18-year-old USMNT international Christian Pulisic (c.) has been one of Dortmund's standout performers this term. - © © imago / Jan Huebner
18-year-old USMNT international Christian Pulisic (c.) has been one of Dortmund's standout performers this term. - © © imago / Jan Huebner

Dortmund's young guns still finding their feet

Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel has shown remarkable faith in some of his squad's brightest young talents this season. When Christian Pulisic, Julian Weigl, Ousmane Dembele and Co. are on form, the results can be breathtaking – but defeats to RB Leipzig and Bayer 04 Leverkusen show they still have plenty to learn.

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Talk about a team of extremes. When Dortmund have been good this season, they have been very good indeed. Six goals against Legia Warszawa. Six more against SV Darmstadt 98. Five against VfL Wolfsburg. In their four Bundesliga wins, they have scored 16 goals and conceded just three.

On the other hand, when the going gets tough, the goals seem to dry up – as they did in the shock defeat to Leipzig (0-1) and the Matchday 6 loss in Leverkusen (0-2).

Four days after a high-intensity clash with Real Madrid CF, and at the end of a punishing run of seven games in 22 days, their trip to the BayArena was never going to be straightforward. And yet Tuchel surprised more than one observer by starting teenagers Pulisic (18) and Dembele (19) alongside Julian Weigl (21) in midfield. He later brought on Emre Mor (19), leaving the more exerienced Nuri Sahin (28) and FIFA World Cup winner Mario Götze (24) on the bench. 

It was a bold move that ultimately did not pay off – but demonstrated the belief Tuchel has in his young charges. They have certainly given him reason to trust them – Pulisic, Dembele and Mor have all got on the scoresheet this season, and the USMNT international produced a stunning performance against Darmstadt on the eve of his 18th birthday.

The Leverkusen defeat should serve as a useful lesson. Dortmund struggled to deal with Bayer's high-intensity pressing, and their youthful midfield failed to create many clear-cut chances. Still, Tuchel will consider the inability to break down more physical opponents as an integral part of their development process, and will encourage his young guns to learn from their mistakes.


It would also be absurd to place responsibility for the loss squarely on the shoulders of Dortmund's rising stars, as Gonzalo Castro pointed out after the game.

"We made too many mistakes that we wouldn't usually make, especially in build-up play," he admitted. "But Leverkusen's tactical set-up was excellent. We need to learn from this so that we do things better in the future."

Castro also drew parallels with Dortmund's defeat to Leipzig on Matchday 2, when they failed to break the deadlock and conceded a late goal at the Red Bull Arena.

"Leipzig and Leverkusen have similar systems. They both defend very aggressively, high up the pitch. It's always difficult against teams like that, because they make it hard for you to settle into a rhythm."

Dortmund will at least be relieved that FC Bayern München could only draw with 1. FC Köln this weekend – although they missed an opportunity to close the gap on the champions, who are four points ahead after six games.

"Of course we wanted to make the most of Bayern dropping points," said captain Marcel Schmelzer. "But there's still a long way to go and the team is finding its feet. We're taking our time."

Dortmund will have a little time to recharge their batteries during the international break, even if many players have headed off to play for their national sides. Tuchel will no doubt be relying on his bright young things again when the Bundesliga resumes on Friday 14 October, with Dortmund looking to steal second place from high-flying Hertha Berlin.

Watch: See how Dortmund's stars got on in the Keepy-Uppy challenge