Where did it go wrong for Peter Bosz at Borussia Dortmund?
A little over six months and 24 matches into his reign at Borussia Dortmund, Peter Bosz’s time in the dug-out at the Signal Iduna Park is over. Like his two predecessors at BVB, Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, the Dutchman’s final Bundesliga game in charge of the club was against Werder Bremen. Unlike his predecessors, Bosz lost that fixture 2-1 in Dortmund and it was the final straw for the Borussia board. So where did it go so wrong for the Dutch tactician? bundesliga.com takes a closer look…
Brought in during the summer by BVB CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and sporting director Michael Zorc to replace Tuchel, Bosz arrived in Dortmund as one of the hottest coaching prospects in European football.
A relatively nomadic coaching career at numerous clubs in his native Netherlands, as well as a brief spell in Israel, reached a pinnacle in 2016/17 when he took charge of Ajax. Bosz led the Amsterdam club to a second-place finish in the Dutch Eredivisie (one point behind champions Feyenoord) and to a runners-up berth in the UEFA Europa League, losing to Manchester United in his final game in charge.
However, it wasn’t simply the results that impressed and caught the eye of Dortmund, it was the way Bosz’s side went about winning. He played the attacking, high-energy pressing game that Borussia fans had become so accustomed to during the successful Klopp regime.
Watch: Dortmund's Bosz man was impressing all the right people at the start of the season
While a Europa League victory over BVB’s local rivals Schalke will have no doubt endeared Bosz to the Dortmund fans even more, it was his ability to get the best out of Ajax’s youthful squad that stood out for those who had seen his team play.
An older squad
Coming to Dortmund and implementing the same tactical approach with a different, older team was unlikely to bear immediate fruits. The starting XI Bosz deployed in his first Bundesliga game in charge was on average over four years older than the team he used in the Europa League final.
While his Borussia squad may be considered to be in the prime of their career and more experienced on the pitch, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can implement the same tactics Bosz employed in his homeland. The game in Germany is quicker by nature and more robust, which means there’s a lot more to asking a group of teenagers and young twenty-somethings to simply run as quickly as possible for as long as possible.
That being said, the performances of teenager Christian Pulisic have been nothing short of outstanding this season under Bosz. The USA international scored the first Bundesliga goal of the Dutchman’s reign, has been outshining Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the same age and become one of European football’s most dangerous attackers.
Watch: Christian Pulisic, Dortmund's boy wonder
Pulisic was not the only impressive youngster on show in the earlier stages of the season, with summer signing from Freiburg Maximilian Philipp also shining brightly for the Black-Yellows, particularly in the opening weeks of the season.
Victim of his own success
And it’s possibly that impressive start to the season that has contributed to Bosz’s early dismissal. A record-breaking start of five games without conceding a goal – the first coach in Bundesliga history to do so in his maiden five matches – and six wins from the opening seven had Dortmund cruising at the top with a five-point lead over champions Bayern Munich.
For some in Dortmund, the title was already in the bag with the Bavarians in crisis. Since then, Borussia have picked up only three points in eight games, as well as failing to qualify for the knock-out stage of the UEFA Champions League, while Bayern have turned a once deficit into a 13-point advantage over their rivals.
Key players missing
One reason behind the drop in form can certainly be put down to a string of injuries suffered by key players in the Dortmund ranks. The team had to begin the campaign without a recognised left-back and summer signing Dan-Axel Zagadou, a centre-back by trade, deployed on the left of a back-four.
However, the return to fitness of Marcel Schmelzer and Raphael Guerreiro didn’t bring the desired benefits of defensive stability because of further absences in the back line through both injury and suspension. Possibly the biggest blow was losing right-back Lukasz Piszczek, who suffered knee ligament damage at the start of October, with Dortmund failing to win a league game since.
Not only has Bosz been without one of Borussia’s key performers over the previous seven seasons, his absence has been felt across the back line. During the Poland international’s time out, Dortmund have used seven different defensive line-ups in eight games. In that time they have failed to keep a single clean sheet, and BVB sporting director Zorc declared that one of the reasons for their appointment of Peter Stöger as successor was because he would bring much needed defensive stability to the team.
It’s a feat that’s easier said than done for a team that has lost defensive players to injury and suspension every week this season. The team also remains without a recognised right-back in the absence of Piszczek, with Marc Bartra filling in there on a number of occasions but not a natural in the position.
It’s not just in defence that injuries have impacted Bosz’s progress, though. Creative players such as Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Andre Schürrle have all missed a number of games. In the case of Reus, cruciate ligament damage has meant he has not featured at all under Bosz.
It’s this lack of a player to unlock opposition defences on a consistent basis that has hurt Dortmund so much in recent times, with top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang not receiving the support of the earlier weeks. Pulisic, Philipp and Andrey Yarmolenko have all impressed, but it has been too great a burden on such young shoulders and a player still new to the Bundesliga to continually perform at the high level of the opening weeks and provide Aubameyang with goalscoring chances.
No Plan B
This combination of fewer goals scored and more conceded in the last eight games compared to the first seven is naturally a concern. But for many who have watched Dortmund closely this season, it was the perceived tactical naivety of Bosz that was the most unforgivable aspect of the Dutchman’s spell at BVB.
Bosz employed the same 4-3-3 formation for the first 12 games of the season, and despite opponents eventually figuring out how to play against his side, continued to go with the same system.
He was often asked whether he and his side had a Plan B to use if their original tactic was unsuccessful, and in a press conference replied, “Of course we have a Plan B. We just sometimes haven’t implemented Plan A right and that’s what we’re working on.”
A change to a more attacking 3-1-4-2 in the derby against Schalke looked to have Dortmund turning the corner which the board so often spoke about with BVB racing into a 4-0 lead before half-time. Borussia would famously go on to blow that lead and draw 4-4 with a second-half collapse. As CEO Watzke later stated in the club’s AGM, that 90 minutes alone was representative of Dortmund’s entire season: Superb in the first half, capitulating in the second.
A move to a flat 3-4-3 in the games against Bayer Leverkusen and Bremen may have been a reaction to both the need for a Plan B as well as injuries influencing the line-up, but the writing was already on the wall for Bosz before those games and only two victories would have saved his job.
A draw and a third loss at home in the Bundesliga this season were, therefore, far from enough for the Dutchman, and within hours of that loss to Werder he was replaced by former Cologne boss Stöger, whose target for the season remains to qualify for the Champions League, but his immediate objective from the BVB boardroom is to stabilise the club, and in particular the defence. Perhaps Bosz was too naive with his approach when arriving in Germany, but the Dutchman had played in the Bundesliga for Hansa Rostock, so it was not completely uncharted territory.
The reins now pass to Stöger, a man with over 100 Bundesliga games as a coach under his belt, to steer Borussia back onto the right path. However, he doesn’t just have to learn from his own shortcomings at Cologne this season, but also those of his predecessor in Dortmund.