Back in 2016, Borussia Dortmund found themselves in the same position as they found themselves in tonight: The Round of 16 of the Europa League. However, while two years ago they conquered a Tottenham Hotspur side consisting of Heung-min Son, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane at the same stage, tonight’s performance suggests that they have struggled to progress from this impressive showing just two years ago.
This time round, Dortmund found themselves up against Austrian Champions RB Salzburg and couldn’t find way to overcome a 2-1 deficit from the first leg against a side that are currently 19 games unbeaten in European competition.
So what’s happened to Dortmund?
From a side that can brush aside Spurs to a side that struggles against RB Salzburg both home and away, it’s quite difficult to comprehend.
In this piece, I will compare Dortmund’s starting 11 to their starting 11 from two years ago and see if there has been any progression/improvements after a manic two years for the German side:
GK: (2016) – Roman Weidenfeller (2018) – Roman Burki
Considered a stalwart in that Dortmund back-line, Weidenfeller has been a real servant to Borussia Dortmund and has helped the side to domestic success both in the league and in the cup. But, it’s fair to say that age has caught up with the 37-year old who now plays second-fiddle to another Roman in between the sticks – Roman Burki.
Although Burki performances this season have been poor, it’s fair to say that the Swiss international impressed tonight despite coming under a lot of criticism in recent weeks. The 27 year-old kept his side in the tie with numerous great saves in the first half with the best of the bunch being a save at his near post from Hwang Hee-Chan early on. Many Dortmund fans would feel if that were to go in then the game would be over before it’s really started.
RB: (2016 & 2018) – Lukasz Piszczek
Another one of Dortmund’s old boys, Piszczek is one of those players who never has a bad game and tonight was no exception. Defensively (in both games), he played well and was a real threat whilst going forward as well. Sadly, it just wasn’t his nor his sides tonight but the Polish international can’t feel his performance let the team down as his played well despite the result.
CB: (2016) – Matthias Ginter (2018) – Dan-Axel Zagadou
Both at the time of their retrospective games were considered youngsters and prospects with a real future ahead of them in this Dortmund side.
The 24 year-old played well in his side’s game against Spurs, earning himself a €17m transfer to Borussia Monchengladbach as well as becoming a German international with Zagadou looking to replicate Ginter’s success with his performance tonight.
The Frenchman started off nervously with a couple of misplaced passes which could’ve lead to the conceding of a goal however, once he settled down he looked much more composed.
For an 18 year-old making his Europa League debut in one of his side’s biggest games of the season, it was always a lot to ask but once he settled down, looked a real promising player who could be worth the same as Ginter if not more within the next few years.
CB: (2016 & 2018) – Sokratis
Similar to Weidenfeller and Piszczek, Sokratis has been at the club for numerous years now and although he looked a bit shaky at the start of the game with young Zagadou, once they got used to each other, the pair looked much more solid and kept a clean sheet after 90 minutes.
The Greek international has always been a reliable defender for the German side, it’s just a shame that he couldn’t replicate his side’s success at the same stage of the competition as he did two years ago.
CB/LB: (2016) – Neven Subotic (2018) – Marcel Schmelzer
With the side playing a three at the back formation two years ago, it’s going to require a bit of chop and changing to get a true comparison however both Subotic’s and Schmelzer’s performance are very similar.
Neither put a foot wrong in the games they played and although neither could benefit their team going forward, their main aim is to play well defensively which both players did exceptionally.
Although the two have had contrasting success in their fixtures, Subotic ensuring his side victory two years ago and Schmelzer keeping a clean sheet which is the least you can ask for from a defensive player.
CM: (2016) – Gonzalo Castro & Julian Weigl (2018) – Gonzalo Castro & Mahmoud Dahoud
With Castro playing in both games, it’s clear to see how important he has been to the side for a number of years however his performance was not up to the same level as it was two years ago with the midfielder substituted midway through the second half (similarly to how his team have played on both occasions).
Weigl and Dahoud however can be compared as well as with manager Peter Stoger opting to start Dahoud after a mixed start to his first season with club, it’s clear to see how much faith the manager has in him since signing from Borussia Monchengladbach.
Both youngsters played well in their games but it’s just unfortunate for Dahoud that he couldn’t replicate Weigl’s success from two years ago. I felt he had a very good performance tonight and looked to play forward whenever possible, which I feel is something that fans have been waiting for him to show for a number of weeks now.
Forwards: (2016) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus & Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (2018) – Andre Schurrle, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus & Michy Batshuayi
This is where I feel that Borussia Dortmund have changed the most in the last two years with a lot of that attacking threat they’ve shown in the last few years just not there tonight.
Although main-man Marco Reus played in both games, he had nowhere near the performance he had against Tottenham, with the forward actually being substituted for youngster Alexander Isak who impressed after coming on.
With Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang joining Arsenal in the last transfer window, it was clear that their relationship on the pitch was what was missing tonight having been so prolific for their former club before leaving this January.
Some would argue that this kind of link-up also affect Reus tonight who just didn’t look as influential as he does typically in games.
Where does this leave Dortmund?
Well after this disappointing showing, Dortmund look to be ending the season without any silverware which will frustrate fans who would’ve felt a tie like this one could’ve put them on their way to a real European Cup run. Take nothing away from Salzburg however who, after a commanding performance in the first-leg, earnt themselves a place in the next round and a bit of history in being the first Austrian side in history to reach that stage.
But Dortmund will have to pick themselves up and forget about this loss as they look ahead to their next game in the Bundesliga against mid-table Hannover 96 on Sunday.