October 19, 2017

Back to Football: Meet Three of Dortmund’s Fresh Faces

As the summer transfer window rolls on for another six weeks, the lads at Borussia Dortmund are back on the pitch and training for the upcoming season. This is also the first time for us to see the team under the guidance of new manager, Peter Bosz. Despite his hiring coming in the shadow of a nasty falling-out between former manager Thomas Tuchel and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, which divided the Dortmund fan base to say the least, there does seem to be a sense of great optimism surrounding the team at the moment. It could be due to some of the signings that BVB has made so far this summer. Many of us know Ömer Toprak fairly well and thus we will be focusing on the three ‘youngsters’ the Black and Yellows have welcomed to the club in the past few weeks. Let’s jump right in and meet these fresh faces that will be making their official Bundesliga debuts in the ‘Ruhrpott’ in only a few weeks.

 

Mahmoud Dahoud

Age: 21

Position: Central Defensive Midfield

Previous Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach

This is the player that excites the most. Dahoud splashed onto the scene for ‘Die Fohlen’ in 2015/16 under newly appointed manager Andre Schubert. He made 32 league appearances, scored five goals, and had nine assists. To say he had one of the best debut season’s in ‘Gladbach’s rich history is an understatement. Dahoud followed that up with another fantastic effort in 2016/17. He ranked fifth in the Bundesliga in overall efficiency among all central defensive midfielders, sandwiched in between two of his new teammates, Gonzalo Castro who was fourth and Julian Weigl following in sixth. He completed 82% of his passes and ranked 16th in the Bundesliga with six assists. Dahoud likewise excelled in the penalty area, where he connected on 54% of his passes. In addition he was also an above average dribbler netting a success rate of 66% completed. There is room for improvement however. Dahoud was about league average among other CDMs in his one-on-one duels, aerial duels, and tackle percentage. So that begs the question: Where does he fit in? Let’s look at a few possibilities.

One option I love for Dahoud is a 4-2-3-1 formation playing a ‘double 6’ (2 CDMs) with Julian Weigl or Gonzalo Castro. I think Dortmund learned their lesson with the 3-man back line last season and should abandon that with the players they currently have on the roster. If Bosz, though, does decide to go with three in the back, then he could opt for a 3-2-4-1 with Dahoud again in a ‘double 6’ role, partnered with one of his aforementioned teammates. Another formation I would like to discuss is the 4-1-4-1. Bosz has a lot to play with here. He can place Dahoud outright as the CDM, or if BVB needs a more defensively capable lineup, move Dahoud to an attacking midfield role playing alongside Mario Götze or Shinji Kagawa. With Dahoud’s creative ability he is a perfect fit for Dortmund and can be a difference maker in just about any formation.

 

Maximilian Philipp

Age: 23

Position: Secondary Striker

Previous Club: SC Freiburg

Philipp had a breakout season for the club from the Breisgau. He made 25 league appearances and scored nine goals which ranked 16th in the Bundesliga for the 2016/17 campaign. Philipp is a unique character due to the fact that he can play any position in attack. He can line up at either wing position, and is no stranger to central attacking midfield, but is most productive as a center forward. He plays with pace and possesses good physical strength which enables him to burst into the opponents’ penalty box in the blink of an eye. He finished the season ranked 17th in overall efficiency among all forwards in the league.

Most impressive was his effectiveness in one-on-one duels, which he won 42% of the time, a solid result for a forward. His greatest asset is without a doubt his versatility. I must admit, I am still rather skeptical of this player and how he will fit into Dortmund’s lineup. His market value per Transfermarkt is €15 million yet Dortmund wrote a check for €20 million. This might irritate a few fans, especially if he fails to make an immediate impact. Let’s examine where Philipp might be best utilized.

If Dortmund is at full strength I do not see a spot for Philipp in the starting XI. If we try to slot him in at striker, then here sits Bundesliga Golden Boot winner Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang. Unless it’s against a lesser opponent such as in a DFB Pokal match, he will get no love here. He could also be fighting with Andre Schürrle for reserve minutes as he too can play as a center forward/striker and fill in for Aubameyang up front. Of course if Aubameyang leaves the club before the transfer window closes these options change.

Now let’s examine the even more crowded Dortmund midfield. Humor me for a second. Assume that Peter Bosz goes a little crazy and lines up on the pitch in a 4-5-1. Those five midfield spots would be occupied by some combination of Dembélé, Reus, Götze, Kagawa, Weigl, Dahoud, Pulisic, Guerreiro, Castro etc. … you get the idea. As previously stated, Philipp has played as an attacking midfielder before, but it is certainly not his forte, nor is he more capable at this point in time than any of the previously mentioned players. However, while Guerreiro, Weigl and Reus are healing from their injuries, there is an opening as a winger for Philipp until they come back in mid-to-late autumn.

Ultimately Philipp’s place in the lineup is complicated in 2017. It is my belief he was purchased to make an impact during the 2018/19 season and beyond. This of course brings his price tag back into focus. It is very possible that we see Maximilian Philipp as a steal when we evaluate him in three years. As things stand currently, €20 million is a high price to pay for a player who, initially at least, will spend a good deal of time on the bench.

 

Dan-Axel Zagadou

Age: 18

Position: Central Defender

Previous Club: Paris Saint-Germain B Team

Dan-Axel Zagadou was a good piece of business for the Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund. With his contract set to soon expire at PSG, BVB signed the 18-year-old phenom to continue his development in the Ruhrpott. He is the French U-18 National Team Captain and is regarded as one of the top young prospects from France. It should also be noted that fellow French international and Borussia Dortmund star Ousmane Dembélé could have been an influence on “die Borussen” getting Zagadou to put pen to paper on a contract. Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke was very impressed by the youngster and did not hesitate to sign him before Manchester City or RB Leipzig could secure his services. Both clubs were rumored to be heavily interested. So what exactly is BVB getting with this talented Frenchman?

Zagadou possesses many qualities that make managers excited. To say PSG was not happy to see him depart is not doing the player justice. He is composed on the ball and his tackling is simply superb. He is fast, has tremendous strength for his age, and is even able to join the attack from his central defensive position. Having said that, there are occasions when he is overconfident in his own abilities. He will sometimes force the ball into tight spaces unnecessarily and appears to become unfocused or flustered in pressure situations. Again though, this “kid” just turned 18 in June.

The short answer to what Dan-Axel Zagadou’s role is for Dortmund: he is a highly-rated, athletic defender with an amazing amount of upside who automatically fits into the Dortmund rotation. Due to the lack of center back depth on the BVB roster, he should get an immediate chance to play. It is assumed that Peter Bosz’s formations will consist mostly of a 4-man defensive line. If that is the case, Zagadou will be a key substitute from match day one onward. He will accompany Marc Bartra, Sokratis, Ömer Toprak and returnee Neven Subotić in Dortmund’s central defense. More importantly, BVB lost two center backs recently who were major contributors over the past few seasons in Sven Bender and Matthias Ginter. This immediately opens the door for Zagadou to be   contributor during the upcoming season. Expect Zagadou’s development to continue at Dortmund and to become a permanent fixture in the Black and Yellows’ defense for many seasons to come. We could be witnessing the next world-class defender to call Dortmund ‘home’.

[Note: All stats are based on 90 minute metrics and are taken from InStat].

 

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Christopher Smith

Christopher grew up in Amberg, Germany, but now resides in Charleston, South Carolina in the USA where he follows the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga on a weekly basis. He is an avid Borussia Dortmund fan, but enjoys all German football from top to bottom. His favorite players are "Super" Mario Götze and Christian Pulisic. You can follow him on twitter @crittysmith

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