Borussia Dortmund’s pre-season is well underway, and Peter Bosz’s ideas have come into focus quickly. The Black and Yellows are making important strides in key areas of the Dutchman’s footballing philosophy. With most of the transfer business in the books already, our readers are most interested in the battle for starting XI positions, while also taking a long-term view in this edition of the Yellow Wall Mailbag.
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Andrew via Twitter: Who’s the ideal starting midfield in a 4-3-3? And if not 4-3-3, which formation plays best for BVB and Bosz?
From what we’ve seen in pre-season we can safely assume 4-3-3 will be Bosz’s go-to system this season. Dortmund are fairly well-equipped for that system, luckily enough. I do think they might go with a back three on occasion, for what it’s worth.
The ideal starting midfield three probably consists of Julian Weigl, Mahmoud Dahoud and one of Mario Götze and Shinji Kagawa. The first two are self-explanatory. Götze is being brought back slowly but steadily after missing five months undergoing therapy for a metabolic disorder and, from what we know, he’s going to make a full recovery. He is a problem solver in attack and much stouter in his defensive contribution than usually given credit for. Kagawa, meanwhile, is one of the best counter-pressers in all of football, something Bosz will find incredibly useful.
To start the season, though, the best midfield three could well consist of Dahoud, Gonzalo Castro and Kagawa. Nuri Sahin has failed to impress in pre-season to this point and lacks the mobility to play high up the field as seems to be Bosz’s preference. Dahoud is though of as a creative No. 8 but he is aggressive and physical enough to play at the base of midfield if need be.
Thomas via the contact form: Do you think Felix Passlack is a suitable right back replacement for Lukasz Piszczek or do you see his future in a different position? If you think Passlack’s position lays elsewhere, do you think BVB might get a new RB signing or promote an academy player this transfer window or look to a new signing next summer transfer window?
Passlack’s strengths and weaknesses mean he can really only play as a full-back long-term for a club of BVB’s size and ambitions. His technique just isn’t good enough to play in an attacking role despite his strong goalscoring contribution throughout the youth ranks.
At times, it feels as though Passlack is a bit timid and perhaps overwhelmed at the senior level, which is all too understandable and will go away with time. Still, this makes getting meaningful playing time quite difficult, which is why a loan deal seemed to make a lot of sense earlier in the summer. Now that Raphael Guerreiro and Marcel Schmelzer will miss the start of the campaign (the Portugal international even being out until October by all accounts), the 18-year-old’s situation has changed dramatically. He will stay and perhaps get an opportunity here and there.
As for the future, I think right-back is a prime position to upgrade next season (it would’ve been one this season but that’s not happening). Piszczek is still an important player for this team but his physical decline has been very much notable in the last few years and it stands to reason this will be his last campaign as a designated starter at right-back. Unfortunately, the full-back spots are among the hardest to fill externally with a transfer these days (as one can tell when players such as Kyle Walker and, presumably, Benjamin Mendy become the most expensive defenders in history). So Dortmund should try their best to mold Passlack, and perhaps Jacob Bruun Larsen, into viable alternatives.
Johannes via Twitter: Sebastian Rode looked promising in pre-season one year ago, then faded. Can Bosz help him to his breakthrough season, or will it be “rewind & repeat”?
I know some expect Bosz to make use of Rode’s qualities as a ball-winner in counter-pressing but, as always, the problem is what happens once the ball is won. Unless Rode can suddenly start to make quicker decisions and more positive choices, I have severe doubts about any kind of breakthrough season. Since it doesn’t seem as though he’ll leave the club, the midfielder is sure to get some playing time (after all, he’s average in every sense but not awful).
Herati via Twitter: No regular left-back for the next four weeks (at least), will Dan-Axel Zagadou remain the number-one pick or will we see some other player in this position?
It’s certainly interesting that Zagadou, the only Dortmund player you can see from space, has played more at left-back throughout the team’s three pre-season matches so far than his natural spot at centre-back. It might just be about getting everyone playing time with more central defenders available at the moment, of course. But the 18-year-old would be an interesting option for the start of the competitive campaign thanks to his athleticism and calmness on the ball. Then again, he’s made some crucial mistakes and it might be asking too much of him to debut against stronger opposition in the Bundesliga in a spot he’s not all that familiar with. With that in mind, Erik Durm could well have the upper hand for now.
Cal via Twitter: Are there any rumours that Bosz will look to Ajax for any players? Specifically Kasper Dolberg who will be excellent at Ajax.
There aren’t, really. Dolberg was linked with BVB before they appointed Bosz, but the Dane has since stated he will not be leaving Ajax this season. He remains a strong candidate should Dortmund sell Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang next season. Joel Veltman is another player who I think will get linked with BVB this season, seeing as Bosz converted him into a play-making right-back and, as stated above, that will likely be a position of need for the Ruhr side.
Gagi via Twitter: How do you compare this season’s squad to the previous one and the one before that (including Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan)?
Compared to last season, BVB have traded Sven Bender to Bayer Leverkusen for Ömer Toprak and €3 million, a clear win for the Black and Yellows. They’ve also signed Mahmoud Dahoud, Maximilian Philipp and Zagadou while only letting go of Matthias Ginter. Yeah, it’s fair to say the squad is better than last year. Especially the signing of Dahoud fills an important weak spot — BVB clearly lacked a Gündogan replacement last year.
However, the 2015/16 team was arguably better due to three players you mentioned alone, even if the current depth is probably a bit stronger. It’s just very difficult to replace world-class players. Who knew?
Emet via Twitter: Do you think next season will be a summer where more than three players leave? Marco Reus, Ousmane Dembele, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Julian Weigl, Sokratis Papastathopoulos …
For what it’s worth, I do believe Dortmund will struggle to hold on to Dembele next season. He and Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe are probably the two hottest talents in world football and someone’s going to make both Dembele and Dortmund an offer that will prove near-impossible to refuse.
Aubameyang will be 29 by the time the 2018 summer transfer window opens and it could be the last opportunity to make an inordinate amount of money on a sale, so that looks just as likely as it did this summer.
If those two leave, Dortmund will not allow anyone else to leave unless it’s on their terms. Sokratis and Reus have deals that will expire in 2019, but that could easily change during the campaign. Weigl only extended his contract this year and a lot would need to happen for BVB to allow him to leave.
One name that isn’t often mentioned yet that I could see become a target for many clubs is Guerreiro, by the way.
Gagi via Twitter: Expected Bundesliga top 4?
I expect the top-four sides to be the same as last season. Bayern Munich will, spoiler alert, win the Bundesliga. Unless they have a catastrophic start, Dortmund will be there. RB Leipzig and 1899 Hoffenheim have to deal with European football for the first time and I’m interested to see how the two teams, both of which play a rather intense football, will cope. But, to me at least, last season’s top 4 are further ahead of the rest of the pack in terms of quality than teams such as Hertha BSC, Cologne or Freiburg are ahead of the relegation battlers. Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen have new coaches and (especially the latter) a lot of squad turnover, while Borussia Mönchengladbach have Dieter Hecking as their coach and Wolfsburg are Wolfsburg.
Emet via Twitter: How do you see the future for Hüseyin Bulut, Dominik Wanner, David Kopacz, Dario Scuderi and Dzenis Burnic?
A (miniature) cult-hero for his performance in the under-19 Bundesliga final against Bayern, Hüseyin Bulut has never been considered one of the absolute best talents in BVB’s academy. He’s got a long, long way to go if he aims to become a first-team player for Dortmund. Wanner played in Bosz’s first pre-season match at RW Essen but he’s another player who hardly looks the part of a future senior player at the Westfalenstadion.
Kopacz could potentially turn into one, he’s got superb dribbling and technical skills. Scuderi suffered one of the most horrific knee injuries I’ve ever seen last season in the UEFA Youth League and it remains to be seen at what level he can play football. He had improved greatly before the injury and it didn’t seem impossible he could turn into a Bundesliga player.
Burnic is easily the furthest along of the players mentioned. Spending a year on loan with his mentor Hannes Wolf at Stuttgart seems a logical step even if playing time might be hard to come by in squad that is deeper and better than what promoted sides usually have. There could be a spot for Burnic in Dortmund before long, given Sahin’s injury issues for example.
(Some questions were edited for brevity or grammatical correctness)