While much of the attribution for Dortmund’s success in 2018 has been attributed to the hiring of Peter Stoeger, the fact is players are critical to any turnaround. If you compare the starting XI of the most recent matches and the first few matches of the season, the names are very different. Part of that is due to recovering from injury but also because certain players have improved their form in 2018.
For our next instalment of Black v. Yellow, our writers have each selected a player they feel has been most critical for the club’s success since the winter break. Between improved form and injury recovery, there was no lack of players to pick. Which of the ones our writers chose would you select?
Moses – Andre Schurrle
Andre Schurrle’s underwhelming start to the season was disappointing but hardly surprising, considering how inconsistent his club career has been ever since he burst onto the scene at Bayer Leverkusen. Injuries have certainly played a part in his unpredictable form but it seems to have been more than that. Unsuitable tactical systems? The wrong mindset? Whatever it was, he has certainly gotten past it in the last two months to become one of Dortmund’s most pivotal players.
Against Hertha Berlin in January, he started up front but couldn’t manage a single shot on goal in an incredibly frustrating display by the whole team. At this point, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was suspended and on his way to Arsenal, giving Schurrle the ideal opportunity to prove his worth as a talented forward. Unfortunately, he failed to do so. Jadon Sancho, seemed to have a bigger impact than he did, every time he came on, making many wonder if the German speedster wasn’t becoming surplus to requirements. There were even rumours of a depressing exit move, on-loan, to Premier League strugglers West Bromwich Albion. And then it all changed…
In the following game against FC Cologne, Schurrle played with drive, determination and discipline. He carried the ball past defenders with ease and scored a beautiful winner at the end of an intense game. He won the Man of the Match award in the next game against Hamburg in which he also grabbed an assist. He subsequently got another goal and assist in the next two games, making him the key factor in Dortmund being able to turn their close draws into wins. A slight dip in form saw Dortmund draw their next three fixtures against Atalanta, Augsburg and RB Leipzig in which Marco Reus stole the spotlight from his teammate. However, he scored a crucial goal against Red Bull Salzburg, that could yet again make the difference, if Dortmund are to turn this adverse situation into a victory. If they are to dominate, put their opponents on the back foot and convert their goal-scoring opportunities, Schurrle will need to be on his top form in order to do so. He’s already helped the team through to the Europa League round of 16 and get them back into a Champions League position in the Bundesliga. With crucial fixtures against Red Bull Salzburg, Bayern Munich and Schalke coming within the next month, Andre Schurrle will have to be at his blinding best to help Dortmund get the right results and justify his role as Dortmund’s key man.
Robert – Julian Weigl
Has the young German lived up to the hype that has been heaped upon him as the season progressed, being linked with a big-money move to all of the major football powers in the world? No. Has he shown the progression that someone with his immense talent should show? Arguably not. Despite this, Weigl has been the key in the midfield to the BVB recovery.
In the Stoeger system, the midfield needs a strong defensive presence that needs to be more stopper than pivot. When paired with Dahoud, Weigl can be freer to roam but he has been asked to work more on his defence than playmaking. The results have not been perfect but he has played well and provided a stability in the midfield. With the backline playing further back, he’s been often assigned to playing in front. It’s no coincidence that BVB’s defensive performance has improved in 2018 while the back four continue to rotate as Stoeger finds the right pairing.
Nate – Roman Burki
Since the start of 2018, there could be little doubt that the most important attacker to recent success is Michy Batshuayi, who has already become the focal point of the Dortmund attack despite not even being around for most of January. One would have equal trouble in denying Marco Reus’ inherent importance to the identity of the team, which has been clear to see from their energetic response to his return. Shinji Kagawa has also experienced something of a renaissance of his best form, though a foot injury recently stunted that momentum. However, the player most responsible for the club’s recent success (bearing in mind this topic was conceived before Thursday’s poor performance against Salzburg) is none other than its most criticised: Roman Burki.
The Swiss goalkeeper has been infinitely better since Peter Stoeger took over as manager from Peter Bosz, and despite the improved defence in front of him, has been pivotal to preserving Dortmund’s bid for second place in the Bundesliga, as well as their dreams of European success. He was roundly abused by supporters for his struggles earlier in the season, making multiple embarrassing errors and allowing soft goals while his team struggled to shield his goal with Bosz’ overly-aggressive attacking tactics. He is known for being particularly unsure with his hands, often bobbling routine saves and creating moments of panic from seemingly benign situations.
However, that narrative has been turned on its head in 2018, with Burki making far more headlines for his point-preserving saves. The attack has undoubtedly taken a step back from their early season form under Stoeger, but the defence has improved vastly, though they still allow their opponents to take too many shots. 5 times under Stoeger have Dortmund fought back from a deficit to earn points, and they have yet to concede more than two goals in a match since the start of the new year. The match against Borussia Monchengladbach in February was a clear indication of his recent uptick in form, as he preserved a clean sheet while making 11 saves, 7 of which required him to work for the save and 2 that were absolutely world class. His play has vastly improved from the consistently disappointing performances of a year ago, and while some fans may be slow to appreciate his efforts, some have begun to come around. He is by no means a perfect goalkeeper, but he has quietly been essential to the turnaround from the disastrous first half of the season for die Schwarzgelben, and perhaps the time is now to move on from the constant talk of finding his replacement.