Although Borussia Dortmund’s last game was a 5-1 bashing to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, it is important to note that it was their first loss of the season to the current Bundesliga Champions as they sit 2nd in the Bundesliga. This loss shouldn’t smear any of the progress that Thomas Tuchel has done with the Black and Yellows this season. As Tuchel prepares for a return to Mainz, his Borussia Dortmund side will look to piece together what could be a glorious season for them.
Tuchel has not scrapped the grinding ‘gegenpressing’ system implemented by his predecessor, Klopp, but has looked to improve on it with some minor adjustments in a much calmer and conducive fashion. Dortmund still hunt down the ball with vigour but Tuchel has brought in a system which appreciates ball possession more as Dortmund are no longer as direct as they used to be but still treasure quick transitions. This system has proved vital and has seen the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Shinji Kagawa become key players in the final third.
Tuchel has also integrated an aura of co-dependence within the squad in which Marco Reus is no longer seen as the most vital cog in the lineup. Jurgen Klopp seemed to be too willing to rush the German International back into the starting line-up after returning from injuries as defenders sought him out and went in hard on him. Now, Reus has become a luxury rather than a necessity as he still adds a great deal to the side but on the evidence of matches before the Bayern game like, a 3-0 win against Bayer Leverkusen, some may have been forgiven for not noticing he was on the bench.
Matthias Ginter has been employed at right-back and has thrived as his searching crosses have been catalyst for a few of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goals while his ability to link up with his winger should make him a mainstay in the position. It is intriguing to watch him play with Jonas Hoffmann as Hoffman is not your traditional touchline-hugging wide-man but Ginter’s constant overlapping runs allow him to tuck inside and join in on Dortmund’s build-up play in the middle.
Tuchel’s preferred centre-back duo is Sokratis and captain Mats Hummels as the former is a grafting, hard-tacking defensive player while the latter is tough in the tackle and elegant on the ball providing a strong defensive partnership. However seeing Neven Subotic on the bench could prove weird for some Dortmund fans as he has long been the stoic and battling presence by Hummels’ side. The left flank has been occupied by seasoned German international Marcel Schmelzer who is a fullback who enjoys roaming forward but will need to ensure security in the defensive side of his game.
Dortmund have a plethora of talent in midfield but 20 year-old Julian Weigl who is running the rule in defensive midfield could be one of the stars of the season. The Bundesliga plays host to a wide range of young talent and with Weigl being snapped up from the lower leagues of German football, it is amazing that he has managed to settle in their midfield so quickly. Reports in the German media say that Dortmund were scooped by bitter rivals Schalke for Tuchel’s former player Johannes Geis from Mainz but Dortmund unearthed a talent in Weigl from 1860 Munich.
Weigl is like an assassin as he goes about a hard and dirty job in a clean and unassuming manner making hard challenges and distributing the ball neatly. His slight size doesn’t prevent him from putting in strong defensive shifts week in and week out. He is the perfect partner for Ilkay Gundogan who has rediscovered his best form and is the crafter and schemer of Dortmund’s midfield. Gundogan needs a partner that allows him to dictate play by not limiting him while also covering for him defensively and Weigl does this perfectly. It will be interesting to see if Sven Bender manages to regain his place in the side from the young upstart.
Further forward, Kagawa and Mkhitaryan have the brains and technique to instigate plays and give Dortmund a sharper edge in the final third. Their link-up play with the striker Aubameyang can sometimes seem like a scene from a Nike Joga Bonito advert with the grace and poise that is used in the attacking phase. Their seamless interchange in positions and smarts allow Aubameyang the time and space to score goals. They are always careful to play the ball on the ground as they know that is best for them and their striker.
Hoffman supports them well as he can drift inside to overload the central areas and grab the attention of markers while also supporting Aubameyang well in the box. Reus is arguably the most talented player in this Dortmund side but he needs to be managed well so he can be able to grace pitches for longer periods of the season instead of being on the sidelines hampered by injuries, Tuchel seems to be trying to do this. Adnan Januzaj has been signed on loan from Manchester United and has blessed Dortmund with a few examples of his immense talent and it will be interesting to see if he can work his way into the starting eleven and be more consistent with his performances.
He has the graft and dedication to link-up with his industrious midfield with his back to goal while also being able to ghost into the box and finish scoring chances. His game has become well-rounded since moving central as he has constantly called on his initiative in this incredibly demanding position.
Thomas Tuchel has only tinkered with a squad which is very similar to last season’s while also proving that he has the backbone to make the big decisions at the club. Allowing Kevin Grosskreutz and Jakob Blaszczykowski to leave while dropping Neven Subotic and Roman Weidenfeller for Roman Burki proved that he wasn’t afraid to challenge the figureheads of the dressing-room after a disastrous season in which they punched well below their weight. After their first big defeat of the season against a major rival, Tuchel must seek to re-energise his side and prevent a drastic decline before his return to Mainz.