Christian Pulisic out; Mats Hummels, Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard and Nico Schulz in: the summer transfer merry-go-round is already in full swing at Borussia Dortmund. But how will last season’s Bundesliga runners up line up in 2019/20?
bundesliga.com trains its tactical microscope on what promises to be a potent attacking mix at the Signal Iduna Park next term…
Dortmund got off to a flier in Lucien Favre’s maiden season. BVB were top of the table uninterrupted between September and March – at one stage opening up a nine-point lead on eventual champions Bayern Munich – and although they ultimately surrendered the title, to finish just two points off the record champions in what was meant to be a transitional season goes down as a significant achievement.
Watch: Dortmund laid down a marker in beating Bayern in the first Klassiker of the season
Favre’s Dortmund were overwhelmingly set up in a 4-2-3-1 system. All but seven of their 76 points were won with a double-pivot anchoring the midfield – Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney providing considerably more steel than Julian Weigl and Nuri Sahin had the previous campaign – with a mobile attacking quartet ahead of them.
With a surer defensive foundation behind him, captain Marco Reus enjoyed his most prolific – and injury-free – season since 2011/12, when he plundered 18 goals for former club Borussia Mönchengladbach. The 30-year-old had a hand in a goal every 93 minutes he played from the No.10 position. To his right, Jadon Sancho’s talent exploded, the young Englishman contributing 14 league assists, one more than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi across Europe’s five major leagues. With Mario Götze nominally leading the line, meanwhile, opposition defences were sufficiently softened for Paco Alcacer to plunder a Bundesliga-record 12 of his 18 goals from the bench.
Watch: Götze under the tactical microscope
Further back, injuries and form meant that five different players were tried at left-back throughout the season – Achraf Hakimi, Abdou Diallo, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Marcel Schmelzer and Raphael Guerreiro – but with the formation and system well understood by all parties, BVB still managed to boast the fourth-best defence in the division.
Favre deviated from his preferred set-up once in the league, meanwhile, when Dortmund beat relegated VfB Stuttgart 3-1 on Matchday 25. Alcacer and Götze both started that day, the latter dropping in beside Reus, with Delaney sacrificed for a more attack-minded 4-1-4-1. With the players who have arrived, perhaps Plan B will be on display more often next term…
Reus’s and Sancho’s places are assured regardless of formation, but what do the new boys bring to the team?
That Schulz was the first new player to arrive at the Signal Iduna Park this summer was little surprise. The former Hoffenheim man has become Germany’s first-choice left-back in recent months, his fitness up and down the flank and average of four crosses per game going some way to explaining why. Schulz’s arrival gives Dortmund a long sought-after world-class option at left-back, but it also frees up Hakimi (right-back), Diallo (centre-back) and Guerreiro (left midfield) to play in their preferred positions.
With the biggest gap in their team plugged, Dortmund set about adding two of the most exciting attacking talents in the division with Gladbach’s Hazard and Bayer Leverkusen’s Brandt joining the Black and Yellow party days later. Hazard was the Foals’ most potent attacking force in 2018/19, with 10 goals and 10 assists. Expect to see him complete the trio behind the striker alongside Reus and Sancho, especially now that Pulisic has left for Chelsea, potentially as a replacement for Thorgan’s elder brother Eden.
Brandt’s addition was perhaps the biggest coup, though, and not only because he was linked with some of the biggest clubs at home and across Europe. The former Werkself favourite could play at attacking midfield should Reus need rested, or out wide if Hazard or Sancho are struggling for form, but given his journey under Peter Bosz in the Rückrunde, it could be Delaney who is looking over his shoulder the most next season.
Brandt the wide man went to the FIFA World Cup in Russia last summer ahead of Leroy Sane. While Germany’s campaign didn’t go to plan, Brandt’s stock rose, and it was no surprise to see him playing on the wing in the first half of last season. Bosz saw something in Brandt that predecessor Heiko Herrlich evidently did not, though, and dropped him deeper and more central in the Rückrunde.
Watch: Brandt's game evolved alongside Kai Havertz's in 2018/19
Brandt the winger scored one and assisted three in the first half of last season; Brandt the string-pulling midfielder scored six goals and assisted eight more in the second half of the campaign. His versatility means that Favre could pop Brandt in beside Witsel in a 4-2-3-1, and if more attacking impetus was needed, a simple shift of position could give BVB a 4-1-4-1 without the Swiss tactician even having to make a substitution.
While the additions of Schulz, Hazard and Brandt are certainly moves for the future, the return of Hummels will be regarded by many as Dortmund’s greatest signal of intent. For them, the days of losing their best players to Bayern are gone. Re-signing their former captain is designed to sure up and provide experience to a relatively youthful defence.
Thirty-year-old Hummels has exactly 300 Bundesliga appearances to his name, winning six league titles as well as the 2014 World Cup, and is the learned head Borussia’s relatively inexperienced defence needs. Last season’s first-choice centre-backs Manuel Akanji and Diallo are still only 23, while Zagadou and January signing Leonardo Balerdi are just 20.
Hummels is expected to slot back straight into the heart of the defence he left three years ago, likely forming a partnership on the left of Akanji, just like he did alongside Niklas Süle at Bayern. Diallo and Zagadou are both left-sided centre-backs, which would therefore see Hummels move to the right if playing alongside either of them.
Alcacer might push for more starts next season; Lukasz Pisczek vs. Hakimi is a welcome selection headache at right-back; and the transfer window is a long way from closed. This summer could yet throw up more questions, but for now, BVB have already answered their fair share impressively.