of Tuchel’s side will improve the nation’s chance on that front. The Bundesliga has long been called a one-club league and Dortmund can, again, prove that is not the case.
Claiming a title within the next few seasons would prove as much and Dortmund can’t do that if they continue to lose their best players.
There are certainly situations where the pros or cons of a transfer can be weighed. A monumental transfer fee for a star that can allow for strengthening the entire squad is one such instance. Hummels’ potential transfer doesn’t fall under that category. There are few world-class defenders in their prime, and certainly few with similar skills as the German. Losing Hummels would be a bigger blow than losing Gundogan.
Dortmund are on the rise again, and certainly have the talent in the squad to replicate the successes of the mid 90’s and 2010 onwards. The managers and board need to tie up key talents to avoid potentially damaging losses and the players themselves must assess whether the grass really is greener. Gotze provides a decent example that the answer isn’t always yes.
Ending the season with a trophy would cap a generally successful first season for Tuchel. He will be hoping that he will have little to worry about in the transfer market beyond strengthening his squad.
I don’t get why this keeps happening to Borussia Dortmund. They need to do better in terms of handling contracts and/or release clauses or something, especially in relation to Bayern. Of all the other moves, Gotze and Lewandowski, Hummels is seemingly the most understandable because he’s going back to his hometown. What’s not understandable is his wanting to go back after his previous annoyance with Bayern after leaving and the fact that his team is very much capable of challenging them if he stayed. It’s not one of those cases where he won’t play, he definitely will but it’s still just weird. If Dortmund can get Gotze back, for cheap or really free, that softens the blow a bit but they don’t need help in attack.
Can’t state enough how great it is to see Borussia Dortmund doing well in Thomas Tuchel’s first season. It’s exciting to think what they will be like next season.
Yes, Dortmund seems to have the better future currently but I think Gotze would be swayed by working with Jurgen Klopp again. Liverpool has some solid talent as well and given some time they can be a force again. It’s a tough decision either way if that’s what it comes to for Mario Gotze
They have looked really good so far this year. Hopefully it continues.
Dortmund have looked really good to start the season. Hopefully it continues. The author below makes a good point about forward options but they may just look the youth squad or maybe even surprise everyone and go with a false 9. They don’t seem too worried about that currently.
Looking forward to a bounce back season from Borussia Dortmund. Looks like the stars are staying this summer so that’s a good start. Getting everybody fit and back to form will make them a worrying proposition for opponents again.
Good breakdown here of what Germany’s top teams need this summer.