Borussia Dortmund finished second in the Bundesliga last season and reached the round of 16 of the Champions League after a difficult group phase against FC Barcelona, Inter Milan and Sparta Prague. Nevertheless, Dortmund were not satisfied with the season. In the cup, they were eliminated early on against Werder Bremen, in the Champions League they lost 2-1 from the first leg with a poor performance in Paris and in the league they had no chance against Bayern, which was weak at the beginning of the season. Again and again, the same mistakes differentiate BVB from an absolute top team: negligence, lack of concentration and inconsistency. Dortmund plays like no other team in the world to leave points in the next game against a relegation-threatening club. This phenomenon occurs too often and runs through every season like a pattern. It seems difficult to find a reason for this. However, if you look closely at the traditional club’s squad planning, some weaknesses can be seen despite the good transfer policy. The German championship had already been announced as a goal before last season. It is therefore hard to imagine that less is planned for the next season. But can this project be realistically implemented?
In Dortmund, they always have the goal of playing offensive and attractive football. Above all, young talents who are discovered by BVB’s outstanding scouting department should help. However, talent alone cannot make a successful season. Therefore, BVB strives to find a balanced management structure with a mix of experienced, charismatic leadership players and motivated, very well-trained talents. The figure below shows that this has worked very well so far. With an average age of around 25,8 years, BVB has found a perfect balance.
Before we take a closer look at the individual positions in the squad, it is important to examine the squad width. Regarding the triple load, the squad width is at least as important as the quality in the squad tip. This season, in particular, the squad width will play an immensely important role, as the Corona break means that there will be three games almost every week. At the weekends, the focus is on day-to-day business, the Bundesliga. During the week BVB will play in the Champions League and the DFB-Pokal. The so-called “English Weeks” run from the beginning of the season to the winter break. There are also international matches because BVB is in no way short of national players. So, there are hardly any breaks for the players to regenerate. Furthermore, there will only be a small winter break this year. The second half of the season is scheduled to start on 2nd January again.
And there is already a big mistake in the squad width: While you are almost overstaffed in the central midfield, there is a lack of sufficient personnel in the forward position, on the wings and in the left-back position. When Jadon Sancho leaves, you even have no nominal right-wing anymore.
Dortmund will have no problems with the goalkeeper position. The contract with Roman Bürki was extended long-term only a few weeks ago. With Marwin Hitz, they have a strong substitute goalkeeper at Bundesliga level and with Luca Unbehaun, Dortmund has a top talent even in the goalkeeper position.
If you compare the statistics of Bürki with the goalkeepers of the other top clubs in Bundesliga, you will notice that the Swiss is falling sharply. Although he saves more flanks than Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach) and Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), his GSAA (goals saved above average) stats are extremely weak.
Therefore, Bürki is criticized. But, his strengths on the line are often the salvation for the “Schwarz-Gelben”. Bürki often makes up for his mistakes with world-class parades. Behind Neuer (15 clean sheets in 33 games), Bürki is the best goalkeeper in this category (13 clean sheets in 31 games). Therefore, he is the undisputed number 1 in the Dortmund squad.
Dortmund already has the first large construction site in central defence. With Mats Hummels, Dan-Axel Zagadou and Manuel Akanji, there are only three experienced centre-backs in the squad. With Nnamdi Collins, they have a promising talent in their ranks. However, he will still need time. It is even more astonishing, that, after the winter transfer of Julian Weigl, who was able to play in central defence, the Argentine talent Leonardo Balerdi has now been handed over to Olympique Marseille. Even if he has not been able to convince so far, Dortmund has created an unnecessary hole in the squad.
As you can see in the graphic below, BVB is not lacking in quality. Hummels and Zagadou are two of the best centre-backs in the Bundesliga. Hummels and Zagadou are outstanding in aerial duels and offer good clearance values. Akanji, on the other hand, is below average compared to the other top centre-backs of the Bundesliga. While Hummels, and recently also Zagadou, shine in the build-up play, Akanji struggles with it. If one core defender is injured, Dortmund only have Akanji in the rear. For a long time, there was even a discussion about selling the Swiss international. After Balerdi left, however, this topic should be off the table and Akanji must be kept as a backup. They should also look around for a second back-up if they want to be defensively solid throughout the whole season.
Dortmund has a big problem on the left-back position. With Marcel Schmelzer and Nico Schulz, there are only two left-backs in the squad. As you can see in the following graphic, both are at rather average compared to other left-backs in the Bundesliga.
Raphael Guerreiro can play this position but is needed in a more advanced position because of his offensive qualities. Schmelzer, who is better than Schulz according to the statistics, is out until the winter break due to an injury. So, with Schulz Dortmund have only one player during this tight schedule, even though coach Lucien Favre recently completely dispensed with the German left-back. For this reason, he was considered a candidate for leaving the club for a long time. However, given the current situation, they should definitely keep him and look for another full-back. Robin Gosens would be a good choice here. The German played excellently at Atalanta Bergamo (9 goals and 8 assists in 33 matches) and probably would like to move to a good Bundesliga club.
Achraf Hakimi’s departure met with a lot of incomprehension. Last season he was the best player in the Bundesliga in many areas and also did well in the international comparison. Defensively, however, he has weaknesses. That is probably the main reason for his departure. With Thomas Meunier, Dortmund have signed a solid and very experienced player who was free of charge. The following graph clearly shows that Meunier thinks more defensively than Hakimi.
Łukasz Piszczek is also available for another year. With the Spaniard Mateu Morey, you have an offensive right-back as a back-up, who was able to convince at the end of last season. BVB is very well positioned here, but nobody can match Hakimi’s offensive quality.
As already mentioned, BVB is best positioned in central midfield. This affects not only the squad width but also the quality. Axel Witsel provides a world-class pass rate of almost 95%. It is the highest in the Bundesliga. Emre Can and Mahmoud Dahoud also have an exceptionally good pass rate between 88% and 90%. Thomas Delaney and newcomer Jude Bellingham do not excel with their pass rate but they provide lots of successful interceptions.
With Tobias Raschl you also have a talent from your their youth academy in the squad. Dženis Burnić is sold to Heidenheim. Seven players are a lot for the central midfield. Nevertheless, considering the triple burden, Dortmund should only think about a loan for Raschl. Sooner or later, all other players will be particularly important.
Central offensive midfield
In the central offensive midfield, Dortmund has two players with absolute world-class abilities: Captain Marco Reus and Julian Brandt. However, Reus is very often injured, and it is still unclear whether his current injury has completely healed at the beginning of the season. The tight schedule will hardly bring about an improvement. Brandt keeps flashing his class, but he plays too inconsistently to be the X-Factor in Dortmund´s game throughout the season. Gio Reyna provides very good statistics and was able to make a very good impression last season. He will play a bigger role next season. He also benefits from the possibility of playing on the wings.
On the left wing, Dortmund have Thorgan Hazard and Guerreiro. Hazard struggled at the beginning of last season, but, all in all, he played an outstanding first season in the BVB jersey. Guerreiro played his best season for Dortmund. Even though he played as a left wing-back, you could see that his offensive qualities outshine his defensive weaknesses. As a winger, you are always measured by goal contributions. Hazard (7 goals, 13 assists) was able to collect an outstanding 20 scorer points in 33 Bundesliga games. Guerreiro even scored more goals as wing-back (8) and assisted 3 more. In a more offensive role on the wing, Guerreiro can probably double these values.
Dortmund has a huge problem on the right wing. In the event of a Sancho departure, not only the best scorer (17 goals and 17 assists in 33 games) would leave the club, but also the only nominal right-wing. Even if Hazard can play on the right, he recently played only on the left. If you put Hazard on the right and let Guerreiro play on the left-wing, a back-up would be missing on both sides.
Either way, Sancho leaves a big gap that needs to be filled. You can see that just by looking at how BVB played out their attacks last season. 35% of all attacks were initiated from the right wing. This side must be completely re-populated. After replacing Hakimi with Meunier, Dortmund also have to look for a right-wing.
We have already identified several problems in the current Dortmund squad. The biggest problem of all is in the forward position, even though Erling Haaland is one of the best strikers in the world. If you look at how many goals Dortmund scored last season, you might think that they have no problems offensively. With 84 goals in 34 games, BVB is in second place in this statistic. They even score 30 times more than expected as they had an xG of 54,43. However, it must also be noted that Sancho, who is probably leaving the club, contributed 34 of these 84 goals.
Alexander Isak was sold last summer. Maximilian Philipp also left the club. Paco Alcácer fled because of Haaland in winter. In 11 games in the first half of the season, the Spaniard scored 5 goals and assisted 1 more. Dortmund has already unnecessarily opened a gap in the squad by selling Alcácer.
With the German World Cup hero Mario Götze, however, there was still a player on the bench if Haaland should get injured. And again, Dortmund make the same mistake and unnecessarily opened a gap. Because, even if Götze hardly played a role under Favre, they now have no backup for Haaland anymore. With this tight schedule, this can be recognized as a major problem even before the season.
If you compare the values of all top Bundesliga strikers, you will notice that Götze is extremely successful. Götze scores with every third shot as he converts 33,3% of all his shots. Only Joshua Zirkzee and Haaland are better in the Bundesliga. Not even Robert Lewandowski gets to Götze’s rate. The fact that Götze scored only three goals is due to the short playing time (521 minutes played in Bundesliga). But precisely, this short playing time is unjustified in terms of performance. Just imagine Götze played as many minutes as Haaland.
Nevertheless, Götze is no longer an option for Dortmund as his contract expired at the end of June. Great hopes are now placed on talent Youssoufa Moukoko, who will only be eligible for action from November (then will turn 16) and will therefore probably not be an option until the second half of the season. It remains to be seen whether he can meet the high expectations there directly. Therefore, a backup for Haaland must be obtained.
After the departure of Hakimi and the commitment of the defensive-thinking Meunier, there is much to suggest that Favre is switching back to a backline with four defenders. Already at the beginning of last season, they played in a 4-2-3-1 system. Due to the shaky defensive, Favre decided to switch to a 3-4-3 formation, which turned into a 5-3-2 in defensive transitions.
With a view to the personnel situation in central defence, where there are only three players available, these three players would have to complete all games in all competitions. That this doesn’t work seems logical. When looking for the right system with a back-four system, two systems can be considered due to the large selection in central midfield: the 4-3-3 formation or the 4-2-3-1 formation. Since Reus and Brandt are two players in the squad who are extremely important in the offence and can enjoy more freedom there than in the more defensive area, the 4-2-3-1 formation seems most likely. So, Dortmund could build on two defensive midfielders without missing a creative offensive midfielder.
In the defensive movement, Guerreiro’s defensive skills could be particularly beneficial as the wingers have to work backwards. Dortmund may be playing in a 4-4-2 formation defensively with the nominal number 10 as the second striker to prevent passes to the opponents’ midfielders.
Again, a lot will be expected from Borussia Dortmund next season. Due to the quality of their first 11, these requirements appear obvious. Especially in central midfield, Witsel, Can and Delaney are spoilt for choice and Bellingham and Dahoud are two good back-ups. In today’s football, however, the squad width is just as important as the quality. Therefore, the squad width often makes the difference at the end of the season. Dortmund is not optimally positioned in four positions. While there is a lack of back-ups in central defence, the wing positions and the forward position, the quality of the left-backs is still not good enough. Due to the corona crisis, BVB is not in the best position financially and so it will be difficult to find solutions in all of these positions. Next season, this can cause problems on a sporting level. Last season, BVB had problems with triple loading. Considering the even tighter schedule, that won’t get any better.