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 the final part 4, we take a look at the wingers and strikers.
Jacob Bruun Larsen
Born one day after team-mate Christian Pulisic in September 1998, Jacob Bruun Larsen is the youngest player to appear for Dortmund’s senior team this season. The Dane made his professional debut in the DFB-Pokal against Union Berlin at the height of the club’s injury crisis in October.
It would remain his only appearance so far, as he only made the bench for the Revierderby against archrivals FC Schalke 04 three days later.
A pacey dribbler with elite athletic tools, Larsen has been on a tear at the under-19 level, scoring 14 and assisting 13 goals in only 12 matches in the first half of the season.
Larsen made an impact on his senior debut, forcing Union’s Michael Parensen into an own goal with a spirited run into the box and a dangerous ball in front of the goal. However, his making Denmark’s Olympic squad — he was the youngest player in the entire tournament — arguably was even more of an accomplishment.
Outlook for 2017
He and Dzenis Burnic were the only two youth players to make the trip for the training camp in Marbella, Spain, indicating they’re expected to make the jump to the professional level soon. While it’d take another round of bad injury luck for Larsen to see the field in the second half of the season, he’s an intriguing prospect who, thanks to his athleticism, might fit best as a wing-back for Dortmund. Don’t be surprised if he goes on loan next summer, however.
Dortmund were widely applauded and teeth-gnashingly congratulated for signing Ousmane Dembele in the summer, and the first half of the season proved just how big a coup it was for the Black and Yellows.
Even if the 19-year-old Frenchman lacked a bit of consistency especially early in the campaign, there’s no question that his addition has been a slam dunk for Dortmund. Dembele is already one of the more important players on the team and can create danger on goal in every moment he’s on the pitch.
His loose hips and impressive lateral agility make him a matchup nightmare for defenders, who often have no other choice but to commit fouls to stop him. With five goals and a whopping 12 assists across competitions, Dembele has been productive despite decision-making arguably being one of the weaker points of his game to this point.
That serves as an indication of how much natural talent and instinct he has. Easily the best signing of Dortmund’s summer transfer window, Dembele is a human highlight reel and may well become one of the best players in the world.
His entire month of December was impressive, as the France international took over and dominated games for Dortmund. His new-found, more central role allowed him to menace opponents from the half-spaces.
Apart from some immaturity –diving and overreacting to challenges can be a problem — Dembele didn’t have many bad moments in the Hinrunde. Spending 90 minutes on the bench against Bayern Munich probably stung for the 19-year-old, even though it was down to Thomas Tuchel’s tactical plan and not his performances at the time in November.
Outlook for 2017
Dembele enters the second half of the season as a clear-cut starter for Dortmund, be it on the wing or in a more central role — especially should Tuchel opt for back threes. If he can find that last bit of consistency, the sky’s the limit for BVB’s No. 7. Expect countless rumours of a big-money move in the summer, but there’s zero chance Dortmund sell.
Emre Mor is just as or even more exciting than Dembele when he’s on point, but he’s infinitely more maddening when he’s not.
The Turkey international’s low centre of gravity and quickness make him an incredible dribbler, but his lacking awareness and questionable decision-making often undo his good work. Often he’ll run past three defenders with ease only to run into a fourth and lose the ball instead of finding the perfect moment to pass the ball.
It’s only natural that the summer signing needs more time than others, seeing as he came from the relatively uncompetitive Danish league, where he only played a few months for FC Nordsjaelland. He’s much more of a project than Dembele or Pulisic and that has to be considered when assessing his performances.
Importantly, Mor has made strides in his defensive contributions and counter-pressing. He’ll benefit from spending time with the team and on the training pitch.
Winning the ball against Marcelo and playing a perfect pass to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang behind Real Madrid’s last line of defence before Marco Reus’ group-winning goal.
Reus finishes off a brilliant counter-attack against Real Madrid. Dortmund finish top of group F pic.twitter.com/iZd4Npjphp
— Terje (@TerjeAFC) December 7, 2016
Even though it was perhaps a bit harsh, his sending-off against Hertha BSC in the Bundesliga for a shove against defender Sebastian Langkamp showed Mor’s a bit of a hot-head. He spends too much time arguing with referees and at times even retaliates when he feels he’s not being treated fairly.
Outlook for 2017
A bit buried on the depth chart, Mor will continue to find regular playing time hard to come by. His first season at the Westfalenstadion will most likely go down as a learning experience with appearances off the bench or in games of lesser importance — if those even exist.
Ahead of the season, there were rumblings Pulisic wasn’t happy with the number of new signings on the wings that could potentially reduce his playing time. Six months later, the American started five of six UEFA Champions League and eight of 16 Bundesliga matches. Lest we forget, it’s only been a year since he moved up to the pros from the under-19 level.
While not as visibly impressive as Dembele or Mor, Pulisic’s biggest plus in comparison with the other highly rated teenagers is his consistency and decision-making. With two goals and six assists across competitions, he’s been involved in a goal roughly every 140 minutes, more than solid numbers for such a young player.
His defensive contributions and movements off the ball are well-developed and still continue to improve, allowing Tuchel to trust in the 18-year-old even in important moments.
If his playing time in itself isn’t the highlight of his first half of the season, Pulisic’s important last-minute equaliser against FC Ingolstadt that turned an embarrassing afternoon into a merely disappointing one for Dortmund probably takes the cake.
There weren’t many singular negative moments for Pulisic, but his being taken off at half-time after an abysmal performance against Bayer Leverkusen showed he’s got a lot to learn still.
Outlook for 2017
Even with the returns from injury of Reus and Andre Schürrle, Pulisic should continue to get a healthy amount of matches. He’s been in impressive form in the friendly wins over PSV Eindhoven and Standard Liege, scoring in both matches and looking determined to win a regular starting spot in the Rückrunde. Expect annoying rumours linking him with Liverpool to continue and Dortmund to try and hash out a contract extension in the coming months.
As fans have sadly become accustom to, Reus wasn’t available for a bulk of Dortmund’s matches in the first half of the season, only returning from an inflammation of the pubic bone that had cost him Euro 2016 in the summer on November 22.
His absence was an underrated factor in the team’s inconsistent season to this point, as most pundits have focused exclusively on the sales of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gündogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Reus immediately showed what Dortmund missed in their No. 11 with four goals and six assists in only six matches to close out the Hinrunde.
Coming back with a bang against Legia Warsaw in the Champions League, Reus scored two goals and forced an own goal in his first match of the campaign.
Apart from missing 19 games through injury, his sending-off against 1899 Hoffenheim was a low point. Of course, he hadn’t done anything wrong and it was a terrible decision.
Outlook for 2017
The big question, as always, is whether he can stay healthy for a few months in a row. If he can, Reus is one of the two or three best and most important players on the team, adding elite scoring contribution and a certain flair to the team. However, he missed a number of training sessions in Marbella and fans know better than to expect fitness from Reus.
The new arrival that was met with the most scepticism in the summer, thanks to a club-record fee of €30 million, Schürrle’s first half year at the Westfalenstadion was an up-and-down affair.
The former FSV Mainz 05, Leverkusen, FC Chelsea and VfL Wolfsburg man started well, scoring in the cup against Eintracht Trier and providing both assists in the opening-day 2-1 win over Mainz. However, a knee injury forced him out of action for most of September and October.
He recently admitted to trying to come back too early in the Champions League meeting with Real, which set him back for the rest of the Hinrunde. Lacking confidence and having yet to get acclimated in new surroundings, the 26-year-old contributed to only one goal since September 27 and failed to open his own account in the Bundesliga to this point.
That said, Tuchel clearly trusts his former pupil in Mainz, as evidenced by his starts in important fixtures against Bayern, Schalke and Real.
His thunderous strike in the first meeting with Real won Dortmund a point and was arguably one of the goals of the first half of the season.
Missing almost half of the campaign to this point with injuries and failing to make much of an impact after a positive start to life at the Westfalenstadion.
Outlook for 2017
The winter break should serve as a restart to Schürrle’s Dortmund career. Finally healthy again, expect the Germany international to play a more prominent role in the Rückrunde. With Aubameyang away on international duty for Gabon at AFCON, Schürrle could get the nod over Adrian Ramos up front to start the second half of the season.
With 20 goals and four assists, Aubameyang has once again proved to be a lifeline for Dortmund this season. Much like Sokratis Papastathopoulos in defence, the 27-year-old has been the team’s only truly consistent performer up front.
A marathon man who rarely needs a break and has yet to suffer a real injury in more than three and a half years with the club, Aubameyang has developed into one of the very best strikers on the planet and saved his team time and time again.
Voted the Bundesliga’s best player of the Hinrunde by his peers in a survey by sport magazine Kicker, Aubameyang’s absence early in the second half of the season poses huge problems for Tuchel.
His four goals against Hamburger SV in November after …
… being suspended for violating team rules ahead of a crucial Champions League match against Sporting CP. There’s a line between being flamboyant and unprofessional, and that was the first — and, so far, only — time he crossed it.
Outlook for 2017
Aubameyang will look to follow up a strong Hinrunde with an equally strong second half of the season after failing to do so last year, when he only scored seven league goals in the Rückrunde. There will be never-ending talk about a transfer in the summer and there’s certainly a distinct possibility these will be the final six months in his Dortmund career.
Ramos is in the unenviable position of backing up a player who’s never injured and never wants a break in Aubameyang. In that regard, it’s unsurprising his numbers don’t jump out, as the Colombian has scored only three goals this season.
However, a deeper look at the statistics reveals the 30-year-old has actually been productive when given a chance, seeing as he scored those three goals in only five starts as a central forward. Those five starts also include the Bayern match, when he and Aubameyang both started up front in a rare 3-5-2 for Tuchel.
Ramos’ relatively low standing among fans probably stems from his being misused on the wings a few times too often. When given a chance in his natural position, he’s proved to be a more than capable alternative to Aubameyang.
Scoring the winner against Sporting during Aubameyang’s one-game suspension showed Ramos is a dependable back-up.
Having to play out on the wing in the disappointing 2-1 defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt in November made him a scapegoat among fans.
Outlook for 2017
Ramos is one of the more interesting personnel cases over the next few months. On one hand, he ought to be considered the favourite to start during Aubameyang’s AFCON exploits, on the other, Tuchel has confirmed he wants to leave the club for a big-money move to China. The most likely scenario: He’ll stay until Aubameyang comes back healthy and only then gets sold — the Chinese transfer window remains open until February 26.