Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marc Bartra, and Neven Subotic are gone. Welcomed to the Westfalenstadion are Manuel Akanji, Sergio Gomez and Michy Batshuayi. All of this, and The Black and Yellows still have a match to play!
The return of Marco Reus. Will it be? So far, very little has been said confirming the return to the pitch of Dortmund’s best player. He is officially cleared to play from a medical standpoint. Based on the communication coming from BVB I would not expect to see number 11 in action for quite a few weeks yet.
Dortmund could certainly use a fit Reus as their once-feared attack has recently dried up like old grapes on a vine. With top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang enjoying his new surroundings at the Emirates, who will score the goals?
In the past six matches, Shinji Kagawa has been in excellent form, scoring three goals while assisting that same amount. His positioning and awareness have been outstanding, especially against Hertha Berlin and SC Freiburg, BVB’s two most recent opponents.
BVB has lacked any and all creativity since the start of the Rückrunde, struggling mightily to break down the opposition’s defence. Part of this falls on the players, but most of the blame goes to Peter Stöger.
Stöger’s lineups since becoming BVB manager have been questionable at times, last week being the ultimate head-scratcher. A midfield consisting of Nuri Sahin and Gonzalo Castro, two players who, in combination, don’t work as a catalyst for quick combinations, were exactly what Christian Streich and Freiburg wanted to see.
The opponents this week, 1. FC Köln, will no doubt be wishing for similar from their old boss. It is a homecoming of sorts for Stöger, and despite his sacking late last year he is still held in high regard by many supporters of the Billy Goats.
The danger with Köln is that they are in desperation mode. They can almost smell the safety of 16th place as they have literally risen from the dead in the past six weeks. In early December they looked a lock for finishing dead last in the Bundesliga. That has all changed as of today.
Köln have gone back to basics. They have applied similar tactics as were used during the 2014-15 season (their promotion season from the 2. Bundesliga) which resulted in not only the club staying up, but with some distance to the relegation places.
What are these tactics you might ask? Simple. Park four buses in front of goal. Bus-parking so intense that Jose Mourinho himself would be proud. Köln go on attack very seldom now and defend with every available body they have.
Since their climb from the “Keller” of the Bundesliga table began they have typically only attacked using intelligent, safe counters. This is something Dortmund, unfortunately, are still highly susceptible to.
Imagine a match where Dortmund have 70% possession, three times as many shots, and based on personnel, completely outclass their opponents. Sound familiar? Imagine also BVB losing that match 0-1 or drawing with their last gasp of air. Also, quite familiar.
This has become Peter Stöger’s Dortmund. The lack of creativity, constant back-passing between the centre-backs and keeper Roman Bürki, and inability to create space in the opponent’s crowded box has resulted in BVB becoming an average Bundesliga side.
BVB have had their share of injuries, there is no denying that. They still have more talent on a depleted roster than 80% of Bundesliga clubs. Stöger simply must get the lineup right this week, or he could be facing harsh consequences.
Dortmund appear a fragile unit mentally at the moment. A loss to the 18th-placed team in the league could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Even a draw would provide very little satisfaction as the Champions League places slip further out of their grasp.
We know what Köln will do. So, Herr Stöger, what are you going to do? Perhaps this week you will not have your best player, Mario Götze, come off the bench. Might I also suggest using the newly-acquired Michy Batshuayi at centre-forward?
Tactically, Batshuayi is far from ready to replace Auba, however, his athleticism and pace provide BVB with the best chance to score from that position. Using Batshuayi as a sub around the 65th minute would be the ideal scenario for his debut. Teenage sensations Christian Pulisic and Jadon Sancho will again occupy the wings.
Expect to see very little of Sahin or Castro this week, but rather, BVB’s two best midfielders outside of Götze, Shinji Kagawa and Julian Weigl. These three provide Dortmund with their best possible player combination in midfield.
This could finally be the week Manuel Akanji makes his Borussia Dortmund debut. Desperate for a talented, young centre-back, BVB now have one. His insertion into the lineup immediately provides more confidence than seeing Ömer Toprak.
The return of Raphael Guerreiro is expected against Köln. That would provide Dortmund with a massive upgrade at the left-back position. Sokratis and Lukasz Piszczek will round out the back line.
This match will be style vs stone. Köln will defend their goal as if their lives depend on it, rarely moving forward. An attack from the Billy Goats should only be expected if Dortmund provide them with that opportunity by losing possession or an ill-timed error in a dangerous area of the pitch.
Otherwise, expect a boring match until someone blinks. Dortmund will dominate possession yet again. Though, it matters not, if Götze and co. cannot find a way through the wall of humanity in front of Timo Horn. This is a must-win match for Borussia Dortmund, and they know it.
Prediction: 1. FC Köln 1:2 Borussia Dortmund
FCK: Horn – Sörensen, Jorge Meré, Heintz, Hector – Höger, Özcan – Clemens, Jojic – Zoller, Terodde
Manager: Stefan Ruthenbeck
BVB: Bürki – Piszczek, Sokratis, Akanji, Guerreiro – Weigl – Götze, Kagawa – Pulisic, Isak, Sancho
Manager: Peter Stöger