Last summer, after months of speculations, the 25-year-old German midfielder Ilkay Gündogan, a subject of much transfer speculation over the years, finally made his move to Manchester City for a fee of 27 million euros. You might forget that Ilkay Gündogan was on the verge of leaving Dortmund a season prior after Klopp stepped down. However, a last minute phone call from new manager Thomas Tuchel, who explained to Gündo his intriguing playing system , eventually convinced the midfielder to stay in Dortmund for another season. Last summer, however, Thomas Tuchel failed to convince Gündogan to stay with BVB, as he moved to new pastures.
Gündogan’s departure meant that Dortmund had no real midfield lynchpin to support Julian Weigl, especially since Nuri Sahin has not been in the best form due to his ever-growing injury problems. However, Dortmund did manage to sign a few midfielders over the summer in the form of Sebastian Rode, Mikel Merino and Raphaël Guerreiro – even though Thomas Tuchel was seemingly unaware of the Portuguese starlet’s hidden talent.
The signing of Rode, in particular raised a few eyebrows at first, especially since the player was signed from rivals FC Bayern. However Rode, a self-confessed Dortmund fan growing up became an instant fan-favorite after a good pre-season. A warrior-like player in the middle, Rode looked to possess the passing abilities coupled with brilliant awareness and it made the fans instantly believe that the former Eintracht Frankfurt man can fill the void left by Ilkay Gündogan, such was his temerity.
After the end of the Hinrunde, it doesn’t seem to be going well for Rode thus far at BVB.
Despite featuring in 520 minutes of Bundesliga football so far, Rode, started only three games this season and with just two full length game, one of which came in the 1:0 away defeat against RB Leipzig. It appears that the pragmatic midfielder so far, has failed to exhibit his qualities with the Dortmund first team, mostly due to his lack of ambition with the ball. As Dustin Ward at Statsbomb observed, Rode’s passes travel 2.5 yards away from goal on average, meaning that he often hinders the transition to attack by always taking the conservative route.
The other reason for Sebastian Rode’s ineffectual rendition has been simple. The existence of Julian Weigl. Because the two midfielders occupy similar positions on the pitch, Tuchel could only one of the two midfielders as his single pivot in the 4-1-4-1 starting lineup. Rode’s value on the team sheet also somewhat decreased after the match against Eintracht Frankfurt some six weeks ago, as Luca Gierl asserted.
Then came Mikel Merino, who plays a rather small role in replacing Ilkay Gündogan. Merino arrived from CA Osasuna, after impressing with Los Rojillos last season, helping them win promotion to the first division of Spanish Football with timely goals, a great left-foot, and being a monster in the air.
Merino was seen frolicking as a center back on a few occasion for Dortmund in the pre-season. Intriguing yet dicey, Merino’s overall defensive play gave Tuchel an extra dimension in his encumbered squadron. Come the season however, The Spanish youth international has been restricted from having regular first team appearances and was entirely left off the Champions League roster. That is understandable, but the 20-year-old leaves a huge promise for the future as an option for replacing his current Man City counterpart.
Which leaves us with BVB’s final new signing …..
Raphaël Adelino José Guerreiro, the name may seem extensive but his playing attributes can only be described in a petite and unpretentious manner: smart, composed, and confident, Guerreiro has been a bit of a star for Dortmund this season after arriving from FC Lorient in the summer.
The 22-year-old played a host of roles for Thomas Tuchel’s team during the Hinrunde. Sometimes as a fullback, sometimes as a central midfielder, Guerreiro has also featured in left wing for BVB in the campaign. Scoring two goals and providing three assists as well as creating seven chances in the Bundesliga may seem jaw dropping, and he quickly became a fan favorite. But did he manage to replace Ilkay though?
Guerreiro’s versatility and skill on the ball coupled with a football mind like a sponge, gives Thomas Tuchel a series of options for his team. Nevertheless, the dicey and under-the radar performance this season, revealed Dortmund’s problem of not having a midfielder who could terminate the opposition defense and break into the lines between the defensive channels with the ball on a consistent basis. Thomas Tuchel’s team were completely outclassed by Roger Schmidt’s brilliantly executed collective midfield pressing. With Julian Weigl, being occupied more in defensive build-up and Gonzalo Castro, playing almost as a secondary striker, there is no secret that Dortmund are currently missing someone who could facilitate the middle half of the pitch. Same can be said for the clash against Eintracht. Castro has had quite a few good games for Dortmund already this year, but remains an extremely streaky player that disappears against stronger teams. Rode, who is a subject of criticism by many Dortmund fans, is definitely not the answer.
That means that it’s up to Raphael Guerreiro to replace the German international now playing for Pep Guardiola.
There’s no doubt that Guerreiro’s wide range of skill sets provides him with positional flexibility. A left back three some six months ago, he has turned into an answer for any situation on the field. That’s however, not to say he’s been absolutely perfect, at times the Portuguese international tends to struggle a bit with his decision making and might as well be fragile on the possession when the opposition come at full force. So, in general, Dortmund have yet failed to replace the stunning Ilkay Gündogan, which was particularly visible against pressing machines like Bayer Leverkusen or RB Leipzig or even Eintracht Frankfurt.
But the presence of Raphael Guerreiro, leaves a hope for the Dortmund faithful and in time, he will probably fix his imperfections and perhaps be a better outlet than Gündogan for Dortmund in the middle. In no time, Guerreiro has inserted himself into more and more of a middle man for Dortmund and with further development under Tuchel in the coming months could just bode well for the Portuguese international and his team. Meanwhile, his injury problems this season, have kept him out of action for most of the period in the Hinrunde.
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