Roman Bürki is one of the unsung heroes of Borussia Dortmund's Bundesliga title challenge. - © 2018 DFL
Roman Bürki is one of the unsung heroes of Borussia Dortmund's Bundesliga title challenge. - © 2018 DFL
bundesliga

Roman Bürki: The hands and feet behind Borussia Dortmund's title challenge

If great attacking wins games and great defending wins championships, Bundesliga high-fliers Borussia Dortmund owe goalkeeper Roman Bürki a debt of gratitude for providing the bedrock upon which to build their title challenge.

BVB are currently sitting top of the Bundesliga table with a five-point lead over their nearest challengers and 54 goals scored to their name. And while many are rightly singing the praises of the Black and Yellows’ offensive talents, Switzerland international Bürki has reinvented himself and is quietly providing the foundation for the team’s success.

Dortmund have the third-best defence in the league, conceding only 23 goals in 21 matches. Bürki has featured in every one of those matches, save for the 3-2 win over Bayern Munich, when a thigh strain kept him out of the team, and is Dortmund’s joint-top appearance maker this season along with Axel Witsel. In 19 matches, Bürki has kept six clean sheets and let in only 21 goals, a minutes-per-goal-conceded ratio bettered only by RB Leipzig keeper Peter Gulacsi and compatriot Yann Sommer of Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Dortmund's No.1 has come up with some big saves in crucial moments this season. - imago/Sven Simon

A look back to this time last season highlights just how much Bürki has upped his game and improved his team’s ability to compete as one of the Bundesliga’s true heavyweights. After 21 matches in 2017/2018, Dortmund were sitting in fourth place with 34 points and had conceded 29 goals, 25 of those coming on Bürki’s watch. This represents a decrease of nearly 21 per cent in his goals conceded over the course of a year. Similarly, whereas last season Bürki shipped a goal every 69 minutes, so far his term that rate has improved to one every 86 minutes.

Similar improvements can be seen in other areas. In 2018/19, Bürki has stopped 73.2 per cent of the 82 shots he’s faced, and once again only Gulacsi and Sommer boast a better record this season. Last term, that figured stood at 70 per cent. During the 2017/2018 campaign, 67 per cent of the headed attempts directed toward the Dortmund goal could not beat the former Freiburg custodian. This year, Bürki has become something of a header specialist, saving an astonishing 91 per cent.

He has also seemingly improved his confidence in his abilities as a shot-stopper. Standing 6'2" tall, comparatively short for a goalkeeper, the Dortmund man displays faster-than-average reflexes and can get a hand or foot to the ball in a split second. Whereas last season Bürki would rush out to close down an onrushing striker or to claim a cross coming into the area, this term has seen a more reserved approach in which the goalkeeper remains on his line and trusts his lightning reflexes to make the save when the shot does come.

Watch: A closer look at the new and improved Roman Bürki

It would appear that Dortmund goalkeeping coach Matthias Kleinsteiber has been working with the BVB No. 1 to make the most of his quick feet. As the video above shows, the Bürki of last year would advance off his line with long strides towards his opponent. This season, the keeper has revolutionised his game by taking far more steps; constantly repositioning his feet and body to be ready to lunge or jump in any direction.

Dortmund’s results this season indicate that all that hard work is paying off: Bürki can already claim to be one of Germany football’s best keepers and is in an excellent position to claim his first Bundesliga title come May. His Dortmund teammates will be hoping that their portable Yellow Wall between the uprights can continue to improve and provide the basis for their scintillating football. Attackers at the other 17 clubs around the country will take no solace in the fact that, at only 28 years of age, Bürki’s best years are probably still yet to come.