Although they have already played a couple of competitive match, a new era for Borussia Dortmund only truly starts when they travel to VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday to begin their 2017-18 Bundesliga campaign.
With the possible exception of Ousmane Dembélé, they have lost no major team members, but do have a new coach in the form of 53-year-old Dutchman Peter Bosz, who will be looking to finally take Dortmund out of the shadow of Bayern Munich to a first title since 2012.
Can they do it? Let’s take a look.
Bosz in after abrupt end to Tuchel reign
Just three days after lifting the DFB-Pokal against Eintracht Frankfurt, their first meaningful trophy in five years, Dortmund parted company with head coach Thomas Tuchel. Ordinarily this would have been a shock decision, however it was one that pretty much everyone saw coming.
The relationship between the former 1. FSV Mainz 05 coach and club CEO Hans-Joachin Watzke appeared to have completely broken down by the end of his reign, with transfer policy and the fallout of from the bombing of the team coach in April amongst the reasons. He had also fallen out with chief scout Sven Mislintat, and reportedly several senior members of the playing squad as well.
There was also the convenient truth that the club had failed where it really counted, the Bundesliga. They failed to build on his first season, when they finished 10 points behind Bayern albeit with a huge 78 points, ending up in third-place and a full 18 points behind Carlo Ancelotti’s side. For a club that had positioned itself as the record-champions’ main rivals in recent years, that just wasn’t good enough.
They wasted little time in appointing Tuchel's replacement, bringing in Bosz from AFC Ajax. Despite only being with the Dutch giants for a year, he won many plaudits for his work with one of the youngest-ever sides they have had, falling just short of snatching the Eredivisie title from the palms of Feyenoord and reaching the final of the UEFA Europa League.
Bosz likes his teams to press aggressively, attempting to win the ball back within five seconds of losing. This is not a style of play that is unfamiliar to Dortmund’s players, especially those around in the days of Jürgen Klopp. He has also shown his ability to work with young players and get quality out of them, which will be a valuable assist with this current Dortmund squad.
He is one to think about the long-term consequences of his decisions. However, whilst he admits that “winning is the most important thing for me,” he also wants “to see good football (played) as well.” Dortmund will remain an entertaining watch under his watch.
Dembélé future casts shadow over productive summer business
Once Dortmund had slammed the door shut on the possible of leading man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leaving the club, it looked like they would make it through the summer without losing any of the key players, after the triple-whammy of losing Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gündogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan last year.
Events elsewhere conspired to change that though. When Paris Saint-Germain swooped to complete the shock signing of Neymar for the world-record fee of €222 million, it left FC Barcelona needing a replacement and plenty of money with which to buy one. Already in for Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, they turned their attentions to Dembélé.
The 20-year-old Frenchman had made a huge impression in his first season with Dortmund, and seemingly determined to shake of their reputation as a selling club, the hierarchy appeared keen to stubbornly resist any offers for another of their star players. Then last Thursday, Dembélé went AWOL from training, with the club subsequently suspended him until further notice. All parties remain at an impasse as the Bundesliga season gets set to begin.
Other players have left the club, like Matthias Ginter and Sven Bender, however ultimately they appeared to be dispensable, and that has allowed the club in bolstering their squad elsewhere as they look to make up lost ground on both Bayern and last season’s runners-up RB Leipzig.
They will hope that Ömer Toprak can help to stabilise a defensive line-up that has failed to convince in recent times following his arrival from Bayern Leverkusen, with the arrival of Mahmoud Dahoud from Borussia Mönchengladbach also confirmed before the end of the previous campaign.
Joining them are Maximillian Philipp from SC Freiburg, who will provide cover for injury-prone Marco Reus, as well as young defender Dan-Axel Zagadou, although after appearing like a rabbit caught in headlights against Bayern in the DFL-Supercup he may not be ready for a regular role in the first team just yet.
They could also be set to sign cover from Lukasz Piszczek, with Jeremy Toljan reportedly set to join from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim following an impressive UEFA European Under-21 Championship performance with Germany. Felix Passlack could move the other way on loan, with Erik Durm linked with a move to VfB Stuttgart as well.
Mixed results in pre-season
After a wobbly 3-2 defeat against Ruhr neighbours Rot-Weiss Essen in Bosz’s first game in charge, Dortmund had a short but successful tour of Asia, beating Urawa Red Diamonds 3-2 in Japan before a 3-1 victory over AC Milan in China three days later. Aubameyang scored twice against Milan to show that the summer break and speculation over his future had done nothing to blunt his scoring prowess.
Results after that left a lot to be desired again. They had to come from behind with two late goals from Gonzalo Castro and Christian Pulisic to earn a 2-2 with VfL Bochum, before losing 1-0 to both RCD Espanyol and Atalanta BC.
They then faced Bayern in the Supercup, leading twice through Pulisic and Aubameyang, only for Bayern to strike twice through former Dortmund hero Robert Lewandowski (despite Joshua Kimmich appearing to be offside) and a Piszczek own goal. Sven Ulreich was then the hero in the resulting shootout for Bayern, saving spot kicks from Sebastian Rode and Marc Bartra.
The players who were not heavily involved in that match played Rot-Weiß Erfurt the day after, with Dortmund winning 5-2. Alexander Isak, largely an outcast after being signed without Tuchel’s input in January, scored four goals. They then followed that up with a 4-0 win over 1. FC Rieslasingen-Arlen as they started their defence of the DFB-Pokal. Aubameyang scored a hat-trick after Bartra’s opener.
Injuries again a problem as Dortmund prepare for Bundesliga kick-off
Injuries have been a big problem for Dortmund in recent years, and keeping everyone fit could be key to their chances of winning the Bundesliga for the first time in six seasons. Unfortunately for Bosz, they have not started as they mean to go on.
After rupturing a cruciate ligament in the DFB-Pokal final in May, Reus is not expected to be available to him until the New Year. Raphaël Guerreiro is out until at least October after ankle surgery, Julian Weigl won’t appear until September after fracturing his ankle and Durm is out with a hip injury.
In addition, Andre Schürrle will be out for around four weeks after pulling a thigh muscle, captain Marcel Schmelzer has been out with an ankle injury whilst Pulisic, Toprak and Rode have both had minor problems over the past week too. Mario Götze, out since February with a metabolic problem, is only slowly being eased into action.
All of that meant that they were only able to name six substitutes against Rieslasingen-Arlen on Saturday, whilst 18-year-old Jan-Niklas Beste had to make a debut at left-back having impressed Bosz in pre-season. Despite Schmelzer being not quite ready for a return, Beste will play with the under-19s this weekend, leaving just Passlack and Zagadou as realistic options in that position for the opening game against Wolfsburg.
Götze will be available against the Wolves on Saturday, whilst Emre Mor could also be involved, with sporting director Michael Zorc confirming that a possible move to Inter Milan appears to be on ice. Dortmund fans will also be pleased to see Neven Subotic seemingly in Bosz’s plans, even if it is only as a back-up. He had looked set to leave under Tuchel, having spent the second half of last season on loan with 1. FC Köln.
Bosz had opted to go with a 4-3-3 throughout pre-season, and so Dortmund can be expected to go with that as they go into the league campaign, and it is likely to suit the squad more than the various forms of 3-5-2 and 3-4-2-1 that Tuchel persisted with last year, especially for wide players like Pulisic and, if he stays, Dembélé.
How far can this team go?
Dortmund have a lot of ground to make up on Bayern if they are to finally break the Bavarian side’s spell of domination of German football, and they know they will need to hit the ground running, which may not be easy with a coach and a new system. Their injury problems could hinder them too, whilst their defence remains a weak point.
However even if they lose Dembélé and are without Reus for a significant part of the season, they still have enough talent to make a big impact. Someone like Pulisic is surely going to get even better this season, whilst Aubameyang is likely to be as lethal as ever as he looks to go head-to-head again with Lewandowski for the Torjäger cannon. Dahoud also has the potential to really improve their midfield options.
There is also the matter of their rivals. Leipzig could suffer with second-season syndrome, especially as they look to balance the demands of the UEFA Champions League, whilst the likes of Hoffenheim and Köln will struggle to repeat the exploits of last season. Leverkusen and Schalke 04 are amongst the giants of the league who are shadows of their former selves at present. Even Bayern showed big signs of faulting during a troubled pre-season.
For those reasons, this could be the most competitive Bundesliga title race in some time. If Bayern’s powers really are waning, and if Dortmund get their own house in order, they could be the best placed side to take everyone by surprise and finally win back the Meisterschale.
Quote via Fußball im Revier.