The first major storyline in the Bundesliga is probably what to make of Borussia Dortmund? There was supposed to be a huge exodus from the club after a disappointing season that started at a snail’s pace just for a heroic effort to salvage a Europa League spot. And while Jurgen Klopp looked like the first domino to fall, he ended up really being the only domino. Ciro Immobile and Mitchell Langerek — who never looked to be first team keeper quality anyways — ended up being the two subtractions for the team. Immobile didn’t look to adjust to German life and became excess fat, and Dortmund brought in Burki to give Weidenfeller more of a run at the starting keeper gig.
The first question is the obvious one: how does Thomas Tuchel slide in for Jurgen Klopp? Klopp built a legacy at Signal Iduna, and despite being there only seven years he’s the most notable manager to ever step foot in the colossal footballing house. Some thought Jurgen would be at Dortmund forever, even. He meant that much to the club.
Tuchel may not have the aura and reputation Klopp emanated. However he does have the pedigree for the job. He was hired in the first season Mainz returned to the German top flight, and never steered the ship downward into the Bundesliga 2. Tuchel hit a peak in 2010-11 when he lead Mainz to a fifth place finish and the Europa League. While the squad was inconsistent due to lack of talent, he’s ended his tenure there with a winning record – not bad considering they weren’t in the top league beforehand.
Tactically, Tuchel is a hand in glove fit and that was probably a large reason why he was Dortmund’s date to the dance. He similarly plays a base 4-2-3-1 and loves pressing, often having his team without position in a high block looking, putting opposing defenses into a tough decision while playing it out of the back. Also all too often opposing deep midfielders are in need of playing a long direct pass or needing to beat a man off the dribble in order to get the ball forward. Sound familiar? Tuchel even likes to perform this in wide positions really putting fullbacks in tough scenarios. One turnover and it’s a counter attack.
If you beat the initial press, Tunchel likes to have his defensive midfielders and backline to sit low and prevent penetration. They’re very organized and love to stop penetrating passes. Mainz challenged opponents to beat them with deep shots, which is a common tactic in modern football.
Sloppy turnovers plus low quality chances churns out wins, and isn’t too unlike Klopp. Mainz wasn’t as frenetic as Dortmund was in their heyday, but this could just be a side effect of the lower level of talent. It’ll be hard to keep the sports car engine of Reus, Kampl, Aubameyang, and company to a lower pace. Speaking of the Slovenian…
When Jurgen Klopp signed Kevin Kampl, the RB Salzburg winger seemed like a hand-in-glove fit. The winger has pace, playmaking, the ability to finish attacks, and a strong workrate. Even without the workrate he looked through and through like a Dortmund winger. Yet his first half-season for Dortmund was largely forgettable. In 540 minutes of Europa League action with Salzburg he put together four goals and four assists, but just one assist in over 800 minutes in a Die Borrussen shirt was far from prolific. Kampl could go any possible way this season. He might become a reserve that is never heard from again and sold, he could be a first of the bench winger, he could be the answer to the historically injured Jakub Blaszczykowski and next in line. However, one thing is for sure for Kampl. The time is now. At 24-years-old the winger needs to make his impact, the pressure of being Klopp’s last real purchase is on.
The other two names in will be Roman Burki and Gonzalo Castro, both quality signings. Roman Weidenfeller really showed his age last season, and was potentially at a loss for a job. Mitchell Langerek’s lack of quality was the only thing that saved him from sitting on the sidelines. Meanwhile Burki was saving shots left and right for an eventually relegated Freiburg side. They ranked 16th in the league in shots conceded but only tied for ninth in goals conceded. While Burki can’t take all the credit — Freiburg tried to sit deep and nick out 1-0 wins most weekends to make up for a lack of talent — he deserves the lion’s share for patrolling his posts. It will be surprising if he’s not at least the cup keeper the season.
Castro is coming off his best season for Bayer Leverkusen, and isn’t exactly a prospect at his age. However he’s a great choice for Dortmund next to a proper DM. While Gonzalo doesn’t have battering ram size at 5’8″, he’s an aggressive player that loves to get involved with all facets in the game. He’ll provide more of a spice next to Sven Bender than Sebastian Kehl did. Kehl and Bender felt at times like a smorgasbord of defensive hustle without any quality going forward, Castro and Bender will be more of a chocolate and peanut butter mix. Tunchel will likely look to Castro similarly as he did with Geis at Mainz, and is probably a huge backer of the transfer being made.
Dortmund’s summer of change seems to be a bit more of the same. The manager may have a new name but it should still be the pressing, fast, half demolition derby half football style of play that we love. If they can stay healthy with Aubameyang leading the line and Reus and your choice of three attacking midfielders behind they should be back in the Champions League picture. And if Mats Hummels stays in shape this year after telling us he was fat last season, then the sky is the limit for Borussia.
Dortmund were unlucky and kept the same core. They’ll be fine unless black cats cross twice.