Season Preview – Borussia Dortmund – Going for the Hattrick

What a season it was for Borussia Dortmund last year. The Bundesliga and Pokal double confirmed that their title triumph of 2011 wasn’t a one-off like Kaiserslautern and Werder Bremen’s title wins a few years ago and that Jürgen Klopp’s men mean business. And what business this is! Their exciting play was thrilling to watch, especially their counterattacks commanded by Shinji Kagawa in the middle with Kuba and Großkreutz pumping up the wings and feeding Robert Lewandowski, who experienced a season of confirmation in the Bundesliga.

An important part of their success was also contributed by Sebastian Kehl, who stayed healthy for most part of the season and produced true captain’s performances all year long. Their victories over Bayern in the league (0-1 and 1-0) and in the Pokal final (5-2) confirmed BVB’s current dominance of German football. The only blip in the season was their Champions League performance, where they weren’t able to reproduce their Bundesliga form and didn’t make it past the group stages.

It was also an eventful summer at the Signal Iduna Park, as Marco Reus broke the bank coming in from Borussia M’gladbach and replaced Shinji Kagawa in attacking midfield, who left for Manchester United after refusing to sign a new contract. Former Dortmund youth player Reus will want to hit the ground running as it seems that Bayern will once again be BVB’s main rivals this year and they come stronger than last year. Once again, Bayern are favourites to win the Bundesliga, especially after the recent Super Cup win against Dortmund and their new quality signings, but can Klopp’s men make it three consecutive Bundesliga wins?

Transfers:

In:

Leonardo Bittencourt (Energie Cottbus)
Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Julian Schieber (VfB Stuttgart)
Oliver Kirch (Kaiserslautern)
Mustafa Amini (Central Coast)

Out:

Johannes Focher (Sturm Graz)
Dimitar Rangelov (FC Luzern)
Daniel Ginczek (St Pauli)*
Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United)
Lasse Sobiech (Greuther Fürth)*
Marco Stiepermann (Energie Cottbus)
Julian Koch (MSV Duisburg)*
Lucas Barrios (Guangzhou)
Florian Kringe (FC St Pauli)
Antonio da Silva (MSV Duisburg)

The team

It’s not often that a team loses one of their best players in the summer and his replacement improves the squad even more so than it was before. Shinji Kagawa made it clear that his future was in England and that he wasn’t going to renew his contract, which expired in 2013. He was never going to be short of suitors and Klopp was clever enough to snap up a replacement for him before the season ended and Kagawa’s transfer was confirmed. Marco Reus returned to Dortmund for 17m€. Some may argue that Kagawa was quite inconsistent and Reus’ storming year last year for Die Fohlen will most definitely excite the fans of his new club; in other words, no big loss.

Roman Weidenfeller is the untouchable number 1 in goal and one of the best keepers in Germany, an incredibly underrated part of the Dortmund team. Mitchell Langerak will have competition at number 2 with Zlatan Alomerovic coming up from the II team, a good prospect that, if he carries on with this projection, will be a frontrunner to replace Weidenfeller in the next few years.

Dortmund’s defence leaves very little room for selection doubts. Neven Subotić will partner Mats Hummels in what is most definitely the best central defense partnership in the Bundesliga and one of the best in Europe. The full back positions will once again be occupied by Łukasz Piszczek on the right and Marcel Schmelzer on the left, whose offensive contributions are as valuable as their defensive ones. Felipe Santana will once again present an thealternative to Hummels and Subotić and he did a decent job filling in for the Serb last year during the winter months when he was injured.  Also coming up is young Koray Günter who saw quite a few minute during pre-season. Chris Löwe should get more minutes this year on the left side of defense and veteran Patrick Owomoyela will also be waiting for his chance on the sidelines after renewing his contract this summer.

Klopp has plenty of players to choose from to fill in the two central midfielder roles. Sebastian Kehl was fit for most of the season last year and his invaluable experience and captain’s influence was a big plus for the team. New arrival Ilkay Gündogan had a positive second half of the season partnering Kehl with the talented Sven Bender the other contender for this position. Kehl’s age and fitness troubles will probably mean that he won’t be able to be play two matches every week, so Moritz Leitner will also be a player that Klopp can play here although his recent poor performance against Bayern in the Super Cup showed that he’s still a bit raw for the big games. We should also expect to see the exciting Australian Mustafa Amini this season, although there’s a good chance he will be enjoying most of his minutes in the 3. Liga with die Schwarzgelben’s II side. Leonardo Bittencourt was another exciting young prospect brought in from Energie Cottbus, a player capable of filling in the center of the pitch as well as further up the field.

In attacking midfield, Götze’s injury last season seemed to be an impediment for BVB early in the season but, as it happened, it was a blessing in disguise. Jakub Błaszczykowski didn’t begin the season in the starting XI but quickly made the right wing his own along with his fellow Polish compatriot Piszczek doing  overlaps. Kuba’s contribution was invaluable with his pace and determination. Götze is fit again and the most reasonable thing would be for him to take over Kagawa’s position in central attacking midfield with Reus moving to the left wing, although Klopp seems to prefer Großkreutz on the left, even starting him in the Super Cup and moving Reus in behind the striker. Reus is equally good in either position but Götze’s quality should mean that the starting spot should be his, although we’ll have to wait and see. Ivan Perišić is an exciting player and did well most of the times he played on the left or behind the striker but he won’t be getting all the minutes that he wants and could be a contender for a move in winter, since his talent definitely deserves time on the field.

Up front, Robert Lewandowski replaced Lucas Barrios up front last year and what a season it was for the Polish frontman. 22 goals in the league, including the only one in the crucial win against Bayern in the Rückrunde, 7 in the Pokal including a hattrick in the final against Bayern once again, and only one in the Champions League meant that Lewandowski suddenly became one of the hottest properties in Europe. His excellent heading skills, finishing, feet, balance and movement make him a certainty for the starting number 9 position. After Lucas Barrios’ 8.5m€ transfer to the Chinese League, a transfer that will have pleased most Dortmund fans, the alternative to the striker’s spot is new arrival Julian Schieber from Stuttgart, who signed for 5.5m€. Schieber will provide a threat from the bench, also being able to drop to the channels if need be.

The manager and tactics

As mentioned before, Klopp will be playing a 4-2-3-1 that could possibly change to a 4-3-3 if things aren’t going Dortmund’s way, thanks to the amount of talented, versatile attackers and midfielders in the squad.  Klopp has proven to be one of the shrewdest managers in the league, getting it right in all the big domestic games last season, especially in his midfield tactics annulling Bayerns’. He will most definitely want to make an impression in Europe this year, since Dortmund undoubtedly have the quality to improve on last year’s result and even go through to the quarter finals, which should be their target. In order to do this, he will no doubt have to rotate his players and it will be interesting to see how he does so and the results that he’ll have with these rotations.

Dortmund’s projected line up – expect it to be rotation heavy

Strengths and weaknessess

The depth in BvB’s squad is a strong point for Dortmund, especially since their main rivals, Bayern München, have also strengthened their squad.  Klopp’s Bayern counterpart, Jupp Heynckes, will  have a deeper, and thus fresher, squad than he had at his disposal last season, most probably a contributing factor in the Bavarians to grab any of the three brass rings within their grasp. Klopp will have to use rotations wisely since it’s quite unlikely that Bayern will be dropping as many points this season as they did last year.

The only area where Dortmund may fall short on this season is in defensive options. If either Hummels or Subotić were to get injured for a long spell, Santana may not be a suitable replacement for big games and Günter’s inexperience would likely be exploited. Last year’s match against Stuttgart at home was one of the most thrilling matches of the year, although it was a complete defensive disaster, something which they cannot afford to repeat this year —  concentration will be key. Their inexperience in Europe last year was costly and this season should see a drastic improvement, but their seeding in the draw may mean that they may have to play some big clubs in their group.  The prospect of potential CL losses may warrant a stronger mental strength for a team that’s not used to losing, and this could have a negative repercussion in their league form, mentally as well as physically.

Prediction 

The title is the obvious goal for die Schwarzgelben this year and there’s no reason to believe that they can’t achieve it. In my opinion, they’re a stronger team with Reus instead of Kagawa and, with Götze back for the season, their attack is fearsome. Bayern will definitely be their biggest threat and despite their new signings, there’s no guarantee that they will hit the ground running straight away. The Super Cup loss should be nothing to go by since these early season tournaments are a pure spectacle and nothing more than that.

The key for Dortmund is to again remain consistent throughout the season and to not let the additional European fixtures interrupt their flow should they progress past the group stage.  Klopp will know this very well and will prepare the team accordingly, even if there are Champions League games in between, which might be the only reason why they might get distracted domestically if not dealt with properly. However, Bayern will most likely be in the same position, so the title will go to the team that can keep their players mentally and physically stronger across the stretch of the calendar. With there always being more pressure at Säbener Straße and Heynckes having one last shot at winning a  title before leaving the club, that’s where Dortmund have the advantage to win their third consecutive Bundesliga trophy for the first time in their history.

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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