Stepping into the shoes of a man who won two Bundesliga titles, the DFB Cup and reached the final of the UEFA Champions League was seen by many as a formidable task, but Thomas Tuchel has made the job look easy at Borussia Dortmund.
Building on the high-pressing style that defined the Jürgen Klopp era, the 42-year-old has added polished possession-based football to the equation to take Borussia Dortmund’s game to a whole new level.
The statistics underline the former 1. FSV Mainz05 boss’ point. In 2015/16, Dortmund averaged 61% possession compared to 54% under Klopp in 2014/15. Die Schwarz-Gelben’s passing game also improved significantly, with 85% of all attempted passes finding their mark compared to 77 per cent a year earlier.
Julian Weigl personifies the evolution. Few saw the former TSV 1860 Munich captain breaking into the first team so soon, let alone earning a place in Germany’s final UEFA Euro 2016 squad, but the 20-year-old has surpassed all expectations. Indeed, the metronome-like midfielder was on the money with a team-leading 91 per cent of his attempted passes in his debut season at the club.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, meanwhile, was transformed from turbo-charged right winger to the complete goal-scoring article, finishing only second to FC Bayern München’s Robert Lewandowski in the scoring charts on 25 goals for the season. All told, ‘Mkhi and Auba’ had a direct hand in 62 of Dortmund’s league-high 82 Bundesliga goals – a number which outstripped the club’s 2014/15 Bundesliga tally by 35.
BVB’s efforts did not produce any silverware, but they came pretty close. After finishing some 33 points off the pace in 2014/15, Dortmund reduced the deficit to ten in a title race that was not decided until Match day 32 of the 2015/16 campaign. A 5-1 thrashing at Bayern’s Allianz Arena was all part of the learning curve, with subsequent goalless draws – the second of which ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat in the DFB Cup final – further evidence of their progression under Tuchel.
The second season saw the departure of their talisman Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Manchester United. His 23 goals and 32 assists in all competitions paved way to being voted German sports specialist magazine Kicker’s Bundesliga Player of the Season. This was a big setback for the club as the Armenian went to England to play at a club playing Europa League football leaving aside Champions League football. Mats Hummels didn’t do them any favor by joining the title rivals Bayern Munchen and with Neven Subotic sidelined for the rest of the season even before it began, a big overhaul was necessary.
This overhaul continued into the close season with the recruitment of exciting young talents Marc Bartra, Ousmane Dembele, Emre Mor, Raphael Guerreiro, and Sebastian Rode. If Tuchel can do with them what he has achieved with Weigl, Dortmund will be in an even stronger position to redress the domestic title balance in 2016/17.
But raw talents don’t mean instant results. Introduction of further young talents like the American Christian Pulisic clearly reveals Tuchel’s plans to stay at the German outfit for a longer period and working on these players who seem to have immense talent to flourish in the Bundesliga. With a mixture of youth and experienced heads, Dortmund is seemingly heading towards a bright future.
Recent results may have been disappointing with the young defense looking vulnerable and the attack somewhat toothless, lacking a real leader resulting in Dortmund stranded in 6th place, 8 points off the League leaders. former Barcelona defender Marc Bartra has been thrilling in attack but less so in defence, where he has yet to click with his partners Sokratis Papastathopoulos or Matthias Ginter. The goal Dortmund conceded against Gladbach at the weekend was exemplary of Borussia’s current defensive struggles. This term, in 20 matches over all competitions, Dortmund has managed to keep only six clean sheets. They have conceded in total 23 goals, with seven of them coming in their last three matches with veteran keeper Roman Weidenfeller in goal.
Tuchel has played all kinds of formations and systems this term. He has tried three at the back, sometimes with two attackers, sometimes with only one, yet most of the time he has played a 4-1-4-1 with youngster Julian Weigl handed all responsibility in the build-up play. New signing Sebastian Rode has yet to prove his worth in any way, Nuri Sahin’s playing time has been limited too, and Gonzalo Castro has failed to return to the form he showed before the injury he sustained in early October.
Andre Schurrle, Mario Goetze have yet to find their old form which once made them superstars for club and country. Despite being injury-prone during his later stages in Borussia, Iker Gundogan is missed while building up play from the back.
Tuchel has met with criticism from the fans as well as from the Reporters. He has failed to build a deeper relationship with reporters covering the club, and thus his football philosophy has not been successfully relayed to the vast majority of football fans. For instance, Tuchel has not explained why he rotates players week in and week out. But Dortmund faithful needs to be patient as they have been over the years.
Stability is the most important thing at any club. Tuchel is yet to find is best 11, and with injuries to key men like Kagawa, Reus, Guerreiro, Roman Burki isn’t helping either. Rotation of the squad every weekend means players are not getting proper game time. Though we have been treated to some great games recently such as the Real Madrid game, where they came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in a Champions League group game; Dortmund is yet to convince the fans with consistency.
But the Yellow Brigade needs to be patient with their team was well as the coach as the raw material that it is needs time to be polished into a finished product.
They have a good team and the attacking mentality will lead to their improvement and they will soon compete for trophies in the future not far ahead.
Photo by dirkvorderstrasse