2022/23 Bundesliga Preview | Borussia Dortmund

For the first time in years, although many of the players are new, Borussia Dortmund are cautiously starting to look like having the kind of versatility that allows for the type of squad rotation needed to succeed across European and domestic fixtures.

However, the diagnosis of new striker Sébastien Haller has unsettled the Borussia Dortmund locker room and it remains to be seen what additional signings ‘Die Schwarz-Gelben’ will bring in ahead of the September 1 deadline.

With 48 hours to go before the start of 2022/23 Bundesliga season, it’s time for an in-depth preview of Edin Terzić’s title contenders:

The Goalkeepers

Borussia Dortmund have an exceptional goalkeeper in the form of three-time Switzerland international Gregor Kobel and there will be little chance of anyone getting around the 24-year-old.

In terms of skills, Kobel has great all-around ability, is impressive as a sweeper keeper and is not afraid to get off his line and eliminate danger outside the box. In the past season, the Zürich-born player has also shown ability as a good shot-stopper who is handy with his feet and most importantly demonstrated sound judgement under considerable pressure. Kobel is starting to look like the best number one at the club since Roman Weidenfeller.

In terms of changes, Roman Bürki has joined St Louis, the new franchise in the MLS and reserve keeper Marwin Hitz returned to Switzerland to join record-champions FC Basel.

New sporting director Sebastian Kehl has brought in Alexander Meyer. The 1.95m keeper has been one of the strongest assets of the Regensburg team gaining 94 appearances in the last three seasons. Meyer has an excellent command of the box and is a solid shot-stopper with good reflexes. In addition, he has a reputation for being a ‘penalty killer’. At 31, however, the Bad Oldesloe-born keeper can only be regarded as an interim solution.

A further new arrival and a keeper who could take over from Meyer in the longer term is BVB II’s Marcel Lotka. Joining this summer on a free transfer from Hertha Berlin, the Duisburg-born keeper has signed a contract until 2024.

Lotka started the season as the reserve ‘keeper of Hertha Berlin II, only being called up to the first team due to all three of Hertha’s first team ‘keepers being unavailable. The 21-year-old subsequently proved himself to be one of the bright spots in an otherwise dire campaign for the capital club.

The Defence

Borussia Dortmund looked chaotic and wobbly in defence at times last season and conceded 52 goals. In the main, they lacked the stability of a consistent line-up. The potential is there for an all-round improvement not just in the back line but crucially in defensive midfield under the popular returning coach Edin Terzić.

Switzerland international Manuel Akanji, for one, had a greatly improved season in 21/22. However, he has been criticised for experiencing lapses of concentration and has been subsequently added to the transfer list. Crucially, BVB have a transfer deficit of €25m and Akanji is one of the players who will attract a transfer fee in the double-digits.

At 26 and with 40 senior caps for Germany under his belt, centre-back Niklas Süle looks like an impressive transfer, even taking into account a cruciate ligament tear which kept the Frankfurt-born defender out of action for half a year in 2020.

For Süle, a move to Dortmund is a fresh start after seemingly becoming an obsolete figure at Bayern Munich. With no transfer fee to pay, even on his reported €10m salary Süle, who has Hungarian roots, is a potentially good win for the club. He does not only bring quality to the table but also offers a winning mentality having secured five Bundesliga titles in Bavaria.

The natural leader in defence, though, in spite of recent struggles with Patella tendon issues, is Mats Hummels. However, at 33, BVB will automatically be looking for a new leader at the heart of the defence. During the 21/22 season, the veteran was out for almost three months and it will be interesting to see if the fan favourite and 76-time Germany international regains the initiative in the season ahead.

If there was one area in which BVB has had extensive problems, it is the left-back position. Despite the €25m paid and the great fanfare under which Berlin-born Nico Schulz, who excelled at Hoffenheim, arrived, he has been one of the worst signings in recent seasons and is rightly at the top of the transfer list for Dortmund.

The left-back position is certainly an issue for Dortmund, especially with reports linking Raphaël Guerreiro to a move to Manchester City.

A strong point in the BVB defence, though, could be Nico Schlotterbeck. The 1.91m tall defender, with four senior caps with Germany under his belt, is a fast and versatile player with great aerial ability. With a strong left-foot, the Waiblingen-born German is a confident ball-carrier, whose ability to offer those passes in between could add a whole new dimension to the club’s build-up from the back. Schlotterbeck looks to be a great investment, due to his high ceiling.

Freiburg had the fifth-best defensive record in terms of goals conceded after Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Mainz and Union with 46, and Schlotterbeck is one of the reasons why Freiburg will play in the Europa League next season.

Belgium-international Thomas Meunier is also a player who can be expected to play a major role in defence. The seasoned right-back improved over the past season and after missing the last four months of the 21/22 season, it will be interesting to see what role Terzić has for the highly-committed full-back.

A versatile player who can add value in midfield, as well as defence, is Mateu Morey (22) who is back after almost a year out of action following a major injury in the DFB Pokal against Holstein Kiel during 20/21. The former Spain U18 international, who joined from Barcelona in 2019, is a good tackler and can provide strong cover at right-back.

A focus for the future could be 17-year-old Tom Rothe. He made quite an impression on his debut against Wolfsburg, notably scoring an important goal. The left-footed 1.92m defender looks calm under pressure and matches his speed with stamina. Rothe is one to watch and demonstrates the qualities to make an excellent full-back in the long term.

One more player on Dortmund’s transfer list is Raphaël Guerreiro. Even at 28, the Portuguese international is still arguably one of the best wing-backs in world football and so far his many admirers amongst the BVB community will be pleased that there have not been any serious offers for the French-born player, who also has great ability to run the line and offer the creativity up front.

Right-back Felix Passlack (24) is a product of the BVB youth academy at ‘Hohenbuschei’ and has spent most of his career on loan. With Morey returning to full fitness, he has found himself on the transfer list as well.

Following extensive injuries, Dan-Axel Zagadou has been released by the club.

Overall, the backline of the two ‘Nicks’ (Schlotterbeck and Süle) is looking sound but Terzić’s biggest challenge will be to find a consistent line-up and much-needed stability in defence. In terms of quality, BVB could be defensively far better organised, although there are questions over who will lead.

The Midfield

BVB has a depth of talent in midfield, but it is also the area of the team where Terzić has made the most changes. ‘Die Schwarz-Gelben’ have a wide variety of midfielders who can play in different roles so it will be interesting to see how Terzić will implement them.

A crucial player is the new third captain, England’s Jude Bellingham. His committed style of play is crucial to Dortmund’s success. At just 19, he is heading into his third season at the Signal-Iduna Park. The Stourbridge-born former Birmingham City player is a box-to-box midfielder who not only provides the team with creativity but also is a robust tackler who gives the team creative impulses and a dependable presence at the heart of the midfield. Bellingham, who is wanted by Liverpool and Real Madrid has, like Jadon Sancho, been an outstanding success and is a player Sebastian Kehl would do well to hold on to.

Another vital piece of the midfield is Syrian-born German international Mahmoud Dahoud. ‘Mo’, as he is known by his teammates, has achieved a stunning turnaround in the past two years and has become an indispensable part of the midfield.

In the past season, Dahoud scored five goals and demonstrated similar playmaker qualities to former BVB star İlkay Gündoğan. The former Borussia Mönchengladbach player is great in possession with top passing ability. He is also combative and can crucially track back and defend. The 26-year-old was sorely missed in the final few games of the season after suffering a shoulder injury but the German will be keen on reinstating his dominance ahead of the new season.

Doubts remain about 38-time Germany international Julian Brandt, though. In spite of his inspiring talent, the 26-year-old has largely failed to live up to the expectations that came along with the €25m transfer fee BVB paid. He is among the players placed on the transfer list this summer.

Brandt has pitch-perfect passing and great ability in interceptions and vision. He has contributed 20 goals and 27 assists since joining BVB in 19/20 and has shown that he can be a pivotal player. Bremen-born Brandt, however, looks like he has failed to really integrate in Dortmund and has so far been unable to demonstrate the consistency that won him so many accolades at Bayer Leverkusen. Brandt could still make his mark but BVB are reported to be listening to offers in the region of €20m for the midfielder.

Gio Reyna, the 12-time US national team player who is the son of former Sunderland and Manchester City defender Claudio, is still in rehabilitation due to a hamstring injury that has kept him out of action since April. However, he is expected to be available shortly after the start of the season. Although Reyna still lacks physical presence, the 19-year-old playmaker has shown his value scoring nine goals and adding 12 assists to his tally. He is a player Dortmund can build on, perhaps even as a replacement for Marco Reus.

The capture of Turkey international Salih Özcan, who joined on a four-year deal for a fee of just under €5m from FC Köln looks like a good move. A stalwart of the midfield at the Rhein-Energie Stadion, Özcan has quick feet and good distribution, but above all, he adds defensive robustness to the midfield which has been sorely lacking in recent seasons.

Emre Can has also been put on the transfer list following reported differences with Terzić and inconsistent performances in the positions he has played in. Can, who joined from Juventus, has not offered the command that was expected of him.

At best, the Germany international, who also qualifies for Turkey, provides a powerful presence and ruthless edge which BVB have needed for some time in midfield. At worst, however, he shows a lack of commitment and flawed decision-making that has followed him during his short stays with some of the top brass of European football including Juventus and Liverpool.

The big restructuring in the midfield as expected has meant that 124-time Belgium international Axel Witsel will no longer be playing a part in Dortmund.

Hugely popular, Witsel has not looked the same since suffering a career-threatening torn Achilles tendon. After seeing out his contract, the Belgian has joined Atletico Madrid – a move that has surprised many.

Moving to the wide positions, Borussia Dortmund’s only out-and-out wingers last season were Ansgar Knauff and Thorgan Hazard. Eintracht Frankfurt secured the services of Knauff on loan who has impressed with the Europa League winning team. 

Hazard is among the players to be transfer listed. The 29-year-old has certainly not fulfilled the ability he showed with ‘Gladbach but the former Chelsea player, who has two years left on his contract, appears to be on the selling list more for his ability to command a substantial transfer fee rather than his ability to contribute, in particular as a back-up, in a vital position. It will be interesting to see what options Terzić plays on the right-wing.

One option is of course Dortmund-born leader Marco Reus. Even at 33, the former ‘Gladbach player continues to be a vital component in the attacking midfield. Reus is one of the league’s most dangerous attacking midfielders in European football and has the second highest goal-scoring record in his position with 108 goals in league history.

The 48-time Germany international, however, has had an injury-hit career and was fortunate to get through the 21/22 season missing only five games all season. In part Reus has shown good judgement once more opting out of playing for Germany in June. The midfielder looks like he has benefitted from the break and goes into the new season ready to lead from the front.

Good cover will be provided by former Eintracht Frankfurt player Marius Wolf. The 27-year-old is a versatile utility player who can play on the right-wing as well as at the right-back position. The Kronach-born player, though, is yet to prove he is more than cover in either position.

A player who could add firepower in the attacking midfield is 17-year-old Jamie Bynoe-Gittens. The English player is an out-and-out creative winger who has demonstrated good performances for BVB U19s contributing three goals and four assists in the past season.

New signing Karim Adeyemi, who is discussed in detail in the attack section, is also an option on the right-wing.

One player who will not be playing any role in Dortmund is Real Madrid loanee, Reinier. The Brazilian managed only 19 appearances for Borussia Dortmund last season, most of them from the bench and has returned to Madrid.

Overall, BVB is nominally stronger this season in midfield, in particular in terms of defensive capability but after a relatively average pre-season campaign, it appears there is much work yet to be done.

The Attack

Borussia Dortmund scored an impressive 85 league goals last season but finished once again in second place. The ‘Black and Yellows’ will need to find a new approach having lost the best out-and-out striker the club have had for decades, in the form of Erling Haaland.

Although the club’s title chances will be enhanced by the arrival of Sébastien Haller from Ajax, the Ivory Coast international is currently out of action after undergoing surgery for a tumour and is not expected back for several months.

The loss has thrown attacking plans into turmoil. Haller is BVB’s most expensive signing ever at €33m and was expected to replace the void left by the departure of Haaland to Manchester City.

During his time at Ajax, the French-born Haller has shown himself to be a versatile and powerful striker who has put his disappointing stay with West Ham United well and truly behind him. Haller helped Ajax to back-to-back championships between 2020-22 earning himself the Dutch league’s Golden Boot with 21 goals last season.

Borussia Dortmund has long been lauded for their highly attacking football excelling in one-two touch combinations in the final third. However, the Haaland era brought in an over-reliance on a centre-forward that hadn’t been seen since the mid-1980s and the era of all-time leading goal scorer Manfred Burgsmüller who scored 135 goals in 242 matches. A tactical change is the most likely outcome of the departure of the Norwegian.

With Haller out for ‘several months’, a lot rests on the shoulders of Donyell Malen. The Netherlands international joined BVB in a €30 million plus bonuses deal from PSV Eindhoven in 20/21 but has appeared to struggle with the pace and intensity of the German league, scoring only five league goals last season. Malen certainly has the goal-scoring pedigree. At PSV, he notched up an impressive 40 goals in 80 matches and may find his partner in the form of a new arrival from the Austrian league.

20-year-old Munich-born striker Karim Adeyemi, who joined from RB Salzburg for a fee of €27m, possesses incredible acceleration and athleticism. What impresses greatly is his high work ethic and ability to drop deep in both attacking and defensive phases. Adeyemi, who can also play on the right-wing also has the defensive capability and is good in one-on-ones. With RB Salzburg Adeyemi scored 19 times in 29 league games helping the club to cruise towards their ninth straight title in 21/22.

In spite of the protracted contract negotiations, Youssoufa Moukoko, who is still only 17 and is Dortmund’s leading goal scorer at all levels from U17 to U19, has the potential to become one of BVB’s leading strikers. The Germany U21 international is however struggling to break through at the senior level and has scored just five goals in 30 appearances over the last two seasons.

Moukoko was expected to take the chance that developed as a result of Haaland’s extensive injury break at the end of the season. However, the left-footed super talent, who last year attracted a €1m sponsorship agreement with a major US-sportswear brand, could benefit from a loan spell.

In summary, Borussia Dortmund’s attack appears quite formidable in terms of pound-for-pound talent. However, under Marco Rose, the tactics played relied far too much on Haaland. With his departure, a tactical overhaul can be expected. An additional loan striker is still an option for BVB to provide cover for Haller. Could this be Malen’s breakthrough season? 

The Coach

Edin Terzić led BVB to the DFB Pokal win and a third-place finish in 20/21 after taking over from Lucien Favre. He then took a back-room role working alongside Sebastian Kehl and outgoing sporting director Michael Zorc in the past season.

A local lad who grew up just 30km from Dortmund in Menden, the 39-year-old had a modest playing career never rising above the fourth tier. But the feisty coach brings experience from working as an assistant manager with Beijing Guoan coach Slaven Bilić at both Besiktas and West Ham United before joining Dortmund in 2018. Terzić’s success always looked like it was going to undermine Rose’s authority at the club. Ultimately Rose’s sacking, and the reinstatement of Terzić, did not come as a surprise.

In terms of style, Terzić favours an intense high-pressing football with an emphasis on quick tempo attacking play. He is tactically flexible and tends to use a variety of formations, including the 4-3-1-2.

A Terzić team is likely to mean a return to BVB ‘virtues’ and a form of attacking football that means them regularly attempting to break lines with penetrative passes and quick one-twos.

In terms of the defence during 20/21, BVB under Rose often defended in a 4-2-3-1 so they could easily switch to a higher pressing situation triggered by sideways passes to the flank and back-passes to the centre-backs and goalkeeper.

In their low blocks, they would deny the opposition access into the centre by making the spaces smaller in between the lines with aggressive deeper midfielders and centre-backs willing to push up to regain possession and instigate a break.

This analysis of the 20/21 season suggests Terzić will be able to make good use of the players that are currently in the squad once he has started to find the tactics to implement the skills on show.

Crucially, a return to Terzić could mean an engaging return to the kind of possession-based attacking football that BVB fans grew to value during Jürgen Klopp’s time at the club.

Terzić is joined by a new assistant manager, the highly experienced Peter Hermann who has moved to Borussia Dortmund after helping the club to secure promotion with Schalke. The other assistant manager will be Sebastian Geppert, who has a great deal of familiarity with BVB having worked with the U16 and U17 teams since 2013.

Prognosis

Borussia Dortmund has put together a variable pool of talent who can play in multiple positions. In particular, in the current transfer window, the club have beefed up their all-important defensive capabilities.

The club’s past over-reliance on Haaland will mean a tactical overhaul. Terzić is likely to change the system to play a second striker and focus more on ball possession and a defensive style of play which will make up BVB’s key deficit in recent seasons and could make the side, which has looked fragile under pressure in recent seasons, harder to breakdown.  

Overall with Terzić, BVB may have found the head coach to restore the fabled connection with the fan base and they have a coach who has led BVB to silverware.

But Terzić, in spite of his potential, needs to be given time to work out his plan.

Probable starting XI: Kobel – Süle, Hummels, Schlotterbeck, Guerreiro – Özcan, Bellingham, Reyna – Reus, Malen, Adeyemi/Haller.

Outcome: Closer but second place-finish.

Ben McFadyean

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