Friday, September 29, 2023

The Question: Have Borussia Dortmund Managed To Replace Gundogan?

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Anas Molla
An ageing teenager who apparently still likes Twenty One Pilots and HIMYM. Also fascinated by Greek and Egyptian mythology and history. Still waiting for my man Milos Raonic to win a Grand Slam.

Borussia Dortmund experienced a squad overhaul this summer with five players leaving the squad whilst they have signed eight new faces. The departures of key players such as Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan particularly left a hole in Thomas Tuchel’s lineup.

And with six match days already gone, The 4th Official will peek into Borussia Dortmund’s performance and see as if the Black and Yellows were able to replace their departures or not. The first name on our series is Ilkay Gundogan.

After months of speculations, the Turkish-born German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, a subject of many a transfer speculation over the years, the 25-year old midfielder finally made his move to Manchester City in the summer for a fee of 27 million euros.

Gundogan was, however, on the verge of leaving Dortmund at the start of the season only for a last minute phone call by new manager Thomas Tuchel, who eventually convinced him to stay at Dortmund for at least another year by explaining Gundo, his intriguing playstyle. This time, though, Thomas Tuchel failed to convince him to stay with BVB as he moved to pastures new.

The departure of Gundogan meant, Dortmund having no real midfield lynchpin with Nuri Sahin, not being in his best of forms due to his ever-growing injury problems. However, Dortmund did manage to sign a few midfielders over the summer in the shape of Sebastian Rode, Mikel Merino and perhaps a bit of Raphael Guerreiro owing to his versatility.

The signing of Rode, in particular, raised a few eyebrows and with the fact the player being signed from rivals FC Bayern. Rode became an instant fan favourite, especially after a good pre-season. A warrior-like player in the middle, Rode had the passing abilities which were coupled with brilliant awareness, made the fans instantly believe that the former Eintracht Frankfurt man can instantly replace the hole left by Ilkay Gundogan, such was his temerity.

DORTMUND, GERMANY - AUGUST 14: Sebastian Rode (R) of Dortmund and Thomas Mueller (L) of Munich compete for the ball during DFL Supercup 2016 match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Muenchen at Signal Iduna Park on August 14, 2016 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Well, after six match days, it doesn’t seem to be going well for Rode thus far. Despite featuring in all six of Dortmund’s Bundesliga fixtures thus far, Rode started only two games this season and with just one full game under his belt so far, which came in the 1:0 away defeat against RB Leipzig. The pragmatic midfielder so far has failed to exhibit his qualities with the Dortmund first team.

The foremost reasoning of Sebastian Rode’s ineffectual rendition has been simple; The existence of Julian Weigl. Because of the matching qualities between the two midfielders in Weigl and Rode, the Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel was stipulated to pick any of the two midfielders in his starting lineup.

Then came Mikel Merino, who plays a rather drafting figure in replacing Ilkay Gundogan. Merino arrived from CA Osasuna, after impressing with Los Rojillos last season, helping them winning promotion to the first division of Spanish Football. The Spanish youth International has been restricted from having regular first team appearances and understandably so but the 20-year old leaves a huge promise for the future.

This leaves us with the final new signing…

Raphaël Adelino José Guerreiro, the name may seem long but his playing attributes can only be described in a short and simple manner – smart. Composed, clever and confident, Raphael Guerreiro has been a star for Dortmund this season after arriving from FC Lorient in the summer.

The 22-year old played down a host of roles for Thomas Tuchel’s team this season. Sometimes as a fullback, sometimes as a central midfielder, Guerreiro has also featured on the left for BVB this season. Scoring two goals and providing three assists as well as creating seven chances in the Bundesliga may seem jaw dropping. Did he manage to replace Ilkay though?

WARSAW, POLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Raphael Guerreiro of Borussia in action during the UEFA Champions League match between Legia Warszawa and Borussia Dortmund at Wojska Polskiego Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Piotr Hawalej/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Guerreiro’s versatility and skill on the ball coupled with a football mind like a sponge lends Thomas Tuchel a series of options for his team. However, the 2:0 defeat to RB Leipzig a week ago, revealed Dortmund’s problem of not having a midfielder, who could terminate the opposition defense or break in lines between the defensive channels.

Thomas Tuchel’s team were completely outclassed by Roger Schmidt’s brilliantly executive collective midfielder pressing. With Julian Weigl, being occupied more in the defensive build-up and Gonzalo Castro, playing almost as a secondary striker, there is no secret that Dortmund are currently missing someone who could facilitate the middle half of the pitch or more precisely, Ilkay Gundogan.

Raphael Guerreiro, however, makes the most sense to replace the German international, from the ones on bolstered roster of Dortmund this season.

There’s no doubt that Guerreiro’s wide range of skill sets provide him with positional flexibility.  A left back some three months ago, turned into answer for any situation on the field. That’s however, not to say he’s been absolutely perfect, at times the Portuguese international tends to struggle a bit with his decision making and might as well be fragile in  possession when the opposition come at full force.

So, in general, Dortmund have yet failed to replace the stunning Ilkay Gundogan, which was particularly visible against pressing machines like Bayer Leverkusen or RB Leipzig or even SC Freiburg.

But the presence of Raphael Guerreiro, leaves hope for the Dortmund faithful and in time, he will probably fix his imperfections and perhaps be a better outlet than Gundogan for Dortmund in the middle. In no time, Guerreiro has inserted himself into more and more of a middle man for Dortmund and a development nose-dive in the coming well could just bode well for both parties.

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