Group Stage Fan Preview: Borussia Dortmund

In recent years, German giants Borussia Dortmund haven’t had the marvel of luck on their side in Europe’s Königsklasse. For the upcoming UCL campaign, the black-and-yellows’ group is a rather onerous one. It consists of Cyprian side Apoel Nicosia, English powerhouses Tottenham Hotspur and rather unsurprisingly, the consensus *current* best team on the planet, Real Madrid.

Since 2012, BVB have been a staple in the competition of Europe’s elite with the exception of the 15/16 season. They have locked horns with Los Blancos in 12/13, 13/14, 14/15, 16/17 and will now face them for a fifth time when the Champions League graces us with her presence in the very near future. It’ll be groundhog day…again. Los Merengues currently sit high and ever-so mighty on the footballing throne of the world, marching into the competition as defending champions. However, it may not be plain sailing for the seemingly untouchable kings of Europe. Dortmund have proven to be Real Madrid’s kryptonite over the past few seasons, making meetings between the two showcases of sheer electricity and blood-pumping adrenaline.

Two games into the season, Borussia Dortmund sit top of the Bundesliga table with six points, putting on assertive, yet refreshing footballing displays against two of the leagues tough draws in Vfl Wolfsburg and capital club Hertha Berlin. Over the summer, Borussia Dortmund underwent many transitions in terms of squad, manager and style. I say “transitions” as these are a pillar in the way Peter Bosz now likes his team to handle their business on the turf. After the sacking of Thomas Tuchel following the DFB-Pokal triumph, Dutchman Peter Bosz was named as the new man at the helm of a black and yellow juggernaut with a sprinkling of technical blemishes that needed some polishing. Bosz coached a very young Ajax side to the Europa League final the season before, which etched his name onto many shortlists around Europe. His quick, explosive style, notorious development of youngsters and willingness to take calculated risks may just have been what convinced Dortmund to cast their hook over in Amsterdam.

As we all know, Borussia Dortmund lost star prospect Ousmane Dembélé to FC Barcelona in a deal that saw the 20 y/o become the second most expensive player of all time. While many believe that this will have set Dortmund back from an athletic perspective, Dortmund carried out some extremely slick transfer business that has the potential to more than make up for the young Frenchman’s bitter exit from the club. Dortmund made seven signings in total, all of which addressed certain areas in the squad that required bolstering. It was a smooth, calculated transfer window that Dortmund cleverly attacked with a pre-emptive strike. Players brought in were: Ömer Toprak (Bayer Leverkusen), Mahmoud Dahoud (Gladbach), Dan-Axel Zagadou (PSG), Maximilian Philipp (SC Freiburg), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev), Jeremy Toljan (TSG Hoffenheim) and finally, Jadon Sancho (Manchester City).

Peter Bosz, an ardent disciple of the late Johan Cruijff, approached Dortmund with a clear blueprint of how he wanted his new troupe to play football and two games into the Bundesliga season, it appears he has implemented just that. Simply put, Bosz wants his teams to condense the field to compactly extinguish opposing attacks when out of possession, and enlarge the field in an attempt to hyper-extend the opponent, ushering them into erring, when in possession. He customarily does this with a 4-3-3 formation.

Bosz moulds his style around the fast, fluid movement of the ball when in possession and the high-octane signature pressing when out of possession. The Dutchman likes to implement a “five-second rule” into his teams, where upon losing the ball, his team must ferociously press the player(s) in possession for five second bursts to try and regain the ball. This is because five seconds is approximately how long a single “transition” takes and as mentioned earlier, Bosz is an avid student of the transitions that take place in a game.

We have witnessed this fresh style embedded into a new-look Dortmund side, where compact defending off the ball (something they lacked last season) coupled with tireless, vicious pressing has gained them the ball in promising areas where they can attempt to stretch the pitch and make use of the spaces in midfield while bombarding forward to then fatally conclude a counter in as little time as possible. Bosz is constantly working on making things quicker. One diagonal partnership that has fruitfully blossomed from this style is between Mario Götze and Christian Pulisic. The German and the American combine seamlessly during breaks, making clever use of the astute ball control and vision from the former and the dribbling, speed and sheer electricity of the latter down the right flank. Now, on the topic of Christian Pulisic, the 18 y/o American may very well be Dortmund’s “key player” as the group stage of the Champions League looms. His offensive influence has been unrivalled, registering a goal and an assist thus far in two excellent performances against Vfl Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin.

In a group packed with a combination of grit and undeniable quality, Borussia Dortmund will be required to pull out all the stops should they wish to edge forward, for a better view of the elusive ‘Ol Big Ears.

By: @essop23

Photo: Getty