Bundesliga Club Recap 2019/20: Borussia Dortmund

As the Bundesliga gears up for a return this weekend, we equip you with an in-depth view of everything about Borussia Dortmund and their season so far.

Borussia Dortmund needs no introduction. They are the second most successful club in the history of the Bundesliga, having recently overtaken Werder Bremen in the eternal table. The Ruhrpott giants have eight German titles to their name as well as four DFB Cups and one Champions League, only the third German club to do so after Bayern Munich and Hamburger SV.

Aside from its sprawling success, the club is renowned for its passionate supporters. The Yellow Wall or the Sudkurve of the Westfalenstadion is the largest terrace for standing spectators in European football with a capacity of almost 25,000 fans.

Dortmund has always ranked highest in terms of average attendances in Europe. The stadium is known for its intense atmosphere and some excellent choreography. At the same time, the club also offers an attractive brand of football that is quite pleasing on the eye – making them one of the most favoured teams in the Bundesliga, not only in Germany but across the footballing world.

But as the league returns with no spectators inside the stadium, Borussia Dortmund players might find it difficult to settle into the new situation. And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will provide you with an in-depth analysis of their season and their prospects for the remainder of the campaign.

You can also follow read our extensive coverage of the Bundesliga’s planned restart using the links down below.

Borussia Dortmund’s season so far

After losing out on the Bundesliga by just two points last season, Borussia Dortmund were expected to further push for a league title this campaign. They were even tagged as favourites by some experts, especially after Bayern Munich tumbled to a 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in early November.

MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 04: Niko Kovac, Manager of Bayern Munich looks on prior to the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Hannover 96 at Allianz Arena on May 04, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Niko Kovac’s departure was key to lifting Dortmund’s early-season expectations. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

However, Dortmund lost the subsequent Der Klassiker by a 4-0 margin – a result that profoundly highlighted the gulf between the two clubs.

The Black and Yellows, overall, failed to win seven of their opening 12 Bundesliga matches. In addition, they went into the Christmas break on the back of a 2-1 defeat to Hoffenheim and a 3-3 draw with RB Leipzig. Favre’s hot and cold ensemble in the Hinrunde meant Dortmund were now fighting to retain their top-four spot in the table.

However, the smart January acquisitions of Erling Haaland and Emre Can, a change of tactics and a pinch of luck were enough to inspire the Bundesliga giants to recover their dissipating form. While the Norweigan scored nine goals in just eight matches, Can provided more security in midfield. As a result, Dortmund won all but one game in the Ruckrunde.

Dortmund’s return of form has now once again put them in contention for the league title, with the club trailing leaders by just four points. They are due to play the Bavarians in two weeks time – a fixture that could potentially put them into the driving seat, although the main objective will be not to get obliterated as was the case in the reverse fixture.

The Manager: Lucien Favre

Favre took charge of Dortmund in the summer of 2018, replacing Peter Stoger. He is one of the most experienced Bundesliga coaches around, having managed Borussia Monchengladbach (2011-2015) and Hertha Berlin (2007-2009). He also had a stint with OGC Nice (2016-2018) prior to his appointment at the Signal Iduna Park.

DORTMUND, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Lucien Favre, head coach of Dortmund looks on during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Augsburg at Signal Iduna Park on August 17, 2019 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Has Favre lived up to the expectations at Dortmund? (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Favre is particularly known for his ability to nurture young talents. During his time in Dortmund so far, the 62-year-old has overseen the rapid rise of Jadon Sancho, Achraf Hakimi and Dan-Axel Zagadou among many others. The Ruhrpott giants have also enjoyed an excellent record at home under Favre as only three of his 16 defeats as the Dortmund head coach have come at Westfalenstadion.

While the club did enjoy a successful 2018/19 campaign under his reign, the Swiss mastermind has been subjected to a fair amount of criticism as well. There were calls for his sacking during the second half of last season when BVB’s tumbling form saw them lose track of Bayern as they ultimately lost the league by just two points.

One such glaring flaw in Favre’s methods is his stubbornness. Even before his appointment at Dortmund, fans were sceptic regarding his tough-going attitude, which players would find hard to settle into, especially after Stoger’s Valhalla-esque short spell at the club.

Perhaps the biggest example of Favre’s eccentric attitude is his handling of Luuk de Jong in 2012-2014. The then Gladbach coach alienated the Dutchman as the player was not purchased with his approval and did not fit his style of play. Even at Dortmund, Favre is responsible for the decline of players like Mario Gotze and Mahmoud Dahoud.

Tactics & Playing Style

Favre had predominantly operated with a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout his spell at Borussia Dortmund. Lately, however, the Swiss coach has embraced a 3-4-3 setup in an attempt to not only improve the midfield but also provide better balance to the backline that had otherwise appeared quite vulnerable.

Mats Hummels, in particular, has benefitted from this scheme as the presence of two additional defenders has allowed him more freedom to go forward and dictate the build-up. Among outfield players, only Thiago, Dayot Upamecano and Kaan Ayhan have averaged more accurate long balls than the veteran centre-back this season.

Mats Hummels has returned to Borussia Dortmund after a successful stint at Bayern Munich. (Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The leader of the Dortmund backline. (Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Also important in this 3-4-3 is the presence of two wingbacks. In the combination of Raphael Guerreiro and Achraf Hakimi, Borussia Dortmund arguably have the most competent set of full-backs in Europe. Their explosive pace, technical prowess and playmaking abilities have significantly boosted the club’s chance creation, with Hakimi, in particular, registering ten assists.

In midfield, they have Axel Witsel and Emre Can operating in the double pivot. Their physical presence, combined with their composure, positioning sense and experience, has added a new dimension to BVB’s approach in the middle third of the pitch.

Can, in particular, has brought in more solidity and has offered better protection for the backline. Dortmund have conceded only seven goals in seven games after the arrival of the ex-Liverpool star, four of which came in his debut against Bayer Leverkusen, where he struggled adapting to his new role.

Another influential figure in Dortmund’s success this season has been Julian Brandt. The ex-Bayer Leverkusen star has been the driving force behind Dortmund’s creativity, especially when most required.

Favre’s decision to deploy him in central midfield in late November was no short of a masterstroke as the player got more involved in the offensive transition, especially when it came to forming an explosive creative triangle with Sancho and Hakimi on the right flank.

A key feature in Brandt’s game is that he can not only form lethal one-touch combinations with attacking teammates but can also drop deep and work his way around half-spaces – perhaps making him an upgrade over Ilkay Gundogan.

MARBELLA, SPAIN - JANUARY 05: Julian Brandt of Borussia Dortmund looks on during day two of the Borussia Dortmund winter training camp on January 05, 2020 in Marbella, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Dortmund’s unsung hero (Photo by TF-Images/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Moving forward, Favre has predominantly operated with the trio of Sancho, Haaland and Thorgan Hazard as club captain Marco Reus is currently out injured. The addition of Haaland has seen Dortmund become much more effective in front of goal, with the youngster boasting a crazy conversion rate of almost 50%.

However, credit should also be given to the wide attacking combination of Sancho and Hazard, who have often switched flanks and caused terror for the opposing defences with their pace and trickery. Their pace on the break and the seemingly telepathic understanding between the players are symbolic of the fast-action gameplay Dortmund have adopted under Favre.

Marquee Player: Jadon Sancho

Borussia Dortmund have a plethora of footballing talents at their disposal. But it is Jadon Sancho who has had the most impact this season, having been involved in 29 goals in the Bundesliga. His ability to score as well as create chances have been critical in Dortmund’s title challenge.

Sancho’s numbers indeed speak for themself, with the winger attempting the joint-highest number of dribbles in the league, as per Whoscored. He has also provided 53 key passes – sixth highest in the league while attempting 45 shots on target – a tally only bettered by Reus in the Dortmund side so far.

However, what makes Sancho such a sought-after talent in football is his productivity. The English international has scored 14 goals and registered 15 assists – more than any other Bundesliga player, and even in Europe, his tally is only bettered by Lionel Messi and Ciro Immobile.

Sancho’s explosive pace and his desire to take on defenders has served as a catalyst for Favre’s dynamic counter-attacking philosophy. He can expose opposing defences with his one-touch football – something his teammates are also good at.

DORTMUND, GERMANY - JANUARY 24: Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund speaks with Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund after the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Koeln at Signal Iduna Park on January 24, 2020 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Dortmund’s power duo. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Another key observation in Sancho’s game this season is exactly how much the player has matured over the past 12 months. The winger is now more willing to combine with fellow attackers instead of running into isolated areas, causing him to lose possession of the ball. Moreover, his improved positioning sense has made it much easier for Dortmund to transition from wider areas of the pitch.

The bad guys

Nico Schulz has been a complete disaster. The ex-Hoffenheim star clearly lacks the pace as well as the technical mindset to flourish under Favre’s tactical setup. His positioning sense and man-marking are also questionable. And the German international personifies everything if former Dortmund defender Sokratis was a left-back.

Also in defence, Lukasz Piszczek is often a subject of criticism because of his lack of pace. And while that may be true, the ageing Pole has still proven himself to be a better defensive outlet than Manuel Akanji.

The Swiss international is not the most reliable defenders in the Bundesliga. He has not been very helpful with his sloppy passing, awful positioning, and poor decision making, thus mounting pressure on Hummels. His passing, in particular, is way too one-dimensional, providing a very little prospect for the team to get on with the transition from defence to midfield.

DORTMUND, GERMANY - OCTOBER 03: Manuel Akanji #16 of Borussia Dortmund looks on during the Group A match of the UEFA Champions League between Borussia Dortmund and AS Monaco at Signal Iduna Park on October 3, 2018 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images,)
Akanji faces an uncertain future at the club. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images,)

Akanji’s futility in the build-up is one of the reasons why the four-man defensive scheme was not working for Favre in the Hinrunde. You can check out his positioning and poor tackling in the defeat to Union Berlin earlier this season in the video below.

And finally, we have Roman Burki, arguably the worst-performing goalkeeper in the Bundesliga this season. He has simply failed to provide any sort of competence or consistency, leading Dortmund to concede unnecessary goals that have ultimately reflected badly on their defensive record.

In fact, Burki has attained a save percentage of below 50% and you can learn more about his defensive mishaps this season, in this analysis made by Aidan Reagh.

Academy Watch

Giovanni Reyna is the flagship talent the BVB academy has to offer right now. The attacker, son of former USMNT captain, Claudio Reyna, has made a lot of headlines with his late cameos for the Dortmund first-team this season. His February goal against Werder Bremen, in particular, raised eyebrows across the footballing world.

There is no doubt that the young American sensation will be fast-tracked into the Dortmund starting lineup next season, especially with Sancho facing an uncertain future at the club. Learn more about the 17-year-old attacking midfielder in this excellent Statsbomb analysis by Abel Meszaros.

Aside from Reyna, Die Schwarzgelben also have Youssoufa Moukoko, the 15-year-old striking sensation, who will be eligible to play in the Bundesliga later this year.

Moukoko has been scoring goals for fun. Despite being 15, he has netted 34 goals in the U19 Bundesliga West this season. He has replicated his performances for the international youth teams as well, arguably making him the biggest prospect in German football at the moment.

Other talents include Tobias Raschl as well as goalkeeper Luca Unbehaun, who could be useful with Roman Burki’s receding form.

Writer’s Opinion

Will Dortmund end Bayern's monopoly in Bundesliga? (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)
Will Dortmund end Bayern’s monopoly in Bundesliga? (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

Borussia Dortmund have been able to rediscover their mojo since the turn of the year. While the offensive unit has kept up their good work going forward, the defence has looked much sharper and much more comfortable. It sheds a good light on the work of Favre, who has been constantly under the microscope.

As for the ongoing campaign, the changed system and the introduction of three centre-backs should definitely improve their performances against top teams.

However, given the strenuous set to fixtures within the upcoming six weeks, the club must find a way to provide some much-needed respite for key players like Sancho and Haaland. That means Favre should put great emphasis on utilising the qualities of fringe players like Dahoud and Gotze.

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