The month-long hiatus from professional football Germans know as “Winterpause” offers a good opportunity to look back at the first half of the season.
In this series, we’ll look at every player who appeared for Borussia Dortmund since the start of the campaign in August, assessing their performances and providing an outlook for 2017.
In part 1, we take a look at the goalkeepers and full-backs.
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” an old saying goes. Of course, it’s a bit of a cliché, but even those hold some truth. It’s definitely true for Roman Bürki, Dortmund’s first-choice ‘keeper. The Switzerland international has yet to receive his due recognition from a wider audience, even though German magazine Kicker rated him as the third-best ‘keeper in the Bundesliga so far this campaign.
The 26-year-old has played on a high level throughout the calendar year, but particularly in the first half of the 2016/17 season. As head coach Thomas Tuchel put it in September, Bürki has developed “as a person, as a character, as a goalkeeper and as a player.”
Despite ever-changing defensive lineups in front of him, he has become a steady presence in Dortmund’s goal, not making a single mistake that led to a goal in the first half of the season. Conceding 14 goals in 15 starts, including five clean sheets, don’t sound like overly impressive numbers but, given the way his side have shipped goals since he’s been out with a broken hand, they are to be viewed in a different light.
Bürki was the best player on the pitch in a 5-1 win over VfL Wolfsburg that sounded much clearer than it was. Without his heroics against the likes of Julian Draxler and Mario Gomez, among others, Dortmund could easily have drawn 5-5 or even lost the match.
Seeing as he has been flawless between the sticks and much-improved on the ball, the only blemish on his campaign is the broken hand he suffered in the 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in November. The injury kept him out for the rest of the Hinrunde, costing him seven matches across competitions.
Outlook for 2017
Bürki enters 2017 as the clear-cut No. 1 goalkeeper for Dortmund and his performances have been so good that the club should not entertain thoughts of bringing in a potential challenger as much as a capable back-up depending on Roman Weidenfeller’s situation.
However, with Bürki recently saying a return for the first match of the year against Werder Bremen would present a best-case scenario as he’s working his way back from his injury, the Swiss’ health bears watching during the next few weeks.
Weidenfeller entered the season as Bürki’s back-up after doing well and showing himself to be content with stepping into the No. 2 role last season. Playing in the DFB-Pokal this campaign, his appearances were supposed to be limited. Many thought his last big hurrah came in the cup against Union Berlin, when he saved two penalties to save his side in a narrow shootout escape at home against the 2. Bundesliga side.
Then came Bürki’s injury and Weidenfeller stepped back into the spotlight, with mixed results at best. It’s too easy to pin it all on him, of course, with most defenders showing less-than-stellar form towards the end of 2016, but the 36-year-old has failed to keep a single clean sheet in seven matches as the first-choice ‘keeper, with Dortmund winning only twice.
His age is showing, with the 2014 FIFA World Cup winner beat from distance numerous times — shots the more athletic Bürki presumably would have been able to keep out. Weidenfeller also made a few individual mistakes, for example failing to come out of his goal with any conviction for the first goal in the 2-2 draw with TSG Hoffenheim.
His heroics in the cup saved Dortmund from embarrassment against a second-division side, but Weidenfeller’s performance in the UEFA Champions League against Real Madrid was arguably more impressive. The team’s longest-serving player rolled back the years with a superb shot-stopping performance and allowed his team to win the group thanks to a late draw.
Roman Weidenfeller let his inner Manuel Neuer out last night pic.twitter.com/6KaiWsoQSE
— waleed (@Tucheled) November 23, 2016
Outlook for 2017
Already the player with the second-most appearances for the Black and Yellows behind only today’s sporting director Michael Zorc, Weidenfeller’s next game will be his his 450th for Dortmund. Whether it comes against Bremen or in the cup against Hertha BSC in February, it is an amazing accomplishment that shows his loyalty and longevity.
That said, his career could come to an end in the summer. Weidenfeller is the only first-team player whose contract runs out in 2017 and even though the club will discuss an extension, according to Hans-Joachim Watzke, it would probably be best for all sides if the 36-year-old retired and took on a different role with the club.
Erik Durm missed the entirety of 2016’s summer pre-season with nagging knee problems that also kept him out of the Hinrunde until late in the year. Appearing in only three matches, with one start at right-wing-back against Cologne, it was a half-season to forget for the Germany international.
Returning from his knee injury and making the squad over Felix Passlack, even though that decision of Tuchel’s can be debated.
Missing most of the first half of the season.
Outlook for 2017
It’s all about staying healthy for a longer period of time. With Dortmund often playing back threes with wing-backs, Durm has a good shot at a healthy amount of playing time because of his athleticism and versatility to play on both sides.
Korea Republic international Joo-ho Park is what Germans unflatteringly call a Kaderleiche — “squad corpse” — a player who doesn’t feature in the club’s plans but is still on the payroll. Playing a grand total of 64 minutes in only two matches at the height of Dortmund’s injury crisis in autumn, the 29-year-old wasn’t even included in the Champions League squad.
Park wasn’t awful coming off the bench against Hertha.
Park was awful in his start against Ingolstadt.
Outlook for 2017
Dortmund would surely facilitate a transfer that would allow them to save Park’s salary, but the Korean told a news agency that he didn’t foresee any changes in the second half of the season. Under contract until 2018, he has every right to remain at the Westfalenstadion and earn more money than he would presumably make anywhere else. Footballing-wise, he’ll remain an afterthought.
Due to injuries and a prolonged vacation for Lukasz Piszczek after Poland’s deep Euro 2016 run in the summer, Felix Passlack opened the season as Dortmund’s starting right-back. Appearing in 13 matches across competitions, the 18-year-old’s playing time diminished as the year went on — his last Bundesliga match came on November 5.
It’s difficult to understand why Tuchel hasn’t relied on him much towards the end of the year. Passlack was solid and efficient, doing the easy things well instead of trying the spectacular. He ended the Hinrunde as the second-most accurate passer in the Bundesliga, indicating his risk-averse nature, which is completely fine for such a young player.
While we certainly enjoyed his performance against Franck Ribery in the Supercup, goading the Frenchman into a punch that should have resulted in a red card (blimey, where’ve we seen that before?), Passlack’s goal in the whacky 8-4 over Legia Warsaw made him the youngest scorer in Dortmund’s Champions League history.
Failing to make the squad (and later, the starting XI) from November onward, even though it’s hard to understand why Tuchel made the decisions.
Outlook for 2017
Passlack’s versatility and dynamism mean he should become a regular starter before too long, but whether that’ll be in the second half of the season is anyone’s guess. He and Durm probably fight over one spot for the most part, which is why it wouldn’t be too surprising to see one of the two leave the club (perhaps on loan) in the summer.
Often the oldest player on the pitch for Dortmund, Lukasz Piszczek’s first half of the season can be described as uneven. He improved towards the end of the calendar year, but the Poland international is clearly nowhere near the player he was during his heyday around 2012/13.
His athleticism has dwindled over the years, affecting both his contributions going forward and his defending prowess. Quick wingers can cause him a lot of problems, while he’s not the ideal solution at wing-back when Tuchel opts for a back three.
His experience and quiet leadership remain important assets, however, and Piszczek still represents the best option at the right side of defence for the biggest games, which was evident in strong showings against Real and Bayern.
Oddly enough, only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele have scored more goals than Piszczek’s three in the Bundesliga.
There wasn’t a singular bad moment for Piszczek during the first half of the season, but he seems to be ageing quicker than most of the other players on the team.
Outlook for 2017
Under contract until 2018, the Pole will turn 32 in June. He will likely remain Tuchel’s first option in important games, but don’t be surprised to see Durm and Passlack eat away at his playing time throughout the second half of the season. It wouldn’t be too shocking if Piszczek’s Dortmund career came to an end in the summer.
Marcel Schmelzer played a quiet, rather uneventful first half of the season. Defending well for the most part, even though Dortmund concede more goals through his left side of defence than from anywhere else (that’s also down to free-kicks) and providing his usual, unspectacular attacking contribution.
The 28-year-old hasn’t reached the lofty standards he set in the first season under Tuchel, arguably his best professional campaign yet. He’s been solid, but nothing more and hasn’t been able to settle down his younger team-mates in defence through his experience and calm nature.
Being selected team captain after the departure of Mats Hummels, Schmelzer received the kind of recognition and show of respect he’s been denied by Germany coach Joachim Löw for years. He is one of the undisputed leaders of the team.
Much like Piszczek, there weren’t many singular moments for Schmelzer on either the positive or the negative side. However, his suffering a muscle injury that kept him out for a few weeks and important matches, such as the Revierderby against Schalke 04, may explain why he’s not been able to be more influential in the first half of the season.
Outlook for 2017
Schmelzer will remain the first-choice left-back, even though you could see Durm, Passlack and Raphael Guerreiro (whom we didn’t include in part 1 because he played more matches in midfield) get the nod in a few matches to allow him some breathers.
For Dortmund’s captain, it’ll be about playing on a higher level with consistency, while his leadership could become more important as the matches do.
In Part 2, we’ll look at Dortmund’s centre-backs.