From the Touchline: How to Play Without Aubameyang

From the Touchline

BVB fans now must spend their days hitting refresh on their favourite news aggregators to see if Auba is moving on to another club. Just like they did last summer. Just like they did a year ago. It is time to acknowledge (if you have not already) that the Gabon international is not a part of this club moving forward. Even if he stays past 31 January, his frequent “suspensions” and inconsistent play mean any contributions will be welcome but unreliable.

A second acknowledgement is that the club is unlikely to spend or retain a top class striker. While asking Arsenal to throw in Olivier Giroud in an Aubameyang swap might be ideal for all involved, the club as we know is reticent to enter the top-tier striker market. We also know this club is aiming for Champions League football next year. How can it sync all of these realities or, to put it another way, how does a club without its top striker and no obvious replacement score enough goals to finish in the top four?

Based on the current roster, there are a few tactical options that would allow the club to survive and maybe even thrive.

See (and hope) that Alexander Isak is the next young star

He’s made seven appearances with the Black and Yellow and only three in the league, but Isak may be the best option to replace one of the best centre forwards in the world.

In his brief appearances, Isak has shown much to like. He has speed reminiscent of Auba and great footwork to create his own scoring opportunities. He has shown he knows how to break down a defender. Even at 18 and new to the a top European, he has the natural skill to “learn on the job” and grow into the position. Even if he struggles early or the league adjusts, the attacking players around him are good enough to compensate, especially once Reus returns.

Is it a gamble? Absolutely. Is it more likely than not to work? Possibly. However, for a manager with a more traditional style, this may be the most obvious solution.

Become more German and use Gotze as a False Nine

We are not going to rehash the debates over Jogi Lowe’s tactics and how he uses Gotze rightly or wrongly. But if we go off the premise that Isak is too inexperienced or cannot replace the production in the middle, why not use a player in a position he plays at the national level.

How could Dortmund use the German national as a false nine? It would likely require either more discipline from the wings (let’s assume Yarmolenko and Pulisic with some Max Philipp thrown in) to allow Gotze space to roam. Conversely, you can allow your wings to roam inside and Gotze fill in the gaps. Again, this is a style the manager may have to get used to more than the player, so the idea is Gotze could become a main scoring threat while the team adjusts.

The downside to this is you are asking Mario Gotze to be a player he has not been in the past year. Injuries and inconsistency as we know have impacted his club form and for this to work he would need to return to previous form. He is young enough it could work, but it would be a gamble.

See what sticks and rotate players inside

We’ve seen what Yarmolenko needs to do when Auba disappears on the pitch or there is a lack of production in the middle. What if he were moved to the middle to serve as a false nine or attacking midfielder, swapping spots with Gotze? Why not Pulisic who plays as a number 10 for the U.S.? Or why not swap players around seeing what works on a game to game basis? This is the opposite of the tactical genius manager mindset, where a manager finds a strategy and sticks to it, with some tweaks, on his way to trophies. This is more ambitious. Dortmund have a number of attacking players who can play a number of different places on the pitch. Let’s call this the “spaghetti on the wall” strategy.

What would be required to implement this? Likely a different manager or managerial mindset. It would require a manager to ambitiously set up a starting XI based on match-ups and be able to make changes throughout the match. It would require unsettling the players, with some of them never knowing if they will be in the starting XI. This strategy may be more desperation than practical, but if the club wants to meet its goals, some gambling may be necessary.