Borussia Dortmund have made a fantastic start to the new season and stand top of the table after the first seven games. A new look, youthful back four has emerged in recent games with established stars such as Marcel Schmelzer and Ömer Toprak shifted to the sidelines. There is also an intriguing battle for the right-back slot developing with veteran Lukasz Piszczek facing a stern challenge from loan signing Achraf Hakimi.
For many years now the Schmelzer/ Piszczek fullback pairing has been a mainstay of the BVB defensive line, but with new trainer Lucien Favre looking to put his stamp on Dortmund this season, the back four looks to be slowly taking on a younger feel with one eye on this season and one eye on the future. Abdou Diallo, Manuel Akanji and Dan Axel Zagadou have all emerged as the potential future of BVB’s defensive line.
Dortmund’s incoming coach began the season with the 33-year-old Pole in his accustomed role with an unbeaten run of four games and three goals conceded. Matchday 5 saw Favre hand Moroccan 19-year-old Hakimi his Bundesliga debut and a 7-0 demolition of Nürnberg followed with the debutant even getting on the scoresheet with a hammer finish.
Hakimi retained his place against both Bayer Leverkusen and Augsburg, providing assists in both games, leaving Piszczek in the stands against the Werkself and on the bench for the visit of the Fuggerstädter. The marvellous start to the campaign will no doubt have pleased Lucien Favre, but it will also have given him plenty of selection headaches with the right-back berth foremost amongst them.
Does he go with Mr. Reliable in the shape of the defensively sound Piszczek? Or does he opt for the youthful talent that offers more going forward (but at the expense of security) with the summer acquisition from Real Madrid?
In both Champions League outings this season the Schwarzgelben coach has gone with Piszczek, but the forthcoming Bundesliga games after the international break will go a long way to clarifying who is going to be the club’s first-choice right-back.
In his favour Piszczek has experience with 276 Bundesliga games under his belt since joining BVB in 2010. Under Jürgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Peter Bosz and Peter Stöger, he’s been a virtual ever-present and never let the club down. He has two Bundesliga titles under his belt as well as two DFB Pokal triumphs and has twice been named in the Bundesliga Team of the Season (2015-16 and 2016-17).
Age however is catching up on him and some of the league’s speedier wingers will definitely fancy their chances in a pure foot race with him. He’s also out of contract at the end of the current season so Dortmund will be very aware of the need to blood his eventual successor. The fact that both Diallo and Akanji are son young, might however stand Piszczek in good stead with his experience potentially invaluable as a counterbalance to their tender years.
In terms of new blood and potential, Hakimi fits the bill perfectly. It is not for nothing that his parent club Real Madrid see him as the natural heir to Dani Carvajal at the Bernabeu and see the two-year loan in Germany as the ideal preparation (much like Carvajal had at Bayer Leverkusen).
Hakimi has certainly made more of an impression this season, although he was at fault for one of Bayer Leverkusen’s goals in the 4-2 win Dortmund finally secured. On average the young Moroccan sends in a cross every 27 minutes compared to Piszczek’s 33 minutes. The Pole however, with his defensive priorities has won more challenges (65% to Hakimi’s 45.2%).
It is a selection dilemma that so many other Bundesliga coaches would dearly love to have- the reliable, defensive security of Lukasz Piszczek, or the huge potential of exciting, young talent Achraf Hakimi?
Over to you Herr. Favre.
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