Borussia Dortmund 2020-21 Season Preview

Basics

Name:  Ballspielverein Borussia 09 Dortmund e.v.
Nicknames:  Die Schwarz-Gelben, BVB
Founded:  19 December 1909
Club colors:  Black and Yellow
Primary rival:  FC Schalke 04
Stadium:  Signal Iduna Park (Westfalenstadion)
Capacity:  81,365
2019-20 Attendance:  975,853 season total (5 games behind closed doors) / 81,171 average per match
Club members: 159,037

TROPHIES

Bundesliga Champion (8) – 1956, 1957, 1963, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2011, 2012
DFB Pokal Champions (3) – 1965, 1989, 2012, 2017
Supercup (6) – 1989, 1995, 1996, 2013, 2014, 2019
Champions League Champion (1) – 1997
UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1) – 1966
Intercontinental Cup (1) – 1997

LAST SEASON 

Second place in Bundesliga with 69 points Won 21 Drawn 6 Lost 7 Goal difference +43

Top Scorers

Jadon Sancho:  17 goals
Erling Haaland:  13 goals
Marco Reus:  11 goals
Rapha Guerreiro:  8 goals

Summer Friendlies Results

Won 4 Lost 2 Drawn
Goals Scored:  26
Goals Conceded: 10

SC Altach 6-0
Austria Vienna 11-2
MSV Duisburg 5-1
Feyenoord Rotterdam 1-3
SC Paderborn 1-1
VFL Bochum 1-3
Sparta Rotterdam 3-1

Transfers

OUTGOING:

Ömer Toprak – Werder Bremen €4m
Dzenis Burnic – 1.FC Heidenheim €0.5m
Mario Götze – Without club
Achraf Hakimi – End of loan
Leonardo Balerdi – Olympique Marseilles
Andre Schurrle – End of career
Eric Oelschlägel – Without club

INCOMING:

Jude Bellingham – Birmingham City €25m
Emre Can – Juventus €25m
Thomas Meunier – Paris Saint Germain
Reinier Jesus Carvalho – Real Madrid Loan
Youssoufa Moukoko
Immanuel Pherai

Goalkeepers

In contrast to 2018-19, Roman Bürki had a consistent 2019-20. He is unchallenged as the club’s number one in goal, and if the consistent performances that led to 13 clean sheets in the past season continue, he can be sure of the number one jersey, even if doubts still linger about his ability to manage the defense in set-pieces. With Luca Unbehaun (19), a Germany U20 international, BVB have a talented third option and one for the future. Marwin Hitz, with his 294 appearances at senior level, is almost certain to remain the number two choice at the Signal Iduna Park.

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Defence

In the past season, BVB played in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but switched to a 3-4-3 which provided a more offensive formation to play out from the back. The defensive performance improved overall, as three goals less were conceded than in 2018-19. Mats Hummels was the most-consistent performer providing the kind of stability and leadership BVB needed in the centre of defence. The Germany international was reputedly number one on Watkze and Zorc’s hiring list in 2019-20 and was brought back from Bayern Munich for a club-record €37m. Doubts still linger over Manuel Akanji, who had been heavily criticized in 2018-19 for his inconsistency. The Swiss international showed improvement over the past season with fewer concentration lapses, and is starting to show the kind of consistent performances that Favre hired him for. A great prospect continues to be the towering (1.96m) 21-year-old Dan-Axel Zagadou, who has provided a strong alternative at center-back. The Francis U21 international would have made a bigger contribution in 2019-20 had his season not been cut short by injury, he was out for over three months due to muscular and knee injuries. These injuries continue to rule him out for the first games of the 2020-21 season.

Nico Schulz, the Germany international who signed from Hoffenheim at the start of last season for €25m, has been unable to secure the left-back position due to poor form and injury. The outcome of Schulz’s failure has been a solution that can only be a short-term measure, the overreliance on the 35-year Lukasz Piszczek. The former Polish international is injury-prone and will be retiring at the end of the 2020-21 season. The only other left-back in the squad is 32-year-old Marcel Schmelzer who made just seven appearances, all from the bench. ln terms of defensive stability, much will depend on whether Schulz can start to make the expected contribution in the back-line in what will be a make or break season for the 27-year-old German international.

With the departure of Real Madrid loanee Achraf Hakimi, who alongside Rapha Guerreiro during 2019-20 played mostly as a wing-back, BVB loses one of the most dynamic and effective defensive options. In a 2019-20 season where the club has incurred a €45m trading loss, the €44m price tag the Spanish club put on the player, who transferred to Inter Milan, in spite of Hakimi’s stellar performances and popularity with the fans at the Westfalenstadion ruled out Dortmund making the signing permanent.  A defender to watch out for in 2020-21 is Spaniard Mateo Morey (20). The talented right-back showed promise in the latter part of the 2019-20 season and will, if fit, certainly be given further opportunities to prove his worth. Arguably the strongest defensive asset as he can play both as a wing-back and in the left-back position as he does with the Portugal national team, is Rapha Guerreiro. The 26-year-old will, provided he remains free of injury, play a substantial role in the campaign ahead. In terms of transfers, the addition of 1.90m Belgian international Thomas Meunier, who arrived from French champions Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, should bring significant quality in aerial challenges, an area that Borussia have struggled with over the last two seasons. Overall the key challenge will be managing the loss of Hakimi effectively in that crucial wingback position. Should the injuries in the back-line persist further signings in the January transfer window cannot be ruled out.

Midfield

BVB have a depth of talent in midfield. The gifted Jude Bellingham will provide creativity and is an asset due to his proven skills in interceptions. At 17 and in his first season in the Bundesliga, the England U20 international, who joined from Birmingham City, is an unproven entity at this level.

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A consistent asset at the heart of the BVB midfield remains the popular Belgian international Axel Witsel. The 31-year-old provides a world-class pass rate of almost 95% which is the best in the Bundesliga. The 48-time Denmark international Thomas Delaney has developed a solid partnership with Witsel, in his first season in 2018-19, the 28-year-old featured in 27 games. Delaney adds a strong defensive dimension with his exceptional interception ability. In 2019-20 however, he only featured in 14 matches due to persistent knee and ligament injuries. The emphasis this season again will be on Emre Can who came from Juventus for €25m in January. Germany international Can provides versatility and defensive capability in midfield and can also play in the back-line.

A strong prospect to watch out for, which should give BVB additional options in defensive midfield, is Tobias Raschl who has joined from the U19 side. 20-year-old Raschl played a key role as captain of the U19 side and featured in 30 games scoring six goals in the past season. Mahmoud Dahoud, in contrast, may be set for a transfer as he has largely failed to make the intended impact at BVB since joining from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2017-18, making only 49 appearances and scoring one goal so far.

Focussing on the left-wing, BVB has with Thorgan Hazard and Rapha Guerreiro two strong assets. Hazard showed improvements after a slow start. In particular, taking set-pieces and crossing, he contributed seven goals in the past season racking up an impressive 13 assists in 2019-20. His place in the starting line-up will depend on whether Favre plays Rapha Guerreiro in the back-line or in his preferred more-attacking position. Of course, the out-and-out leader in the central offensive midfield is Dortmund-born talisman, Marco Reus. When match-fit, the 31-year-old is one of the most-dangerous wide-forwards in the game. Most importantly, the Germany international has exceptional finishing ability. In 2019-20, he scored eleven goals and led from the front as club captain. As could be seen in the last matches of 2019-20, without Reus Dortmund are a different team. His match-fitness in time for this week’s friendly against Sparta Rotterdam, where he scored the first goal in a 2-1 win, will be a welcome boost to BVB’s 2019-20 prospects.

In the central offensive midfield, and one of three world-class players alongside Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho, is Julian Brandt. The German International joined from Bayer Leverkusen last season for what was widely regarded, at the time, as a bargain €25m. Brandt will be earmarked for playing a bigger role next season after showing some moments of brilliance but a lack of consistency particularly in defensive situations which are Brandt’s weaker side.

On the right-wing, BVB will be exceptionally encouraged by having retained Jadon Sancho. Sancho was the player of 2019-20, scoring 17 goals but also contributing 17 assists in 33 games. 35% of Dortmund’s attacks came via the right side, and replacing Jadon would be a considerable challenge should a suitable buyer be found at the €100m asking fee.  In terms of emerging talents, all eyes will again this season be on 17-year-old US international Giovanni Reyna who made a strong impression in his 15 starts. Reyna also made DFB Pokal history by becoming the youngest ever goal-scorer in the 3-2 win over Werder Bremen in February. A relative unknown is the 20-year-old Real Madrid loanee Brazilian attacking midfielder. Reinier was acquired in an impressive €30m deal by Real Madrid from Flamengo and has joined Borussia on a two-year deal.

Attack

BVB scored 84 goals in 2019-20, the second-best tally since 1975-76. Dortmund has a number of players who can score including Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho. With the sale of Paco Alcacer to Villareal for €25m and the loss of Mario Götze, the current concern in attack will be the over-reliance on Erling Haaland. Although regarded by many in the industry as one of the world’s top striker talents, the Norwegian international is only 20-years-old and has limited experience in the Bundesliga. Erling, however, is versatile as a goal-scorer and has the ability to score through powerful long-range shots and exceptionally well-placed finishes. The only back-up striker at this time is Cameroon-born Yousouffa Moukoko who has been promoted from the U19 side. Although just 16, the U20 Germany international is regarded as one of the most-talented strikers at his age scoring 127 goals in 84 matches for BVB to date at youth level. Providing he can handle the physical expectations of playing against much older players at Bundesliga-level, he should provide a much-needed alternative.

Coach

All Favre teams play a dynamic, quick, and attacking-minded football, where ball possession and change of tempo alternate. This attractive style of play has brought results in every club he has managed. As has been seen at BVB, Favre is also very skillful in setting his team tactics. Favre teams leave opponents struggling to penetrate and tend to shoot less than others, but have a high conversion rate. Favre also has a reputation of predicting well how opposing teams, coaches, or players tend to react in certain situations. To play this style, Favre pays attention to details and technique, especially one-to-ones. Favre has also, in spite of two-second place finishes in the last two seasons with BVB, failed to set the world on fire in Dortmund.

BVB finished second in 2018-19 with 76 points and 69 points in 2019-20. There is now therefore more expectation on the Swiss coach than ever before. Doubts have arisen, in particular amongst fans, as to whether Favre is a title-winner. The last silverware Favre won as a coach was the Swiss Super League title with FC Zürich in 2006-07. In terms of temperament, the Swiss coach appears hesitant at times and can be fragile in his handling of the media. His premature ‘chucking the towel in’ after the 5-0 loss to Championship contenders Bayern Munich, in a 2018-19 season where BVB had a nine-point lead by the winter break, is exemplary of what is regarded as a lack of ruthlessness and ambition and is not easily forgotten. Only silverware in 2020-21 will prove Favre’s doubters wrong.

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What Favre does have, which is the primary reason why BVB hired him, is his ability to draw quality performances and shape young players. The 2020-21 squad are arguably the best players Favre has worked with in his career and a lot will be expected from his ability to get the best out of the current crop. Talented additions include Germany U20 international Luca Unbehaun (goalkeeper) and Immanuel Pherai (attacking midfielder). Should Favre manage to integrate them into the team, this ‘new generation’ will bring a skill level across which will add depth from the bench and an additional dimension in terms of strategy.

Favre’s ability to get the most out of the young up-and-coming talent could prove vital for a team competing across three tournaments. In particular, if the current wave of injuries that have seen Zagadou, Morey, and Schmelzer all out injured in recent weeks continues to undermine the defense. What will also not have been lost on observers however is that Favre’s emphasis on attacking football is getting results and fits perfectly not only with Dortmund’s squad but also the club’s ethos. The nerves of managing director Aki Watzke and Sporting director Michael Zorc have however at times during the last two seasons looked frayed. Anything less than a top-two finish and substantial advancement in the Champions League and DFB Pokal could well mean this could be Favre’s last in charge at the Westfalenstadion.

The Verdict

Due to the quality of their first eleven, especially in central midfield, with Witsel, Can, Delaney and Bellingham, BVB are spoilt for choice. The Swiss coach’s ability for integrating the young talents will be the difference as to whether vital squad rotation can be achieved. Dortmund however is not optimally positioned in three positions; there is a lack of back-ups in central defense and the forward position and the quality of the left-backs is still not good enough. Money could be found if a Jadon Sancho sale is secured which could provide for the reinforcements, in particular, however, a Sancho sale would crucially leave BVB with a substantial issue to resolve on the right-wing and without what was their top striker in 2019-20. If Sancho is not sold, due to the ongoing pandemic crisis, BVB is, for the first time in more than a decade of profitable trading, not likely to be in a financial position to sign replacements at the level needed. Although a sale of Marius Wolff and Mahmoud Dahoud or a further loan or potential free transfer could be viable options. Overall although BVB can rely on a very strong base of players and players like Reyna and Morey are now more experienced, Favre’s key challenge will be finding the optimal balance and the right cover for these key positions and integrating the young up and coming players without which if injury worries persist Dortmund could be vulnerable in 20-21 in particular.

In the league, Marco Rose’s Borussia Moenchengladbach, crucially with the addition of talented Austrian U21 international midfielder Hannes Wolf and RB Leipzig under Julian Nagelsmann, in spite of losing Timo Werner to Chelsea, will be pushing hard for the Champions League places. The lack of BVB’s arguably greatest asset, the twelfth man i.e the support of the fans and the €4m income currently being lost pro matchday, will undermine BVB’s competitive edge. 2020-21 will in terms, of the squad without the ability to add further to the squad be an experimental season. Bayern Munich will, especially with the triple in 2019-20 behind them, not be unseated in 2020-21.

Prediction:  Vizemeister – The number two slot in the table and quarterfinals of the Champions League.

About Benjamin McFadyean 4 Articles
For the last 5 years, I have been writing about this unique football league I have followed since I moved to Germany as an 11 year-old in the 1990s. The club I follow is the eight-time champion Borussia Dortmund. As a teenager, I had a season ticket on the Dortmund's 'Yellow Wall' the Südtribüne until I returned to live in the UK in my 20s. The Bundesliga for me has the balance right and is an example of what football can be, great passionate crowds, member-owned football clubs and fair prices, not to mention outstanding football in the land of the four-time FIFA World Champions. In addition to my writing, I am a qualified German-English translator specialised in the football industry and am currently translating a biography by one of the leading figures in German football. For the last 7 years I have been president of the official BVB fan club in London,  when I am not in Dortmund, I regularly attend games of Portsmouth FC at the legendary Fratton Park stadium.

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