Borussia Dortmund are back. After a difficult and emotional 2014-15 campaign, the Westfalenstadion was treated to a sensational albeit trophy-lacking season last year under the gifted tutelage of Thomas Tuchel. The passion never left but the excitement is back and there is genuine hope that this youthful, talented and perhaps most importantly large squad can be a success.
As mentioned, last season was a successful one for BVB. The final Bundesliga tally of 78 points, would have been enough to win the title in many previous seasons. However, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich were just marginally too strong for Dortmund in the league and in the DFB-Pokal final in Berlin. A respectable quarterfinal showing in the UEFA Europa League also drew plaudits – a memorable 5-4 aggregate defeat to Liverpool was nothing to be ashamed of.
A summer of signings, and transition
The bubble was very nearly burst early on in the summer though as captain Mats Hummels, long-serving playmaker Ilkay Gündoğan and key player Henrikh Mkhitaryan were all lost to other top European clubs. Hummels returning to Bayern was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for the club. Gündoğan and Mkhitaryan will both be plying their trade in Manchester next year after leaving die Schwarzgelben for large sums of money.
Fan favourite Jakub Błaszczykowski has moved onto VfL Wolfsburg, the 31-year-old has never really seemed a part of the coach’s plans. While fellow popular defender Neven Subotic’s move to the Premier League only fell through because he needed to have an operation – however, the Serbian is expected to leave once he is fit again.
A huge amount of credit has to go to Tuchel, Michael Zorc and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke for recovering from the key departures and investing in bringing in a lot of quality and talented players.
First, the squad has been invigorated with a number of youthful talent. Striker Ousmane Dembélé arrived from Stade Rennes in France after being touted by a number of European giants. Left back Raphaël Guerreiro has also been signed from France, and he started in Portugal’s historic final victory in Paris.
The 22-year-old as well as being a defender is also dangerous with his set piece ability. Tall versatile midfielder Mikel Merino has joined from Osasuna. Winger Emre Mor, who is seen as the next big star for Turkey’s national team, was bought from his home country of Denmark. He elected to play for Turkey and featured for them at the Euros. All of these young players join the promising talents of Julian Weigl, Felix Passlack and Christian Pulisic.
The German giants also have secured genuine ability and experience in the signings of Spanish international defender Marc Bartra, World Cup winner André Schürrle and Bayern midfielder Sebastian Rode.
That is not the only new signing from Bayern either, Mario Götze has come back to his boyhood club in a much-publicised transfer. Despite his bitter exit, the general feeling is one of excitement and forgiveness from the fans. It should be noted that none of Dortmund’s transfers are older than 25, further showing a long-term strategy to their thinking too.
Squad depth at long last
Additionally, Tuchel can now field two completely different yet competitive teams in competitions with room to spare. This, while testing the German’s man management skills, will be invaluable across the 40+ game season.
Watzke, at the time of writing, has publically stated that there will be no more arrivals – perhaps barring an unexpected departure or long-term injury.
Tuchel has been in charge for just over a year and has become a popular figure. He doesn’t quite have the same charisma and infectious character that Jürgen Klopp has but there is no doubt about his passion and commitment to do well.
His popularity began from his very first unveiling press conference shortly after the emotional DFB Pokal final defeat. He is a very articulate and intelligent man and that comes across in his meetings with the press. He has supported his words with actions though. Last season, Dortmund were tactically versatile and entertaining to watch. Not only that he got the absolute best out of Mkhitaryan, which is something his predecessor failed at. His signings have been astute in all of the transfer windows he has overseen.
Despite the vast turnover of players this summer, Borussia Dortmund have done reasonably well in pre-season. The club has gone on three training camps in China, Switzerland and Austria respectfully. The former Champions League winners have played a variety of opposition both in quality and nationality.
Defeats to 1860 Munich and Athletic Bilbao have been compensated by a series of wins and credible draws including an impressive 4-1 mauling of Manchester United in Shanghai. The team also managed to draw with fellow English clubs Sunderland and Manchester City (in normal time).
Borussia Dortmund also hosted competitive rivals Bayern Munich in the DFL-Supercup. Despite a dominant first half performance BVB could not beat man of the match Manuel Neuer and the Bavarians won the game 2-0 after a clinical second half. While this defeat was a blow, Dortmund have shown they are just as strong as last year.
How will this season go?
This sets the club up nicely ahead of a new season where they will be back among Europe’s elite in the Champions League. The expectations? I think a top three finish in the league, a semi-final appearance in the Pokal and to qualify from their Champions League group will be the reasonable expectations set.
A prediction also supported by Sporting director Zorc who said the aim is to “qualify for the Champions League again," and to "reach the knockout stages" on their return to the Champions League.
There will be pressure on new dad Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to continue being the focal point up top. If the Gabon international can maintain his form there is no reason why BVB can’t continue to challenge Bayern and be a tough fixture for anyone in Europe. In midfield, Mario Götze will have to win back the fans who feel he let them down when he moved to Bayern with bright performances