Having only featured sporadically under Antonio Conte during the 2017-18 campaign with Chelsea in the Premier League, the opportunity to join Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga was one that Michy Batshuayi couldn’t resist, and one he took to with great aplomb.
Upon his arrival at the German club, the 24-year-old Belgian striker didn’t waste any time settling in, hitting a brace of goals and also providing an assist, as Dortmund secured a valuable 2-3 away victory at FC Cologne. Batshuayi continued his impressive start with another goal in the 2-0 win against Hamburger SV, then struck another two during a stellar display as his team beat Atalanta 3-2 in the Europa League.
Five goals in just three matches was just what Dortmund had been looking for, after a mixed run of results that put their chances of a top-four Bundesliga finish in serious jeopardy. The fine form of Batshuayi provided the attacking spark the team had arguably been missing earlier in the campaign, bringing a fresh impetus that brought improved results and, at the same time, made the striker an instant hit with the fans.
January transfer merry-go-round
Interestingly, it’s a move that almost didn’t happen. Before Dortmund made their move to sign Batshuayi on loan, he’d been strongly linked with potential moves elsewhere. Clearly surplus to requirements and firmly out of favour as far as Chelsea manager Conte was concerned, the Italian coach was looking for a striker who would not only act as cover for Alvaro Morata, due to the Spaniard’s injury struggles throughout the season, but also provide tactical alternatives as a target man.
Within the gossip columns in England throughout the January transfer window, many outlets suggested that Batshuayi would not only remain in the Premier League, but also stay in London, as rumours of a potential switch to West Ham United gathered pace. As part of a possible swap deal that would have taken the Belgian to the Hammers, towering striker Andy Carroll would head in the opposite direction. The Englishman will possibly be happy that he stayed, however, as he has recently forced his way back into international contention, according to Oddschecker. The breakdown in the deal may have worked for both of the frontmen.
In the end, neither of the two English clubs could reach a mutually beneficial agreement, with further doubts raised for Chelsea after Carroll suffered an ankle injury. They turned their attentions elsewhere and on the January 31st deadline day, Conte’s club signed French target man Olivier Giroud from Arsenal instead. The Gunners, in turn. splashed out on the club record purchase of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Dortmund. Meanwhile, and with the transfer merry-go-round in full spin, on the very same day, Dortmund secured the loan signing of Batshuayi until the end of the season. It seemed each deal was reliant on the other.
Joy and pain in the Bundesliga
The immediate impact made by Batshuayi could in no way be understated, particularly during those first three matches in which he featured so prominently for Dortmund. Likewise, the player himself was more than happy to be featuring in an important role for his new team. “I’ve produced some really good performances and been very clinical,” he told Bundesliga.com with great satisfaction. “My impressions have been really good – it’s a fantastic club, and I think we can still do big things between now and the end of the season,” the Belgian striker concluded, clearly enjoying life at the Westfalenstadion.
There was another dip in form for Dortmund, with two draws in the Bundesliga and a Europa League exit at the hands of Austrian side, RB Salzburg, However, Batshuayi helped his side back to winning ways with an impressive substitute appearance, leaving the bench to score twice in a pulsating encounter against Eintracht Frankfurt, netting the winner three minutes into stoppage time to secure a 3-2 victory. This was crucial as it meant three more important points and, of course, the striker fulfilling his role as the key protagonist with his impact and goals.
Aside from the 6-0 thumping that Dortmund suffered away at Bayern Munich, the club were otherwise in strong form, as they picked up wins against Hannover 96 and VfB Stuttgart. Sadly, a 2-0 defeat away at Shalke 04 proved to be very painful in more ways than one, after Batshuayi turned badly on his ankle late in the game and was stretchered off the pitch, prematurely ending his season with Dortmund. Not only that, his chances of featuring with Belgium at the 2018 World Cup in Russia were also seriously at risk after ankle ligament damage was diagnosed.
Road to recovery and Dortmund desires
As it was clear that Batshuayi would play no further part in what remains of the Bundesliga season, Dortmund cancelled the loan contract and the player returned to Chelsea, where according to reports in the Daily Mail, he started work on recovering from the ankle ligament injury on 20th March. The primary objective on his mind for the immediate future is getting fit in time to feature in the plans of Belgium coach, Roberto Martinez, who will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on the striker’s recovery progress.
Despite how frustrating the injury has been for Batshuayi, quality performances made during just a few short months have evidently provided enough reasons for Dortmund to consider a permanent move. The original loan deal from Chelsea didn’t include an option to buy clause, but that doesn’t seem to have dissuaded the German outfit from trying to engineer a potential summer bid. “The interest to sign him is basically there, and Chelsea already have two strikers,” Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke recently explained.
Nevertheless, there are a number of key factors which will influence whether such a move eventually happens. Batshuayi’s excellent displays with Dortmund have clearly put the player back in the shop window, regardless of his injury. Even if he misses out on the World Cup with Belgium, the nature of his ankle ligament damage shouldn’t prevent him from being back in top shape for the start of the 2018-19 season, meaning a number of clubs throughout Europe will inevitably take an interest, should Chelsea make him available for transfer.
Another ingredient to add to the mix is that Conte may not be Chelsea manager next season, after a disappointing Premier League campaign with the London club. If the Italian coach stays, Batshuayi will likely be more inclined to leave. However, a new manager may want to offer the player a more important role in the team. Either way, Dortmund appear ready to chance their hand by opening negotiations at the end of the season.
The Dortmund transfer coffers were significantly buoyed by the €64 million sale of Aubameyang to Arsenal in January, and the massive €115 million fee which saw Dembele head to Barcelona last summer, so investing in quality won’t be an issue. The club is ready to spend around €40 million to sign Batshuayi according to Bild, which would smash their transfer record. That said, few would argue that it would be money well spent if the player can consistently reproduce the exciting glimpse of what he has to offer, before injury undeservedly cut his season short.