Die Schwarz-Gelben are finally back in Bundesliga action Saturday, against an opponent with many questions marks.
What is left to be said about VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund’s first opponents of the 2017/18 Bundesliga season? It was a mere two years ago that Wolfsburg hammered Dortmund in the DFB Pokal final and finished as runners-up in the Bundesliga, behind only Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. Much has changed since then.
There are questions across the board in respect to the Wolves. The team had an inconsistent pre-season and did not overly impress even in the matches they won. The two first-tier clubs they faced handled them with ease, Fiorentina and Newcastle United. Needless to say, Wolfsburg is not entering the new campaign with much momentum.
The same can be said for Dortmund. BVB have hardly impressed with their efforts on the pitch this summer. Certainly one can argue that Dortmund were fantastic against Italian giants AC Milan, but that is where the positive speak ends. The Black and Yellows underwhelmed against 2. Bundesliga members VfL Bochum and were unable to score against both Atalanta and Espanyol. Unquestionably, though, their poorest performance was a 3–2 loss against fourth-division side Rot-Weiss Essen.
What we do know: this match marks Wolfsburg manager Andries Jonker’s first full season in charge. How long he stays in that position, and if he can make it through an entire season, depends entirely on his squad’s results.
Jonker’s preferred formation since coming to Wolfsburg is a 4-2-3-1, with German international Mario Goméz leading the attack. In midfield, Wolfsburg fields two players who are loaded with potential but who both had a disappointing Rückrunde, Yunus Malli and Maximilian Arnold. Additionally, Wolfsburg added depth at forward this summer in the form of new signees Nany Landry Dimata and Kaylen Hinds.
Former Dortmunder Jakub Blaszczykowski and the newly acquired Ignacio Camacho add enough depth in midfield for Jonker to switch to a 4-4-2 if he desires, though he did opt for a 4-2-3-1 in Wolfsburg’s 1–0 DFB Pokal win against Eintracht Norderstedt this past Sunday. Riechedly Bazoer should also see significant time on the pitch in midfield, as will Josuha Guilavogui and Paul-Georges Ntep.
Defensively, Wolfsburg strengthened their roster with the addition of United States international John Anthony Brooks. Brooks is a solid centre-back who will have an immediate impact in the Wolves’ backline, but was recently injured and will be out for up to three months. Brooks’s running mate in the defensive centre will be VfL regular Robin Knoche, who has yet to live up to expectations.
Former FC Augsburg player Paul Verhaegh will line up at right-back, opposite from Wolfsburg’s top defender, Yannick Gerhardt. It should be noted, however, that although Blaszczykowski is officially listed as a midfielder, Jonker will occasionally play him as a full-back or wing-back. Adding depth to the back four will be new transfers William and Ohis Felix Uduokhai.
Dortmund enter this season with a plethora of injuries (not to mention suspensions). Add André Schürrle to the list of casualties, as he will now be out for up to four weeks. To say that we have not seen the best BVB XI is an understatement. New manager Peter Bosz knows this all too well, but for the time being, he will have to make do with the players he does have.
Bosz might have his Dortmund squad line up in his preferred 4-3-3, with none other than 2016/17 Golden Boot winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spearheading the offence. Newly acquired Maximilian Philipp would typically be a backup option to Aubameyang with a fully healthy Dortmund side. It is highly possible we could see Philipp start on the wing for the Black and Yellows, especially with Schürrle now out. United States superstar Christian Pulisic should be Auba’s other partner in attack.
Dortmund’s midfield could line up in a variety of combinations. CAM Mario Götze is almost back to 100 percent fitness following his metabolic disorder and should be available for action. With Julian Weigl out until at least September, it is likely that new arrival Mahmoud Dahoud will start at CDM, with Shinji Kagawa, Nuri Şahin, and Gonzalo Castro filling out the midfield.
The BVB back four are an interesting group. Dortmund stalwart Lukasz Piszczek is slowly starting to show signs of a decline. As a result, the expected acquisition Jeremy Toljan might see his fair share of playing time in 2017/18. Sokratis and Marc Bartra will man the centre of defense, with new signees Ömer Toprak and French phenom Dan-Axel Zagadou joining the rotation.
Left-back is a true mess for Dortmund. Marcel Schmelzer, Raphaël Guerreiro, and Erik Durm, three players who can play the position, have all been battling injuries. The Zagadou experiment at left-back was largely unsuccessful throughout pre-season but, with Bosz declaring Schmelzer out and Jan-Niklas Beste playing with the under-19 team at the weekend, the 18-year-old will likely have to do against the Wolves.
Marco Reus, Ousmane Dembélé, André Schürrle, Erik Durm, Marcel Schmelzer, Raphaël Guerreiro, Julian Weigl, and Sebastian Rode have all been injured at some point this summer, or, in Dembélé’s case, suspended for conduct detrimental to the squad. You could almost field a Bundesliga title-contending starting XI with the names mentioned above. Overcoming these absences will be Bosz’s first challenge as the season gets underway.
Despite both Dortmund and Wolfsburg having numerous injuries, here is what to expect on Saturday:
Both sides love possession. Wolfsburg and Dortmund ranked eighth and fifth respectively in this area during the 2016/17 Bundesliga season. Possession does not always equal success though, as Marco Reus reminded mighty Bayern Munich following their 2016 Champions League second-leg loss to Atletico Madrid, despite having the ball for more than 60 percent of the match.
It’s what you do with possession that matters. Dortmund was fantastic last season, tallying the second-most shots on target per match (6.0) in the Bundesliga, while Wolfsburg finished in the bottom half of the league, ranked eleventh (4.2 shots OT pg).
Peter Bosz loves to play attractive football. He certainly favours giving the fans their money’s worth. The focus, however, should remain the same as last season: find Aubameyang in front of goal. Similarly, Wolfsburg will use their build-up play to feed their superstar striker, Mario Goméz, in the box. This match may come down to which of these two attackers has the better performance.
Dortmund conceded far too many goals against lesser competition last season, which resulted in points being carelessly dropped. This prevented BVB from ever challenging for the Bundesliga title. By now it has been well established that the Bundesliga is not decided in the head-to-head matchups between Bayern and Dortmund but rather the matchups between Dortmund and Darmstadt. Bayern do not drop points against inferior competition. This is something Dortmund must correct if they are to realistically challenge Bayern this season.
Prediction: Peter Bosz wins his Bundesliga managerial debut as Dortmund win a tightly contested away contest in Wolfsburg 2–1.
Dortmund: Bürki – Piszczek, Bartra, Sokratis, Zagadou – Götze, Dahoud, Castro – Pulisic, Philipp, Aubameyang
Coach: Peter Bosz
Wolfsburg: Casteels – Verhaegh, Knoche, Uduokhai, Gerhardt – Bazoer, Camacho – Blaszczykowski, Didavi, Hinds – Gómez
Coach: Andries Jonker