thumbnail Hello,

Dortmund lost its midfield talisman, but strength in depth has made the German champions a better side in the center of the park as it begins its title defense

ANALYSIS
By Clark Whitney

Generally when a team sells a player as influential as Nuri Sahin, it means a dip in form, a loss of class. But in Borussia Dortmund’s case, this may not be entirely true. Jurgen Klopp’s men have had a superb pre-season, and as they begin their competitive campaign on Saturday, they are without question Germany’s most prepared squad.

Following Sahin’s departure for Real Madrid, the question was unavoidable as to who would replace him. The answer is still somewhat unclear, although it appears that either Ilkay Gundogan or Moritz Leitner will take on the distributor’s role alongside Sven Bender. Both are tremendous talents, but neither can be expected to make the leap to world class this year, or even the next. In this area, it can only be assumed that BVB have taken a loss at least in the short term.

The role Sahin played is indeed very important, but the Turk represented only one fifth of Dortmund’s midfield. And in every other position, BVB has made improvements. The most distinct difference between the German champions’ midfield past and present can be found in depth. The options within the 2010-11 squad were thin at best, and their lack of depth was visible on a regular basis: Klopp's favored quintet of Sahin, Bender, Mario Gotze, Shinji Kagawa and Kevin Grosskreutz started just eight Bundesliga matches last season. Correcting for the fact that it took over a month for Bender and Gotze to solidify first-choice status, Dortmund were still without at least part of its best midfield five for the vast majority of the year.

When Bender or Sahin was injured - a rather common occurrence - Antonio da Silva was the only suitable back-up. In the few instances in which both starters went missing, Gotze was forced to drop deep into a holding midfield role. Both were acceptable replacements in most domestic matches, but neither would have been suitable in the Champions League.

"Klopp's favored quintet of Sahin, Bender, Gotze, Kagawa and Grosskreutz started just eight Bundesliga matches last season."

Perhaps the biggest exposure of BVB’s lack of depth was apparent throughout the second half of the season as Klopp’s side at times had trouble coping with the absence of playmaker Shinji Kagawa. Gotze played admirably as a back-up creator, but the Ruhr outfit missed having two playmaking outlets, and supporting striker Robert Lewandowski struggled both as a set-up man and as a finisher. Its spring campaign was a success overall, but Dortmund scored far fewer goals over the second half of the season than in the first. And with a similar squad in the Champions League, it surely would have struggled.

DORTMUND MIDFIELD DEPTH | 2010-11
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD (destroyer) DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD (creator)

Sven Bender

Nuri Sahin
A. da Silva A. da Silva

RIGHT WING
CENTER ATTACKING MIDFIELD LEFT WING

Mario Gotze

Shinji Kagawa

Kevin Grosskreutz
J. Blaszczykowski R. Lewandowski M. Feulner
D. le Tallec

But now, Klopp has a veritable wealth of back-ups in both defensive and attacking areas. In addition to Da Silva, the trainer can call upon fit-again duo Sebastian Kehl and Florian Kringe to fill in as defensive midfielders. As well, one of Gundogan and Leitner will be available from the bench, with the other a starter. After having just three true defensive midfielders last season, Klopp now has six.

In attack, there are even more options. Having led his team in scoring during the pre-season, Mohamed Zidan is finally back at his best following a serious knee injury; the Egyptian forward can play both as a lone striker and in a supporting central role. In wide areas, new signing Ivan Perisic will be competing for a starting berth, and Leitner, an attacker by nature, is another qualified option. All of the above can play anywhere behind the main striker. In addition, Klopp has usual starters Gotze (who has developed both his game and physique over the summer), Kagawa, and  Grosskreutz, as well as last year’s substitutes Lewandowski and Damien le Tallec.

DORTMUND MIDFIELD DEPTH | 2011-12

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD (destroyer)
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD (creator)

Sven Bender

Ilkay Gundogan
S. Kehl
A. da Silva
F. Kringe
M. Leitner
A. da Silva

RIGHT WING
CENTER ATTACKING MIDFIELD
LEFT WING

Mario Gotze

Shinji Kagawa

Kevin Grosskreutz
I. Perisic
M. Leitner
J. Blaszczykowski
M. Zidan
R. Lewandowski
I. Perisic
D. le Tallec

Given that each player has his own unique skill set and that there is very little overlap in his squad, Klopp will have the luxury of being able to use a vast variety of combinations in his midfield to suit his needs. And most critically, an injury or two will not necessarily leave BVB with any distinct weakness.

The real litmus test of course will come when Dortmund faces heavyweights such as Bayern Munich and future Champions League opponents. And even if it is at full strength, it may be missing Sahin’s influence. If one or more regular starters are injured, however - and this is inevitably likely - there is little doubt that the current side will be more able than the last to cope with the loss.

Related

From the web

From the web