Even with two competitive games already in the books, one can argue the 2017/18 campaign will only start in earnest at the weekend for Borussia Dortmund: The Supercup remains a glorified friendly and the first round of the cup against 1. FC Rielasingen-Arlen of the Verbandsliga Südbaden (6th division) was never going to be an obstacle for the Black and Yellows. With pre-season in the books, let’s take a look at winners and losers in Peter Bosz’s team.
Loser: Felix Passlack
What a difference a year makes. In his first full summer with the senior team last season, Felix Passlack impressed with mature, solid performances that he capped off with a strong performance against Bayern Munich in the Supercup. He was aggressive, daring and a nuisance for his opponent, which famously resulted in a swing from the Frenchman who was inexplicably (well, not really) not sent off for the transgression.
Even after a quiet second half of the season under Thomas Tuchel, the 19-year-old was expected to make a big step in his second pre-season. Only that didn’t happen. Passlack looked timid in his passing, offered few forward runs down his right flank, was error-prone in terms of his positioning and generally didn’t look the part of a player who should be getting any significant minutes in the first team this coming season.
One could go as far as saying Passlack has been the most disappointing player throughout pre-season, which makes right-back perhaps the weakest position on the entire roster. Lukasz Piszczek has little competition for the starting job but showed a steady decline in recent seasons. That should have been the opportunity for Passlack to break through, but he has failed to grab it by the horns.
With local paper Reviersport and sport magazine Kicker reporting 1899 Hoffenheim full-back Jeremy Toljan has piqued the club’s interest, Dortmund may well decide Passlack simply doesn’t have what it takes to play an important part in the team’s immediate future. A loan deal could then beckon for the 19-year-old.
Winner: Dominik Reimann
It’s been a while since Dortmund produced an exciting goalkeeper talent from their academy, with 90s cult hero Stefan Klos the last homegrown ‘keeper to play for BVB — and even he only spent the final two years of his youth football career with the club. Dominik Reimann may finally be able to break that long spell of drought going by his performances in pre-season.
The Germany under-20 international played more minutes than most will have anticipated and looked the part in his appearances. Crucially, he is a “modern” goalkeeper, meaning he likes to do his part in build-up plays and is comfortable with the ball at his feet. Reimann also chips in with quick throw-outs and goal kicks, producing counter-attacking situations in a friendly win over AC Milan in China. He also showed decent shot-stopping qualities, for example in a 2-2 draw with VfL Bochum.
Roman Bürki isn’t going anywhere and Roman Weidenfeller will provide cover from the bench, but, if nothing else, Reimann has staked his claim for the back-up role after the 37-year-old’s retirement. After an injury-riddled first year in senior football at the under-23 level, this was an important pre-season for Reimann.
Loser: Erik Durm
Erik Durm is listed here not because of poor performances, rather for sheer lack of minutes he’s been available for. For the umpteenth time in a row, a multitude of physical ailments has seen the versatile German miss a number of matches and weeks of training sessions. Between near-chronic knee issues and hip problems, the 2014 FIFA World Cup champion (despite not playing a single second in Brazil) is not a reliable member of the team at this stage of his career.
Durm was also a loser of the coaching change, given Tuchel was a big supporter of the 25-year-old, often using him at right-wing-back in important games throughout the last season. Given Bosz almost exclusively operates with a back four, Durm’s most natural position no longer exists.
Winner: Jan-Niklas Beste
Continuing with our full-back theme, Jan-Niklas Beste is the player who arguably profits the most from the current injury situation at left-back. Marcel Schmelzer, who presumably faces a fight against time to make the team for the Bundesliga opener against VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday, and Raphael Guerreiro have missed most/all of pre-season, opening the door for others to put their foot in it.
Newly acquired Dan-Axel Zagadou looked okay in most friendlies but showed a 6-foot-4 behemoth of a centre-back belongs in the middle rather than the flank — especially when that behemoth is 18 years old and has no experience at full-back.
Jan-Niklas Beste was the next man up and did reasonably well in his first few steps into the professional game. This came as a surprise even to those who knew the 18-year-old before two weeks ago, seeing as he hadn’t exactly shined for the Bundesliga-winning under-19 side last season.
A good technician who’s already tasked with taking corners thanks to his solid delivery, Beste obviously has a long way to go, having yet to face a formidable winger for 90 minutes at left-back, but so far, so good. With Guerreiro out for a few more months, Beste may well find himself in the squad every now and then, which is a lot more than he’d have dared to dream of when pre-season started.
Loser: Ömer Toprak
Let’s preface this by stating Ömer Toprak has not played badly in pre-season. On the contrary, he’s been solid to good and, in this writer’s opinion, arguably even the best of the team’s three potential starters at the position.
However, the summer signing is clearly behind the duo of Marc Bartra and Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the mind of Peter Bosz, who’s used that pairing together for both competitive matches and most of the second half of pre-season. In contrast, Toprak has played mostly with Neven Subotic or Zagadou.
Given the Turkey international was Tuchel’s preferred signing last year, in a deal that failed to materialise due to the fee demands of former club Bayer Leverkusen, Toprak might rue joining the Black and Yellows are year too late.
Then again, it’s the middle of August and a lot will happen between now and the end of the season. Thanks to his calmness on the ball and solid one-on-one defending, Toprak will still end up being an important member of the squad. For now, however, he’s lost out in the three-man battle for two starting spots.
One positive to note is his sense for tradition. With Sven Bender going the other way to Leverkusen, Toprak has taken the baton in the department of broken bones, suffering a nasal bone fracture in a friendly against RW Erfurt. With this rite of initiation out of the way so soon, the 28-year-old should feel right at home at the Westfalenstadion.
Winner: Nuri Sahin
Nuri Sahin might well be a winner by default thanks to the unavailability of Julian Weigl, who’s steadily working his way back from a fractured ankle, but the veteran midfielder has other things working in his favour, too.
For starters, he’s been able to stay healthy himself, which is never a given for Sahin. The Turkey international has missed a staggering 34 games through injuries in the last two seasons alone, and struggled to see much of the field even when healthy thanks to the ever-imposing presence of Weigl at the base of Dortmund’s midfield.
Sahin has also looked decent in the actual games under Bosz, sniffing out opposing attacks with his positioning and intelligence — which is important given his lacking athleticism after all those injuries — and playing delicate long balls to quicken his own team’s passing sequences.
There’s little doubt Weigl will be one of the most important players yet again when he returns, but, after a good pre-season, Sahin’s presence serves as a comforting sight in a team with a surprising number of question marks going into the real start of the campaign.
Loser: Joo-ho Park
We’ll make this short. When your coach doesn’t know your name after you’ve been relegated to train with the reserve team, you’re a pre-season loser. Our own Stefan Buczko asked Bosz about Park, who looked dumbfounded and asked who “Juro Part” was (this writer still thinks it sounded more like Yoghurt Hard, but we’re splitting hairs).
Winner: Christian Pulisic
Finally, the Boy Wonder, Captain America or however you want to call him, Christian Pulisic, has enjoyed a strong pre-season and looks to have taken another step forward to
world domination becoming one of the best attacking players in the Bundesliga.
Dazzling with dribbles and chipping in with goals, among them the first official goal of Dortmund’s campaign in the Supercup, the young man who’ll only turn 19 a month after the Bundesliga opener has been one of the most impressive players on the team to this point.
As he’s aiming to become more of a full-time player after often playing best off the bench last season, Pulisic could well become one of the most important players, too, if Ousmane Dembele gets his wish and Dortmund get their pot of gold.
Not accounting for transfers to replace the wantaway Frenchman, BVB would have to rely heavily on the individual skill of Pulisic especially during the ongoing acclimatisation to Bosz’s playing style. This writer would go as far as calling Pulisic the single most important piece to the puzzle in the early parts of the season.