Four months after breaking his foot playing for Portugal at the FIFA Confederations Cup, Raphael Guerreiro made his comeback for Borussia Dortmund in Tuesday's 5-0 DFB Cup romp against Magdeburg. The return of the versatile 23-year-old is excellent news for BVB coach Peter Bosz.
He has only been back at full fitness for a couple of days, but Guerreiro has already had time to squeeze in a trip around the globe. Earlier this week, video footage of the French-born Portuguese international scoring an outrageous spinning backheel volley at training went viral, as he reminded the footballing planet just what it has been missing in his absence.
That video was a testament to Guerreiro's remarkable technical ability, but it is his tactical flexibility that may in fact be his biggest strength. Having been employed chiefly as a left-back by former club FC Lorient, he was used in a variety of ways by Thomas Tuchel after switching to Dortmund in the summer of 2016: left winger, left back, central midfielder and even defensive midfielder. "Rapha is far too good to be fixed in one position," the former BVB boss insisted.
Tuchel has since been replaced by Bosz, but the Dutchman should be able to make similar use of Guerreiro in his favoured 4-3-3 formation. Had the latter been fit for the Eintracht Frankfurt game, Dortmund would not have been forced to start with a makeshift defence that had Jeremy Toljan covering for the injured Marcel Schmelzer at left-back, Marc Bartra at right-back, and Julian Weigl in central defence. More importantly, BVB might not have squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2.
Dortmund have no shortage of quality in midfield, but relatively few left-footers - and none with Guerreiro's attacking nous and ferocious shooting ability. Factor in his deft touch, silky dribbling skills and pinpoint crossing, and you start to get a clearer picture of his importance to the team. In 24 Bundesliga appearances last term he scored six goals and set up five more, and only injury prevented him from making an even more significant impact.
After a near-perfect start the season under Bosz, Dortmund have stuttered in recent weeks. They were outdone tactically by Ralph Hasenhüttl and RB Leipzig as they finally surrendered their 41-game Bundesliga invincibility at the Signal Iduna Park, while the 2-2 draw with Frankfurt came off the back of a frustrating stalemate with APOEL in the UEFA Champions League, leaving their chances of reaching the knockout stage hanging by a thread. Could Guerreiro's return - coupled with that of Andre Schürrle - signal an upturn in fortunes?
Watch: Where could Guerreiro fit into Dortmund's tactical system?
Patience may be the watchword. With three games to come next week - including the first Klassiker of the season at home to Bayern Munich - Bosz is likely to rotate Guerreiro and Schmelzer at left-back, as he did in the comfortable win against Magdeburg, especially with sporting director Michael Zorc observing that "neither player has 90 minutes in his legs" so soon after injury.
The international break in mid-November should allow Guerreiro to keep working his way back to full fitness, and if he can stay injury-free in the coming months, Dortmund's Portuguese Army Knife could well be having a starring role to play as his side look to finally break Bayern's stranglehold on the Bundesliga title.