The 2017/18 winter break may be shorter than usual, with new Borussia Dortmund head coach Peter Stöger having less than two full weeks to prepare his side for a Bundesliga clash with VfL Wolfsburg on January 14, but it’s still a slower time than usual.
Undoubtedly, many pages will be filled with largely baseless speculation on transfers the Black and Yellows may or may not make in order to improve on an ultimately disappointing first half of the season. The smart money in January transfer windows, however, is to not expect much to happen.
Stöger has already stated he doesn’t think new signings are necessary with a strong team in place and getting better through the returns from injury of a few key players.
After all, Dortmund already made no fewer than seven signings in the summer. But how have the new guys been doing in their first half-season at the Westfalenstadion?
Let’s take a look. We’ll sort the players by their reported transfer fees and give each an individual grade at the midway point of the season, taking into account their performances and the expectations their arrival was met with.
Andrey Yarmolenko, winger, 28, signed from Dynamo Kiev for €25 million
Performance stats: 1465 minutes in 21 matches, 6 goals and 5 assists
Expectations fulfilled? Partly
Yarmolenko had long been the target of Dortmund’s affections, with BVB finally being able to pull the trigger after the departure of Ousmane Dembele to FC Barcelona. The Ukrainian, a superstar in his country, arrived late in the window but got off to a strong star, scoring on his full debut at Wembley against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League. The then-27-year-old amassed two goals and four assists in his first five starts for the Black and Yellows.
During the team’s awful autumn, however, Yarmolenko sunk with the ship instead of keeping it afloat. Too often, his decision-making in the box has been lacking and without those moments when he takes a couple of touches too many, chances are his numbers would look much more formidable.
Coupled with his tactical deficiencies off the ball and in tracking back, Yarmolenko can be maddening to watch because he has so much ability but often fails to put it together. Seeing as Dortmund went for a finished product to replace the uber-exciting Dembele, those inconsistencies are a tad disappointing.
However, you have to take into account how late in the process he joined his team-mates.
Marco Reus’ presumptive return in February could spell trouble for Yarmolenko as a default starter, seeing as Christian Pulisic offers a more complete package than the Ukrainian. That being said, he should still see plenty of game time and perhaps even profit from a few spells on the bench, as it seemed at times as though he had played a bit too much in the first half of the season — having played 10 matches for Kiev before joining Dortmund as well.
Maximilian Philipp, winger, 23, signed from SC Freiburg for €20 million
Performance stats: 1068 minutes in 17 matches, 6 goals and 5 assists
Expectations fulfilled? Yes.
An eyebrow or two were raised when Philipp signed for a €20 million fee, but that is the going rate for goalscoring wingers these days. The former Freiburg man has proved the fee was warranted with a strong first impression that was sadly cut short by a complicated knee injury.
The 23-year-old is not the most flashy player and can go unnoticed if he doesn’t pop up on the score sheet, but he does the little things so well that his absence has been notable. Arguably the most tactically disciplined winger on the team, it’s not entirely coincidental that Dortmund kept seven clean sheets in games Philipp played as opposed to just one in the 10 matches he wasn’t involved in.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if his knee injury kept Philipp out of action the rest of the season. Even if he can return before the summer, how effective he could be would remain to be seen. At any rate, he’s a long-term building block.
Mahmoud Dahoud, midfielder, 22, signed from Borussia Mönchengladbach for €12 million
Performance stats: 894 minutes in 18 matches, 5 assists
Expectations fulfilled? No, but …
… perhaps those were too high? Dahoud was supposed to fill the large, and largely unfilled, shoes of one Ilkay Gündogan, and has not been able to do that just yet. However, Gündogan himself struggled even worse than Dahoud in his first year at the Westfalenstadion.
Having turned 22 on Monday, the Syrian-born midfielder was dropped for large portions of the half-season by recently dismissed head coach Peter Bosz for reasons largely unbeknownst to this writer — unless Dahoud had the most stubborn common cold.
Before that, he had showed his technical qualities with a number of nice assists, having picked up five in total, a more than respectable amount of production considering he played slightly more than a third of a possible 2430 minutes across competitions.
However, there are clearly some problematic areas in Dahoud’s game at the moment. He’s good for at least one or two head-shake inducing what-was-he-thinking losses of possession per game and quite obviously needs his confidence rebuilt from the ground up. In that regard, missing two golden chances to open his scoring tally for the season against FSV Mainz and Hoffenheim didn’t help.
Dahoud is too good not to be a vital cog in Dortmund’s long-term plans. The coaching change should help him seeing as Bosz clearly didn’t think too highly of the midfielder. With Mario Götze and Gonzalo Castro likely still out at the start of the Rückrunde, Dahoud should get his chances. This season could ultimately go down as more of a learning experience, however.
Ömer Toprak, centre-back, 28, signed from Bayer Leverkusen for €12 million
Performance stats: 1279 minutes in 18 matches, 2 assists, 2 bookings
Expectations fulfilled? No.
Toprak was supposed to come in and fill a leadership void left by Mats Hummels’ defection to Bayern Munich in 2016. For a myriad of reasons, the long-time Bayer Leverkusen defender was unable to do that.
That being said, Toprak wasn’t close to being as horrible as he’s been made out to be. This writer would argue he’s been at least on par with Sokratis Papastathopoulos and better than Marc Bartra, for instance, not that that is too high a praise.
Bosz’s odd decision to reinstall Neven Subotic over Toprak in his last few games in charge tells you more about the Dutchman’s desperation than the two players, and it’s no coincidence an outsider restored the pecking order differently. Toprak, who was a top-five centre-back in the Bundesliga for years, has the quality to improve Dortmund but perhaps not the personality to do that in a difficult moment for the entire team.
Toprak is probably Dortmund’s most complete centre-back on the roster, a better and more imaginative passer than Sokratis and a more efficient defender than Bartra. As such, it stands to reason Stöger will continue to count on the Turkey international. The situation could change if FC Basel’s Manuel Akanji were to join the fold, but that seems unlikely as of this writing.
Jadon Sancho, winger, 17, signed from Manchester City for €7,84 million
Performance stats: 16 minutes in 2 matches
Expectations fulfilled? Yes.
Because nobody should’ve had any expectations from a teenager moving to a senior side. Sancho is a long-term project and has hinted at his qualities in the UEFA Youth League with three goals in five appearances and a beautiful assist for the under-23 team in the Regionalliga.
Sancho will continue to develop in training and get the occasional bench appearance or play for the U23, with significant first-team minutes an indicator for a bad injury situation more than anything else. Turning 18 on March 25, there’s no rush. A loan move seems unlikely, too, as Dortmund will want to control his development as closely as possible.
Jeremy Toljan, full-back, 23, signed from 1899 Hoffenheim for €7 million
Performance stats: 992 minutes in 13 matches, 1 assists, 4 bookings
Expectations fulfilled? Partly.
Joining Dortmund on the penultimate day of the transfer window, Toljan was always going to suffer from not having spent pre-season with his new team-mates. Injuries thrust him into a more significant role than he was ready for and that explains the up-and-down nature of his performances to a large degree.
Toljan has been for Dortmund what he had been for Hoffenheim: A versatile and athletic full-back with some tactical shortcomings that need to be ironed out. Bosz’s sink-or-swim approach didn’t help the under-21 European champion, and the Dutchman’s preferring to play Bartra out of position over Toljan wasn’t entirely unjustified.
It’s not Toljan’s fault that Dortmund’s officials didn’t have proper contingency plans in the crazy event 32-year-old sufferer of chronic hip problems Lukasz Piszczek might miss a few matches in a row.
Piszczek’s return will relegate Toljan to a deputy role he should be much more comfortable with at the moment. Whether he can develop into a long-term starter or will remain more of a back-up calibre player remains to be seen, but Toljan’s athletic traits will always make him a solid member of the squad.
Dan-Axel Zagadou, centre-back, 18, signed from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer
Performance stats: 906 minutes in 15 matches, 1 goal, 2 bookings, 1 red card
Expectations fulfilled? Yes.
Zagadou joined a few weeks after turning 18 and naturally didn’t register high up the excitment-o-meter in the summer. This was supposed to be a long-term project without much bearing on the 2017/18 campaign. Then people got to look at the intimidating physique and surprising on-the-ball qualities of King Zags in pre-season and were blown away.
Injuries forced the young Frenchman into an unfamiliar position at left-back and he did reasonably well during Dortmund’s early-season winning streak, which was surprising after he suffered notably in the DFL-Supercup against Bayern.
Zagadou hasn’t played much centre-back but hinted at his vast potential, especially with a strong performance in the DFB-Pokal against third-division side 1. FC Magdeburg.
Dortmund fans would be thrilled if their club had spent a small fortune for a centre-back with Zagadou’s level of upside. To have got him for free is by far the best transfer BVB have made this season.
Zagadou hit a bit of a wall late in the year, perhaps suffering from his exploits out wide — he clearly wasn’t cut out to play full-back. He hasn’t played in any of the three games under Stöger and fans shouldn’t expect the 18-year-old to come close to matching his first-half totals in the Rückrunde, unless injuries force the Austrian’s hand.