With Michael Zorc confirming to Ruhr Nachrichten that Dortmund’s squad is more or less set in stone, except for some more players leaving the club, it’s the perfect time to take a look at the probable final squad, compare it to last season’s and take a brief look at some prospects from the youth teams.
1 Roman Weidenfeller (35)
38 Roman Bürki (24)
39 Hendrik Bonmann (21)
1 Roman Weidenfeller (36)
38 Roman Bürki (25)
39 Hendrik Bonmann (22)
Personnel-wise nothing changed here, even though some rumours were floating around that Thomas Tuchel and his staff weren’t perfectly happy with Bürki last season and had plans to replace him. Those rumours didn’t seem to hold any truth and, after some great games during the second half of the season, Bürki seems to have secured his role as Dortmund’s No. 1 between the sticks.
The problem, if you want to call it that, with Bürki was never his ability of saving shots or his aerial control of the box, but rather easy mistakes on the ball. Under Tuchel the goalkeepers are far more involved in possession and build-up play than they were under Jürgen Klopp and Bürki also had to adapt to that from his time in Freiburg.
As the season went on, Bürki got more and more confident on the ball and it also showed in the early friendlies this season that they’re working on that part of his game.
Another aspect lacking in Bürki’s game was his timing when rushing out of the box. Especially evident in the 5-1 loss against Bayern. Over the course of the season he still had slight mishaps here and there but generally seemed to improve this part of his game as well.
Weidenfeller’s improvements in those regards are even more impressive, considering his age, his limited technical ability and general unwillingness to leave his box too often for the most part of his career.
Of course, Bürki still has the edge over Weidenfeller in those (and most other) areas, but it’s good to have two goalkeepers willing and capable to engage in build-up play and act as a sweeper if needed. This takes pressure away from the centre-backs and creates a numeral advantage in the first line of play, which is important for Tuchel’s idea of possession play and to keep the constant combination play alive.
Third goalkeeper Bonmann will mostly feature for BVBII in the Regionalliga where he fights for his spot against the very talented German U19 international Dominik Reimann (19). The latter will unfortunately miss most if not all of 2016 with a shoulder injury he suffered on international duty at the Euros.
Another highly touted prospect is the only 15-year-old Luca Unbehaun who joined BVB’s U17 from Bochum this season, but he’ll need a couple more years to come close to Dortmund’s first team.
It’s good to see, however, that all these young goalkeepers (perhaps with the exception of Bonmann) are more than capable with the ball at their feet and suit the requirements of modern football perfectly.
Although the players haven’t changed the overall quality of goalkeeping improved compared to last season. Simply because the younger players keep improving. Even Weidenfeller bettered himself in some areas of the game.
4 Neven Subotic (26)
6 Sven Bender (26)
15 Mats Hummels (26)
25 Sokratis Papastathopoulos (27)
28 Matthias Ginter (21)
(4 Neven Subotic (27))
5 Marc Bartra (25)
6 Sven Bender (27)
24 Mikel Merino (20)
25 Sokratis Papastathopoulos (28)
28 Matthias Ginter (22)
Some formalities at first. Yes, Ginter didn’t play a lot at centre-back last season but it’s still technically his main position and he featured as centre-back in most of the friendlies so far this season. For the sake of comparison he’s mentioned in this category. To keep this article shorter every player is just mentioned once, even when he can cover way more than just one position.
Merino is included on this list because in most of the friendlies he played at the left centre-back position and German media weren’t shy to mention that Tuchel apparently sees him as an option in central defence. Subotic has been put in brackets because of his unfortunate injury and his likely transfer once he’s fit again.
With that out of the way let’s take a look at the footballing side of things.
Zorc, Watzke and Tuchel basically have replaced Hummels with Bartra during this window since Ömer Toprak (27) was too expensive for their taste. Toprak is likely to join Dortmund next season, however, due to a €12m buyout clause.
Bartra for Hummels makes some sense, although the latter is a far superior player as of now. Nonetheless Bartra can take over some of the playmaking in the first third from Hummels, as he already showed in preseason. Although his passing wasn’t always accurate, his runs with the ball were promising and the end product should get better once he and his team-mates develop a better understanding.
There’s even one aspect where Bartra is clearly superior to his predecessor and that is his speed. Especially with Borussia’s regular use of a high line this could come in handy.
Another great player in the build-up is Merino, but the 20-year-old still lacks the understanding of a proper defender and is often caught out of position in direct duels or loses his footing at inconvenient times. It seems like Merino will be more of a long term project at centre-back for Tuchel rather than an immediate hit, unless he improves dramatically in the coming weeks.
The two more experienced players in this position are Bender and Sokratis. The latter is coming off an otherworldly performance in the German cup final and “Iron Manni” keeps on improving in his new position. Either of them should complement a more ball playing centre-back like Bartra well, but it’s tough to see them both playing together regularly due to their struggles on the ball – unless Tuchel opts for a back three.
For Ginter it’s somewhat of a make-or-break year at Dortmund. While he is versatile and had some very good games at right-back, he hasn’t quite found his spot within the team. It’s tough to envisage him breaking into the team this year and with Toprak likely joining next season, Ginter might be on his way out soon. But the still only 22-year-old is undoubtedly talented and under the right circumstances he might make me eat my words.
The most interesting youth prospect at this position is Patrick Fritsch (17). The youngster already featured in BVB’s Europa League squad once, before a torn ACL prematurely ended his season. Fritsch is now back on the pitch with the U19 team and, if all goes according to plan, we might see the ball-playing centre-back train with the first team sooner rather than later.
At least on paper this might be the position where Dortmund weakened the most over the summer. Bartra is a smart buy, Merino has potential and the other guys might take a step forward, but Hummels’ presence will be dearly missed in every phase of the game. The whole team will have to help out here and take some pressure off the centre-backs.
3 Joo-Ho Park (28)
29 Marcel Schmelzer (27)
(3 Joo-Ho Park (29))
13 Raphael Guerreiro (22)
29 Marcel Schmelzer
Dortmund’s left side promises an interesting duel at a high level between Schmelzer and Guerreiro, although it’s not unlikely for Tuchel to find a way to play both at the same time. Joo-Ho Park, however, is expected to leave the club should there be a suitor for him.
In Guerreiro Dortmund have acquired an extremely smart, technical and quick left-back, who can also play a more central and creative role, as he did in the friendly against Sunderland.
With the club’s apparent lack of creative central midfielders it stands to reason that the Portuguese will continue to play as an inverted left-back or even regular central midfielder, which would allow him and Schmelzer to be on the pitch at the same time.
When playing as regular left-backs, the two could also share some minutes depending on the opponents. Guerreiro seems more fitting in the Bundesliga when the team has to break down deep-sitting opponents, while the experienced Schmelzer could be important in the games against bigger teams.
It’s tough to see either of the two getting benched regularly, however, because they’re just too good, but planning for a long season, it’s great to finally have two capable left-backs in the squad.
In Jan-Niklas Beste (17) Dortmund have another interesting talent within their youth ranks and the quick youngster is certainly one to keep an eye on.
The left-back position is probably the position where Dortmund improved the most at over the summer. Of course, they already had a very good defender in Schmelzer, but Guerreiro adds a different skill set and has all the potential to become a household name at that spot and in Dortmund.
26 Lukasz Piszczek (30)
(30 Felix Passlack (17))
37 Erik Durm (23)
26 Lukas Piszczek (31)
30 Felix Passlack (18)
37 Erik Durm (24)
Similar to the goalkeeper situation, not much has changed personnel-wise and, with Piszczek ageing and Durm struggling with injuries, it might be time to look for a new right-back soonish.
Passlack, however, looked strong against Sunderland at right-back. As we wrote in our analysis of him, this might be the position that suits him best in Tuchel’s system and the head coach himself stated after the game that Passlack has the potential to develop into a permanent option there.
It might be a little early for Passlack to get past the polish international in the pecking order this season, but there’s a chance he’ll get significant playing time this season, especially with Durm still injured and no date having been set on his return.
An honourable mention goes to Ginter, who played this position during the first half of last season. He’s most likely needed in the centre of the defence, but we might see the occasional cameo on the right side.
Besides Passlack there is another interesting right-back coming out of BVB’s youth teams in Dario Scuderi (18). After playing predominantly on the wing or up front just a season ago, Scuderi was transformed into a right-back and has been improving tremendously ever since.
He even impressed in his friendlies with the first team and if he keeps on improving we might not have seen the last of him with the first team.
Jacob Bruun Larsen (17) has already played a few more minutes with the first team and mostly at right-back. While he plays on the wing for the U19, his playing style could fit the right-back role under Tuchel quite well. If he gets some more minutes at this position and continues to improve defensively, this might be his way into the first team. Similar to Passlack’s situation.
The overall quality at this position stays more or less the same as last season, with Piszczek ageing but Passlack improving more and more. If Piszczek and Passlack stay healthy it should be enough, otherwise Tuchel might need to experiment with the likes of Ginter or Bartra at this position, which wouldn’t be ideal for the centre-back situation. It also might be an option to field Guerreiro there as an inverted right-back, but that’s just speculation as of now.
My expected first-choice defence for the start of the season with four at the back would be: Bürki, Piszczek, Sokratis, Bartra and Schmelzer.
And with three/five at the back: Bürki, Piszczek, Bartra, Sokratis, Bender and Schmelzer.