2015/16 Season Preview: Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund (BVB)

  • Nickname(s): die Schwarzgelben, die Borussen.
  • Founding: 1909.
  • Ground: Signal Iduna Park (81,359).
  • Colors: Black and Yellow.
  • Rivals: Schalke 04.

2014-15 Finishes:

  • Bundesliga: 7th place (46 points on 13 wins, 7 draws, 14 losses and a +5 GD).
  • DFB Pokal: Final (lost to VfL Wolfsburg 1-3).
  • UEFA Champions/Europa League (if applicable): Eliminated in first knockout round by Juventus (1-5 on aggregate).
  • Top Goal Scorer: Pierre-Emrick Aubameyang (16 goals).

“60-Second Dossier”

  • Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals: 7 matches.
  • Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 6 matches.
  • Number of Matches drawn: 7 matches.
  • Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 10 matches.
  • Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 4 matches.
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in loss: 1 match.
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in draw: 2 matches.
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 2 matches.
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 1 match.

2014-15 Season Summary

If you’re a BVB supporter, like me, then you’re probably still recovering from last season’s cardiac-neuro mess of an adventure. 2014-15 was the clichéd (archetypal in this case?) roller coaster season. No, really:

BVB's 2014-15 season: the narrative. A more harrowing line graph doesn't exist. (Courtesy of Kicker.de)
BVB’s 2014-15 season: the narrative. A more harrowing line graph doesn’t exist. (Courtesy of Kicker.de)

You know the roller coaster: big climb at the beginning, huge drop – you scream, you cry, you might wet your pants – then the zig-zag stuff with a final climb. Yet supporters cannot live on theme park drama alone. This season, I want boring top 5 in table stability (surely, there’s a single German word for this wish?).

Last season, BVB dropped precipitously to table bottom. Everybody psychologized Klopp and die Startelf. Everything seemed to be going wrong at this nadir in the early Rückrunde. The dark passed, slowly. Even 16th place felt great. Juventus knocked out of the UCL in humiliating style, but BVB rolled through the DFB Pokal, even if some luck and Bayern self-destruction was needed. As the dust cleared up, BVB crawled toward a Europa League qualifying slot and, simultaneously, into the Pokal final, only to lose to VfL Wolfburg 1-3.

Oh my heart, calm thyself!

Beyond the results, BVB’s season was a statistical mixed bag. Auba emerged as the top goal-scorer (16 goals, 5th most in the Bundesliga) with the oft-injured Reus (7 goals) a distant second. Moreover, Auba (6) and Reus (5) also led the club in assists. For “key passes,” BVB relied on Reus (2.5 per match), Kagawa (1.8), Mkhitaryan (1.5), and Auba (1.4). In terms of passing volume, naturally Ilkay Gündogan led the club in touches and passing work with Hummels, Subotic, and Kehl also contributing heavily.

In general, BVB could score goals above average (47 goals total – 7th most in the Bundesliga); however, this production was a big drop off from previous seasons, which routinely saw BVB scoring the most or 2nd most goals in the league.

Many commentators, myself included, attributed this decrease in scoring production to tactics other clubs used to neutralize BVB usual transitional attacks, which are predicated on breaking with speed and space. Clubs denied BVB both key ingredients through a variety of tactics: simply conceding big swaths of possession to BVB, clogging the midfield, clogging the top of BVB’s box, or sticking to a boxy defensive shape.

Typically, these tactics forced BVB into slow build-up play, which seemed counter-intuitive and even awkward for Klopp’s gegen-pressing trained boys. BVB played fallow cross after cross into a crowded box (where the BVB attacker was often surrounded by four defenders, it seemed), or when they won possession during some pressing, they lacked the space and ability to generate speed to create the kinds of dazzling attacks of interlacing play we’ve become accustomed to from BVB in previous seasons under Klopp.

On the other side of the ball, BVB famously conceded early goals, such as the now-Bundesliga record to Leverkusen’s Karim Bellarabi during the season opener’s first seconds, as well as set piece goals and many a goal in which they were caught out too deep – over-committed to pressing – conceding classic counter-attack goals. Grim and ugly.

Again and again, BVB was stifled by opponents, while conceding stinging goals. Goals were hard-earned. And Klopp’s tactics simply seemed one-dimensional and outdated. It was time for a makeover. Klopp stepped down midway during the Rückrunde and former Mainz boss, Thomas Tuchel, was announced as the replacement.

With the innovative Tuchel at the helm, it’s blank slate season in Dortmund. Already, Tuchel has lined BVB differently during friendlies (e.g. in a 4-1-4-1). We all are expecting a “new look” BVB, but I don’t know what the look will be or even to what extent it will be “new.” Surely, residue from Klopp’s culture, training methods, and tactics will linger over the club throughout the 2015-16 season. Change is slow in football. Regardless, Tuchel’s sides have typically played attack-oriented football with shifting shapes and tactics. Think flexibility.

Tuchel inherits a squad full of longtime Klopp men, like Hummels, Subotic, Schmelzer, Sahin, Piszczek, Kuba, Großkreutz, and Weidenfeller. Even relatively “new” players like Gündogan, Reus, Mkhitaryan, or Durm had been thoroughly absorbed into Klopp’s ways. In the press, these players have been saying all “the right things” about being excited and open to Tuchel’s methods and systems, but bedding into new ways will take time, given how modern football itself is built on methodical repetition, routine, habituation, and “naturalization.” De-programming will probably take all season.

Joining the old boys are new boys, Gonzalo Castro (central midfielder), Roman Bürki (keeper), and youngster Julian Weigl (midfielder). Of the three, Castro is a lock to eventually start in the midfield and Bürki is positioned to replace the long-standing Weidenfeller between the sticks. In all, a fairly quiet transfer season for BVB, although rumors persist (e.g. Shaqiri?). At least Tuchel has a core to mold and work with – a core familiar with each other through success and failure.

2014-15 Trivia

On Matchday 1, BVB conceded the quickest goal in league history (7 seconds) to Leverkusen’s Karim Bellerabi.

Borussia Dortmund tied with HSV for the league’s longest string of losses during the season: 5 matches.

Money Matters

Current transfer activities show Borussia Dortmund with a net of -7.3 million €, thanks expenditures exceeding earnings; however, this loss is offset from revenue made in previous transfer market windows.

Earnings (Transfers Out) = 9.7 million €

  • Mitch Langerak (VfB Sttutgart): 3.5 million €.
  • Milos Jojic (1.FC Köln): 3 million €.
  • Ciro Immobile (Sevilla): 3 million € (loan).
  • Zlatan Alomerovic (Kaiserslautern): 200 thousand €.

Expenditures (Transfers In) = 17 million €

  • Gonzalo Casto (Leverkusen): 11 million €.
  • Roman Bürki (SC Freiburg): 3.5 million €.
  • Julian Weigl (1860 Munich): 2.5 million €.

The Boss

In case you’ve been living in a dirt burrow, the big news is that Jürgen Klopp stepped down after seven phenomenon years of service. In Kloppo’s place steps in the one and only Thomas Tuchel – the 41 year tactical hot thing, hipster love object, and Dostoevsky lookalike. Or simply, the Yellow Coach. The mainstream narrative on Tuchel plays something like this: he’s a innovative coach featuring uber-flexible formations on the pitch that constantly change mid-match. His sides are exciting and showcase attacking flare, no matter the roster or transfer budget (after all, Tuchel coached money “light weight” Mainz 05). If you want fußball of the future, Herr Tuchel is your man. The alt-narrative, on the other hand, is murkier: he’s less much charismatic than Kloppo. He’s cerebral. He’s a bit abrasive. He’s distant.

Tactically, we eagerly await Tuchel’s reign at BVB. At least we know new ideas will be plentiful on the pitch. Last season, BVB was ironically mired in Klopp’s single Vollgasveranstaltung philosophy built on gegen-pressing, which was brilliant at its peak, but became a liability during Klopp’s last couple seasons as other Bundesliga coaches solved and simply snuffed out the fast transitional and space BVB need to make the plan work. However, new ideas take awhile to incubate and flourish, so don’t expect die Schwarzgelben to thrive tactically until deep into this upcoming season – or possibly even in 2016-17.

Personality-wise, I don’t know what to expect with Tuchel and current crop of BVBers. If I have any worries, they are in this area. Obviously, Tuchel’s personality is a big change from Klopp’s. The latter was famous for his effusive emotion, physical affection, gesticulations, and passion. Many of the current squad, especially the long timers (e.g. Hummels, Subotic, Schmelzer, Bender, Sahin, and Piszczek) became real footballers under this style of tutelage. I have no idea how they will respond to Tuchel’s personality, especially when late season rolls along.

In all, I’m excited about Tuchel and, as an educator myself, predict that the players will respond positively to the challenge posed by learning new ideas.

Odds to Win League:

  • Bets365: 20/1 odds.
  • William Hill: 16/1 odds.
  • BetFair: 20/1 odds.
  • Bwin: 18/1 odds.
  • Ladbrokes: 14/1 odds.

Five-Year Record:

  • 2010-11: 1st place (75 points, +45 GD).
  • 2011-12: 1st place (81 points, +55 GD).
  • 2012-13: 2nd place (66 points, +39 GD).
  • 2013-14: 2nd place (71 points, +42 GD).
  • 2014-15: 7th place (46 points, +5 GD).

Questions with a Supporter:

I reached out to Dortmunder, ESPN FC columnist, and the Yellow Wall podcast co-host, Stefan Buczko for some insider scoops:

  • “Keep an eye out for . . . Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Yes, I could have gone with the ‘obvious’ Jonas Hofmann or Jeremy Dudziak – both are great prospects – but this will be the season of the Magictaryan, at least I desperately hope so. They guy is still Dortmund’s most expensive transfer (€27.5 million), but hasn’t really displayed all his talent on the pitch. Expectations are high and BVB fans measure him against Kevin De Bruyne, the club’s first choice to replace Mario Götze. Mkhitaryan’s 3rd season is make or break for the Armenian, and I’m hoping for the former.”
  • “Terrace favorite . . . Jakub Blaszczykowski has stuck with Dortmund through good and bad times. He’s always humble and hard-working. Besides, he’s real fighter with a moving life story. Kuba is simply a genuinely likable character and BVB fans have a collective soft spot for him.”
  • “Player you’d happily drive to another club . . . Moritz Leitner. The former starlet lacks any perspective now at Borussia Dortmund and needs to be cut loose. His 2 year loan at VfB wasn’t very successful. Leiter simply hasn’t developed to the anticipated level.”
  • “Advice you’d give your manager . . . Easy: a semester in ‘Set-piece Defending 101.’ Tuchel has made a great impression this off-season, but BVB still seem to struggle in stopping opponents’ set pieces.”
  • “Opposition player you secretly admire . . . Josip Drmic. I’d have liked to see him at BVB and I fear he’ll play well for ‘Gladbach. Initially, he snubbed BVB for Leverkusen, thinking the competition would be too tough for him. Instead, Dortmund ended up with Adrian Ramos, who had a terrible first year. Maybe Drmic’s decision was really quite clever. Still, he impressed me a lot at Nürnberg and I always saw plenty of potential in him. Gladbach’s sporting director Max Eberl always seems to do tidy work.”
  • “Opposition player you despise. . . Rafinha. A Bayern player with a Schalke past, combined with boundless petulance and a severe lack of sportsmanship. Can it get worse? I think not.”
  • “Tip you’d give away fans . . . Try Wurst Willi for the best Curry Wurst in town.”
  • “Where will you finish . . . In the top four and above Schalke. I expect it to be a very close race for 3rd with Bayer Leverkusen, while I don’t see ‘Gladbach reproducing their great 2014-15 Bundesliga campaign (they were almost entirely spared from injuries; the law of averages looms ahead for them). I’m relying on a superb second half of the season from Dortmund, because I’m sure they will have some catching up to do. Still many issues need fixing, which will take time.”

Crucial Fixtures Stretch:

Remarkably, I wouldn’t identify a “stretch” of matches, at least in terms of the Bundesliga schedule. However, depending on how BVB performs in the Europa League and DFB Pokal, a stretch of matches could emerge.

Back the to Bundesliga season, it’s difficult to find something like back-to-back(-to-back?) matches that look scary. Instead, the challenging matches – on paper – are scattered:

  • Revierderby: home (11/7) and away (4/16).
  • Bayern: home (10/3) and away (3/5).
  • Wolfsburg: away (12/5) and home (4/29).
  • Leverkusen: home (9/5) and away (2/20).
  • Mönchengladbach: home (8/15) and away (1/23).

If anything “big picture” stands out, it’s that BVB is playing the big boys at home during the Hinrunde with one exception. So it better be a Hinrunde of business for Tuchel’s Jungs.

Verdict

Bundesliga: 5th place, and more “Europa Endlos” for 2016-17.

Europa League: Quarter-Finals, baby!

DFB Pokal: Semi-Finals.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. He writes for Howler magazine's website, as well as The Short Pass where he covers the USL and other topics. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and sports are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!