Important summer ahead for Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund had an impressive revival under Thomas Tuchel this season. The former Mainz manager came to the club with big shoes to fill following the departure of the popular Jürgen Klopp, who spent seven largely successful years at BVB and had quite a standard to live up to from the get go. It didn’t help matters either that Dortmund failed to finish in the top four last year, which meant that he also had to take over an under-performing side that wasn’t going to be in the Champions League in his first campaign.

However, under Tuchel, Dortmund have returned to their old ways and have re-established themselves not only as one of the top dogs in Germany, but in all of Europe as well. With 78 points this season in the Bundesliga – their second-best ever tally in club history after the 2011/12 campaign when they won the domestic double – Tuchel led BVB to a comfortable second place finish.

Their impressive, consistent results have meant that Bayern Munich had to wait until the penultimate matchday of the campaign to be confirmed as champions, which shows that this year’s title race was far closer and more competitive than it has been in recent years since Bayern’s domestic domination began.

In addition to giving Bayern a run for their money all season long, Dortmund have also put up the best offensive numbers in the league this year, with their 82 goals bettering the second-best record of Bayern’s 80. They’ve also made it to the DFB-Pokal final for the fourth time in the last five seasons where they will meet, you guessed it, Bayern Munich, on May 21st. We also saw Dortmund make it to the last eight of the Europa League, beating the likes of FC Porto and Tottenham on the way, but losing a dramatic thriller 4-3 to Liverpool at Anfield which signaled their exit from the competitions at the hands of former manager Jürgen Klopp.

Overall, it’s been a stellar campaign for the club that has seen them win a place back in the Champions League group stage for next season and may well end with their first major trophy since 2012, when they beat the same opponents Bayern 5-2 in the Pokal final. Regardless of what may or may not happen Saturday evening though, Dortmund have already begun planning for the future and rightfully so.

With the bitter news made official last week that club captain Mats Hummels is moving to Bayern Munich for €38M and the future of currently injured star midfielder Ilkay Gündogan still unclear, on top of the stalled negotiations with Henrikh Mkhitaryan over a new deal, Dortmund have had to re-group and strategize on how they’ll topple the Bavarian giants in 2016/17 with Bayern showing no intent on slowing down and allowing BVB to get any closer to taking their crown away from them.

Dortmund have reacted and made a signing this past week themselves by confirming the acquisition of 19-year old French prodigy Ousmane Dembele from Rennes for €15M. But that appears to only signify just the beginning of what promises to be a busy summer at Signal Iduna Park for BVB, who also have Spanish young midfielder Mikel Merino on his way from Osasuna for €3.75M.

While it’s difficult to improve a team that’s amassed nearly 80 points in the league and made it to another cup final, it’s clear that it’s what they must do if they are to seriously challenge Bayern for the German title. The main questions that need to be answered, what do they need to address? Who could they realistically bring in? And how do they replace Hummels and potentially Gündogan? Let’s take a closer look at the squad and their depth chart before we assess their needs.

Goalkeeper

Roman Bürki has had a good first season with the Yellow-Blacks since arriving from Freiburg, if not an unspectacular one. At times he can be shaky, which leaves cause for concern and the fact that deputy keeper Roman Weidenfeller was preferred to him in Europe may be a sign that Tuchel isn’t entirely convinced with him either. Nonetheless, he’s largely been dependable and seems likely to stay put and remain as the #1 for next season with Weidenfeller also staying on as a solid backup choice.

Had Dortmund not had other pressing issues to take care of, this may have been an area where they’d look to have strengthened, but it’s probably not going to happen now unless they get a good offer for Bürki from elsewhere that they’d be willing to accept. The third choice keeper is 22-year old BVB II starter Hendrik Bonmann who has yet to debut for the first team.

Right-back

With Lukas Piszczek playing some of his best football and being as healthy as he’s been in three years, as well as Matthias Ginter’s emergence here, there doesn’t seem to be a real need for BVB to scour the market for a right-back. Ginter and Piszczek have both been impressive in manning the fort there in the Ruckrunde and Hinrunde respectively and when considering that they also have Erik Durm and Sokratis Papastathopoulos who can play the role, not much time needs to be spent evaluating this position.

Center-back

It was already clear that BVB would need to address their problems here having allowed too many goals for their liking all season, with it being perhaps even the single biggest reason that they didn’t win the league ultimately. But with Hummels’ departure to Bayern now imminent, signing someone for this position is now certainly a priority for the summer window.

With Ginter seemingly still untrusted to play in the center of defense and Neven Subotic frozen out of the team, Dortmund only have Sokratis as a reliable natural center half in their ranks. Sven Bender can play here as well, as he has done for much of the campaign, but it’s clear as daylight that Dortmund will need to sign at least one player, if not two, here in the transfer market.

Hoffenheim’s Niklas Sule and Dynamo Kyiv’s Aleksandar Dragovic seem to be the main candidates linked with BVB to be Hummels’ replacement, both of which would arrive for only a fraction of the money that they’ve received from Bayern for their captain. German international Shkodran Mustafi, Joel Veltman of Ajax, and Leverkusen’s Omer Toprak have also been linked, but Sule and Dragovic seem to be the first choice targets this summer for Die Schwarzgelben.

Left-back

Here we have Marcel Schmelzer who’s had probably his best season with the club this term and is another one of those who’s rediscovered themselves with the arrival of Tuchel. With Schmelzer just being at the age of 28 as well, he’s set to remain as a key player for this team going forward into next season and with the likes of Erik Durm and Park Joo-Ho available to deputize for him, there doesn’t seem to be anything notable to do here for the management this summer.

Defensive/Central Midfield

With the midfield pivot roles, Dortmund seem to have several good options and all of different profiles from one another. They have the intelligent, maturing Julian Weigl who’s been a revelation since arriving from 1860 Munich, the supremely talented and tireless Gündogan, one of the best midfielders in Germany the last few years in Gonzalo Castro, and the somewhat forgotten Nuri Sahin who’s still a very capable player when healthy. They also have their new Spanish signing Merino, Moritz Leitner who’s become more involved with the first team again lately, as well as both Ginter and Bender who are more than able to fill in when needed in midfield.

With the plethora of options at their disposal here, it shouldn’t be expected for BVB to do anything here unless Gündogan ends up leaving which still seems to be an unknown case, although he’s more likely to depart than stay at this point with reports that he’s long agreed to join up with current Bayern boss Pep Guardiola at Manchester City next season. Unless Tuchel is planning on continuing with Castro in a deeper midfield role and/or hoping Sahin somehow stays healthy, which he’s struggled to do for years now, Dortmund will need to prepare a list of potential targets just in case he does.

Mahmoud Dahoud of Borussia Monchengladbach is the main name linked as a possible replacement, but with BMG captain Granit Xhaka on his way to the Premier League, it’s unlikely that Gladbach will be willing to part with their other midfield star. American midfielder Emerson Hyndman of Fulham has also emerged as someone who BVB may be in for as an alternative with his contract expiring next month, but there remains doubt over how substantial the rumor really is. Therefore, Dortmund may have to look elsewhere in the event that Gündogan leaves and they feel that a replacement is necessary.

Attacking Midfield

One of the positions in the team that seems adequately covered, but where many people believe that needs to be upgraded. Shinji Kagawa has racked up double digits in goals and assists this year, but has still never quite recovered the form that he displayed in his first stint at the club before moving to Manchester United in 2012.

However, with German star Marco Reus, the much improved Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Castro, new signing Dembele, and talented American teenager Christian Pulisic all in contention for a starting place and capable of playing here, it seems really unlikely that BVB will feel that there is a real need to fund a new signing here, unless something drastic happens.

Despite all that though, names like Oliver Torres from Atletico Madrid, Mainz’s Yunus Malli, and even former star Mario Götze of Bayern are all being linked with a possible move to Signal Iduna Park, but whether or not Dortmund are willing to invest so much and make room for a purchase in this position remains to be seen.

Right/Left Wingers

In the wide positions, there’s Reus, Mkhitaryan, and Pulisic. Alongside them, Dortmund can also count upon new signing Dembele, Castro, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and youngster Felix Passlack who can all operate out wide. On paper, it looks like very little needs to be done here.

However, with Mkhitaryan’s contract expiring next year and extension talks being stalled as well as Reus’ injury problems still not a thing of the past, there does remain a possibility that BVB may need to make a move in these positions in the market. As of right now, it appears unlikely and unnecessary to happen, but a Mkhitaryan refusal to commit his future to the club or a Reus injury at the Euros could change the entire picture.

Talents like Andrija Zivkovic of Partizan and Dinamo Zagreb sensation Josip Brekalo are possible targets who could come for free or on the cheap but would add even more potential quality to their squad should they realize their potential under Tuchel. Both can play on either flank and are touted to be the next big thing in Serbia and Croatia respectively and Dortmund, like many other clubs around Europe, are very much aware of that, hence their interest in the pair.

Center-forward

Aubameyang has developed into one of the best strikers in the world this season under Tuchel having scored 39 in all competitions and with his current deal running until 2020, the club don’t seem to hold any fear of losing him any time soon. There’s no doubt that he’s unquestionably seen as a key player for the club these days and that there’s no need to find an upgrade on him, but what’s behind him may need to be.

Although Adrian Ramos’ form has improved under Tuchel, he has not lived up to expectations since joining from Hertha Berlin in the summer of 2014 and may well exit the club this summer. Whether he does or not, another signing is perhaps necessary because in the event that Aubameyang ever goes down with injury, BVB look thin and incapable of replacing him very well.

German U-21 international Timo Werner is rumored as a possible signing now that VfB Stuttgart have been relegated while old links have been rehashed with the likes of future Brazilian star Gabriel Barbosa, nicknamed ‘Gabigol’ who’s included in next month’s Copa America Centenario squad, and Hoffenheim’s Kevin Volland once again coming out as potential targets up front for BVB.

It remains to be seen just who exactly Dortmund will go for this summer and how many of these listed names are actually in their transfer plans, but it’s almost a certainty that we can expect some movement from the club in the summer window. A centerback and an attacking signing are musts given their thinness in those departments, but it might go further than that and there may be more transfer work than most expect to take place at this time.

Tuchel has already settled on a strong core of players at his current disposal and probably sees it as unnecessary to break things up too much or add too many changes. With Hummels now leaving, he, along with the upper management, will look to do everything in their power to commit Gündogan and Mkhitaryan’s futures to the club long term in the coming weeks.

If they manage to do so, then it’s all about just adding the touches that they need to compete on all three major fronts next season once again and going one step further. If they end up losing both, or even one of them, then somewhat of a rebuilding, transitional process may be in store for next season and it would be the ultimate blow for them to see their potential title-challenging team dismantled before they even got the chance to give it a real go to dethrone Bayern in Germany.

One thing is for sure, this summer is a crucial one for the future of Borussia Dortmund and their competitiveness in Germany and Europe as a team that wants to challenge for Bundesliga and Champions League glory. It’s time to put their money where their mouth is and put up or shut up. Stand up and be counted if they want to be part of the elite group of teams or just be another one of the chasing pack behind them. This summer may well be decisive in figuring out which class or group they fall into.

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Edin Halilovic

Edin is a Bosnian currently residing in the United States whose interest in the Bundesliga and German football in general has been increasing heavily in recent years. Follow him @edinh_96