The Bundesliga will kick off on Saturday against Mainz for Borussia Dortmund. But before the season really gets into gear, the Yellow Wall panel has taken a look at the things we learned from the off-season. Here are our preseason takeaways.
Lewis Ambrose: The nail is in the coffin of Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund
Thomas Tuchel’s first season in charge at Westfalenstadion saw sweeping changes to the approach of the team, with everything changing from a new diet to a totally new way of playing. It was, however, largely still a team put together by Jürgen Klopp. This year is different.
The final remnants of Klopp’s Dortmund squads remain but find themselves increasingly on the periphery of Tuchel’s own project. Nothing encapsulates it more than the changing situations of Jakub Błaszczykowski, Łukasz Piszczek, and Nuri Sahin.
“Kuba” was sold to VfL Wolfsburg despite Dortmund actively targeting players for the wings while he enjoyed a super Euro 2016 with Poland. His right-sided partner, Piszczek, finds himself under the threat of the youthful Felix Passlack. Just like his predecessor, Passlack has played more offensively in the past but seems perfectly suited to a role as an attack-minded fullback. Expect the two to rotate over the course of the season.
Meanwhile, in midfield, Dortmund have lost Ilkay Gündogan but are more likely to use new signings Sebastian Rode and Mikel Merino to complement Julian Weigl than pairing him with Sahin, whose days as a starter are unfortunately over. With eight new signings joining up with the squad this summer, it is well and truly Thomas Tuchel’s BVB.
Lars Pollmann: Marc Bartra looks good but Dortmund still need another CB
I didn’t quite know what to expect of Marc Bartra, having followed La Liga anything but religiously over the last few years. On one hand, a 25-year-old centre-back coming out of Barcelona – with all that entails (La Masia and Pep, mostly) – sounds great, on the other hand he’s just not played much for them lately, falling behind the less than impressive duo of Vermaelen and Mathieu on the depth chart.
So far so good, though. Bartra has looked promising in preseason, Supercup and against Trier, defending consistently and showing his technical abilities. Most importantly, he’s probably the fastest central defender Dortmund have had in years, which should help against deep-sitting opponents.
However, I’d feel much better if Bartra was the high-upside No. 3 CB and not a presumptive starter.
Sokratis is who he is – a pretty good but definitely not great player who I don’t want on the ball in the build-up phase. Sven Bender should fight with Sokratis and not play next to him. Matthias Ginter is not a good centre-back, and he flirted with leaving the club the second summer in a row. Don Mikel Merino doesn’t have the required instincts to play in the heart of defence in important matches anytime soon.
I think BVB need another veteran defender in the squad and I don’t understand how Dortmund could step away from Ömer Toprak because of a reported €3 million difference with Leverkusen’s demands, when they later signed Andre Schürrle for a crazy €30 million fee.
Tom Payne: The summer broadened Tuchel’s strategical options
With the likes of Burnic, Merino and Guerreiro all featuring in unusual and different roles throughout the preseason, we can expect a high level of versatility from Dortmund this year. The added squad-depth, through transfers and youth players, will give Tuchel an even greater flexibility when creating his tactical and strategical scheme. As shown in matches against Sunderland and Bilbao, the use of Guerreiro in central midfield and Burnic as a playmaking centre-back has lead to some unorthodox yet functional structures.
Not only will there be a wider array of formations and shapes possible, but Tuchel has greater room to manoeuvre when doing something he does best – adapting to the opposition. Despite losing Mkhitaryan and Gündogan, he has a more diverse selection of player profiles in both midfield and attack this year. As a result, the coach is more likely to find the right man to unlock the opponent’s weaknesses.
Although the loss of the three most important players from last year will certainly prove a challenge for the 16/17 season, Tuchel’s greater capacity to make strategic adaptions will be vital if Dortmund want to maintain the level of performance set last year.
Constantin Eckner: Tuchel has quite the fiddly job to complete
Thomas Tuchel will need time until he finds the right setting. Looking at some of the more serious matches in recent weeks, it appears that Dortmund’s head coach is still figuring out who could play which position and who fits which role the best. Newly signed Raphael Guerreiro, for instance, was fielded as a central midfielder several times, even though he is a natural left-back.
Due to the departure of Ilkay Gündogan and the lack of an appropriate signing to replace the former Dortmund star, the Black and Yellows will naturally test a few line-ups in the centre, even when they are already in the middle of the Bundesliga season. And the midfield is not the only part of the team that remains testing ground. BVB have also a couple of versatile attackers who will be shuffled around on the tactics board.
Just take Adrian Ramos as an example. The 30-year-old Colombian was once signed with the promise of being a dangerous centre-forward who can hold his own in the air quite well. Now it looks like he is asked to try his best on the wings. Meanwhile, Tuchel had limited options at the back, as both Sven Bender and Matthias Ginter represented Germany at the Olympics. That said, he certainly has several variations including back threes and back fours in mind. So overall, only one thing is for sure – that nothing is for sure.
Mark Chadwick: Felix Passlack is improving and looks to be on the verge of breaking into the starting eleven on a regular basis
After a few encouraging performances in some friendlies, Passlack has solidified himself as a genuine option for Tuchel at right back, and could see himself in the starting eleven with some regularity. We already know Passlack is an effective offensive player, as he’s featured as a winger for the u19s, but he’s improved his crossing and I believe he’s looked to be a more than solid defender in recent friendlies.
Lukasz Piszczek’s spot isn’t necessarily up for grabs, but the Pole isn’t getting any younger, and doesn’t have the best fitness history. The other back up right back, Erik Durm, is once again sidelined with a knee injury, and probably isn’t ahead of Passlack in the depth chart even when fit.
Passlack may also benefit from the extra rest Tuchel has given to his Euro participants, which could see him start the Supercup and the DFB Pokal opener. If he performs like he has been in those opportunities, he’s in a very good position to get right in the thick of Tuchel’s plans.
Luca Gierl: Dortmund’s squad is too big
The pre-season showed that Dortmund’s squad is too big and unevenly balanced. Even with Durm, Ginter, Bender and Reus still absent a lot of quality players couldn’t even make the bench for Dortmund’s first competitive games. Some of that will regulate itself when the Champions League starts and they’ll have to play two games a week and maybe some injuries set in.
The squad is still too big, however, to give everyone in the squad the minutes they want and need. ⁰This is especially the case in offensive midfield while, as Lars is pointing out, the depth at centre-back is still a problem.
Tuchel’s squad management has to be top notch this season or we’ll see some unhappy faces in Dortmund’s squad sooner rather than later. We can only hope that all the promising young talents are willing to fight for their place and won’t want to leave the club due to this.
Stefan Buczko: Rode can be play an integral role this season
Sebastian Rode is definitely a winner of the preseason. The 25-year-old was greeted by a fair share of scepticism when he joined Borussia Dortmund from Bayern Munich for €12m. After all he only played 493 minutes across competition in the previous campaign.
After Dortmund failed tremendously in the Europa League against Liverpool, many asked for a more aggressive player, who can take a game by the scruff of its neck. Rode certainly is the type of player to do that from the centre of the park.
However, Tuchel was not miffed about Dortmund’s lack of aggression against Liverpool but rather that his side lost their heads and forgot to exercise their dominant possession football. He reiterated that after the cup final loss in May.
Sebastian Rode, however has shown throughout preseason that he can be the arguably needed midfield-aggressor while also having the technique to not let BVB’s possession play down – something Sven Bender could not do.
The German could impress with some silky passes and strategical oversight. As long as Dortmund struggle for stability early on in the season, the central-midfielder is just be what the doctor ordered.