Thomas Tuchel is a man of many talents.
Among other things, reports tell us he’s fluent in French. His English was more of a mystery until very recently – the pre-game press conference the day before the away tie of the Europa League play-offs at Odds BK, to be precise. His comfort level answering questions of the Norwegian press in English seemingly surprised even BVB’s communications director Sascha Fligge. To the extent that the entire post game presser was held in English, which led to the odd (no pun intended) situation of a German coach of a German team answering the question of a German journalist about a German player in, you guessed it, English. It was the only time in the presser that Tuchel had to revert to speaking German.
Normally, we wanted to play with Mats Hummels in the 1st & Sokratis in the 2nd half. We wanted to change them at halftime, in order of their … Belastungssteuerung.
Belastungssteuerung is a very German word. Not only because it’s long and, I would imagine, nearly impossible to say for anyone who hasn’t spent at least a few years speaking our beautiful yet complicated language. In essence, Belastungssteuerung means something along the likes of “managing the strain” on the players’ bodies. Limiting the wear and tear in anticipation of a long and strenuous season. You may think it’s just a fancy word for “resting a player here and there”, but, I ensure you, as most everything else around Tuchel’s BVB, it is much more methodical than that.
In his days as the head coach of Mainz 05, Tuchel was almost infamous for the heavy rotation of players. He has told the story of one particular matchday a few times: how he and his assistant, Arno Michels, prepared the team for a game during a very successful stint, winning more games than a club like Mainz should win on the spin; how the lineup had five or six changes and how he only realized it when he was asked about it by a reporter in the pre-game interview.
That rotation, in a point Tuchel drove home, stemmed mostly from the feeling of being an underdog, of being a team that needed to react to the strength of its opponents by meticulous preparation and detailed adjustment. This is why Tuchel is seen as the inventor of the matchplan in German media.
That feeling is one he left behind on the day he took the final ride home from Mainz’ Coface Arena. Now the coach of a big club’s team, with all that standing entails, that feeling has been replaced by one of dominance. Die Schwarzgelben will seek to put their stamp on the opposition in just about every game this season – in Germany as well as Europe. That means rotation should be about Belastungssteuerung much more often than about a matchplan.
As we look forward to the return leg against Odds BK today, the case for a heavy rotation can be made. Without sounding overly arrogant, it’s most likely the “easiest” game left on the entire calendar for the season. The brave boys of Odds BK were cooked in their home game after about an hour. Apart from a small number of exceptions (like former Bundesliga striker Olivier Occéan), the team has no experience playing in
one of Europe’s most beautiful stadium. And you’d need to be a bigger pessimist than one Hans-Joachim Watzke, Borussia’s CEO, to actually think the perfect storm of the first 23 odd (pun intended, this time) minutes is even remotely repeatable for them, at the Westfalenstadion, over 90 minutes, needing to win by two goals (or anything from a 5:4 away win).
We already know Roman Weidenfeller will replace Roman Bürki for this game. In his pregame presser yesterday, Tuchel also stated Sokratis will play. That makes two changes from Borussia’s comfortable win over Ingolstadt on Sunday. A few more of those wouldn’t hurt. Ignoring added time, BVB has played 540 minutes of competitive football in the early days of this season. Five players have been on the pitch for at least 522 of those: Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ilkay Gündogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Now, 540 minutes don’t sound like much, and in the grand scheme of things they really aren’t. Consider this, however: those first six competitive matches came on the back of a short and intense preseason, in quick succession. Since the 1st of these games on July 30th away to Wolfsberg, the team has had one Thursday without a game. Even this early in the season, when players’ batteries presumably are full, that takes a toll.
Taking a look at that list I’m sure you’d agree those five players are among, if not the most irreplaceable players in the entire squad. As of now there’s not another true left back on Borussia’s payroll. Hummels wears the captain’s armband and is without a shadow of doubt the club’s best and most complete centre-back. Aubameyang basically saved last season from being an even bigger disaster than it already was. Gündogan and Mkhitaryan are, in this writer’s humble opinion, the two motors behind BVB’s impressive start to the new season – Gündogan as the playmaker we haven’t seen since the club’s amazing Champions League run in 2012/13, Mkhitaryan as the player who finally seems able to maximize his always palpable potential more consistently (and quantifiable).
Losing any one of these players for any extended amount of time would be nothing short of devastating.
Now, that’s not to say an appearance in today’s game is a guarantee for an injury, be it today or in a few weeks. Odd BK’s players handled our boys with more care than Ingolstadt on Sunday (side note: Hallelujah Mkhitaryan survived the first half despite their “best” efforts).
The question to those who say there shouldn’t be more than a small number of changes is this: why take a chance? It would take a bigger miracle than Schalke hoisting the Meisterschale for BVB to miss the group stages.
So here is one writer’s proposed heavy-rotation-lineup for tomorrow:
You tell me BVB don’t make the group stage with that lineup.