Thomas Tuchel’s first season was an enormous success, he launched the team back into the elite of Europe with style after a disastrous final season under Klopp. With the ball Dortmund were absolutely devastating and very much the equal of Bayern. The one weakness of allowing too many low-pressure, lightly-guarded box shots seemed like something that could be improved upon and a challenge made to Bayern as Pep moved on. Then this summer happened. The Big 3 of Hummels, Mkhitaryan, and Gündogan all left after it was realistic at some point last year to think all three would return. Now Tuchel will be really tested to see if he can rebuild a new team on the fly and keep the team rolling after losing probably their three most influential players who all brought unique skill sets.
One Big Strength: Generating good shots. Dortmund was not relying on lucky long shots to rack up their league-leading 82 goals, they didn’t have an outside the box goal until well after the winter break. No team took an average shot from closer than Dortmund and only Bayern took more shots total (though they did take nearly 3 more shots per game). Just look at their strikers shot chart (Auba=orange, Ramos=blue) to see how shocking it was to see them range outside the box to launch.
One Big Weakness: Opponents rarely got the ball deep vs Dortmund but when they did it was painful. It took opponents a league-high 30 completions on average to get a shot off against Dortmund but they allowed a shot closer than the league average. More worrying, in a 9-game sampling of shots last season, they had fewer defenders in the box for opponents shots than any other team. This makes sense season-long visually as well. Only Frankfurt applied less pressure on opposition shooters. This helps to explain how Dortmund could be the best team in Germany in Michael Caley’s xG model but really were not as close to reaching Bayern as the pure shot location data indicated. When they gave up a shot it was not pressured adequately, which led to over 40% of shots going on target, down with the worst defenses in the league like Stuttgart and Hannover. Mats Hummels was great, but it’s not a huge stretch to imagine replacing him might help this aspect of the defense.
In: André Schürrle 30m (Wolfsburg), Mario Götze 26m (Bayern), Ousmane Dembelé 15m (Rennes), Sebastian Rode 12m (Bayern), Raphaël Guerreiro 12m (Lorient), Marc Bartra 8m (Barcelona), Emre Mor 7m (Nordsjaelland), Mikel Moreno 3.75m (Osasuna)
Out: Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gündogan
Easier Than Expected To Replace Mkhi?
I don’t quite understand why but Mkhitaryan does not rate well in my passing metric but he never stood out. It doesn’t make sense to my eyes that watched him play but no other Dortmund player bar Pulisic in a similar advanced position had as low of a rating (it just factors in starting and ending position). Breaking down Mkhitaryan vs Reus on similar passes, Reus actually had a pretty significant edge.
I think Mkhi (if you caught the misspelling before now you get a congrats) is still a big loss but the more I look into his passing breakdown, the less I think it will be a devastating blow. I expect his loss will hurt less than most think, Gündogan’s more and Hummels, as always, it’s very hard to tell.
Players, In Vague Order Of Importance
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-About as pure of a finisher of open-play moves as you find this side of Lewandowski. He plays under 20 passes per 90 but still gets 4.3 shots per 90 with nearly all coming inside the box. When Mkhitaryan, Castro or Reus found him in open play, the odds were pretty good it was going to end in a chance. 27% of the time any of those three completed a pass to Auba, he got a shot (47 total). No other passing combo that was primarily through open play came close to that number. Map of all 3 passers to Auba below:
Have someone else take kickoffs and the rate jumps even higher.
Marco Reus-His counting stats have been trending down for two years now (shots from 4.5 to 2.9 KP’s from 3.6 to 2.1) and at times he looked a little bit out of place in the more controlled Tuchel system instead of the free-flowing Klopp attack but Reus still has the ability to be a difference maker. It will be interesting to he picks up some of the Mkhitaryan slack or Götze just slides into that role when all are healthy.
Julian Weigl-The league leader in passes played doesn’t do too many different things yet but at 20 years old there’s very few who can sit in the middle of the pitch and recycle the ball like he does. In fact no player in the league played more of their passes from the center of the pitch than Weigl did.
Shinji Kagawa-Kagawa’s passing percentage spiked toward his Manchester United/Japan numbers in Tuchel’s system after last years near career-low of 81.8%. His sheer volume spiked as well, playing 35% more passes per 90 year-on-year. He loved Klopp but I think Tuchel’s system fits Kagawa better. With all the exciting new talent flowing in this season it can be easy to overlook Kagawa, but he remains a fantastic talent with the ball in the middle of the pitch.
Mario Götze-Before last season I had zero doubts about Götze being one of the best players in the world and an absolute luxury for Bayern to be able to put on the bench. Last year gave me some doubts. He had a career low in KP’s, his fewest shots in 5 years, his passing ticked down, he didn’t crack 1000 league minutes and most worryingly looked pudgy and slow way too often. It’s always tempting to put more stock in a statistical rise or dip when there’s a convincing story behind it and Götze pounding pretzels is pretty convincing to me. The ceiling here is still enormous (as in slide into Mkhitaryan’s role and be an improvement) but it’s not clear to me anymore he’s automatically deserving over Kagawa or Castro in an advanced role. Every move he makes will be scrutinized heavily until the old Götze breaks through and it’s likely the #1 question that determines whether Dortmund will have a significant step back.
Gonzalo Castro-A similar player to Kagawa positionally and with regards to where they move the ball to and while he might be a tick behind Shinji with the ball, he offers a bit more oomph without it. Leverkusen really miss him.
André Schürrle-Don’t understand this buy at all. He’s basically a striker who loves to run but there’s already a better one up top for Dortmund. He’s not a great passer and never sets anyone else up. He does get great shot volume repeatedly (over 3 per 90 every year since 2011) in good positions but that doesn’t match the price tag for me. Really one of the strangest moves of the summer, I still trust Tuchel but his plans for Schürrle are not that easy to discern as playing him almost seems like they would be moving toward a 2-striker system, as that is how he functions.
Nuri Sahin-With the emergence of Weigl it’s hard to see a significant spot for Sahin. He’s probably not dynamic enough to play alongside Weigl like Gündogan was and he’s not good enough to force Weigl to the bench. Still seems a good player but a move downwards might be the best thing for his career if he wants a starting spot. He does look healthier this season than last however.
Adrian Ramos-Nothing looked easy or clean when Ramos was on the pitch, in fact at times he didn’t look up to Dortmund’s standards. His passing was really poor and he looked uncomfortable a lot. Which in no way at all squares up with his 3.2 shots in box per 90 along with 9 goals and 4 assists in 930 minutes. Astounding productivity but one that is not indicative of suddenly emerging as an elite European striker at age 30. If you haven’t made it by 30, you probably never will. A hopeful message for all those reading this with that truly human deep feeling of dissatisfaction with their lives.
Sebastian Rode-In limited minutes last season he was extremely conservative at Bayern, passing the ball backwards more than anyone else that wasn’t a striker. Maybe this was some sort of tactical related instruction, but this alongside his passing numbers lagging his Bayern teammates make me think he’s not the best option alongside Weigl in the midfield. However if you rule out Rode for being too conservative and rule out Sahin for being too similar, Castro or Kagawa being moved a bit back seems the only man left. Why I said Gündogan will be an even bigger loss than expected.
Erik Durm is battling an injury but is the returnee most likely to not see much playing time, even if healthy. Piszczek and Ginter were almost impossible to tell apart on the right side, which was the weaker side defensively as can be seen by where crosses came from. Piszczek’s effort in the summer for Poland was quite inconsistent, he can’t afford that in the fall or Felix Passlack might slide right in. Passlack might soon pass Christian Pulisic as the kid to get most excited about (non-American edition) if he keeps playing like he did in spurts last year and in the Super Cup. As for Pulisic, he’s not quite ready to be a big-minute guy for Dortmund, but will anyone really care as long as he terrorizes Panama in the Hex?
On the left Schmelzer was great last season but Guerreiro brings a new look. In my Ligue 1 preview last season he was the best FB going forward and he had another strong season, getting forward for a crazy-high 1.4 shots per 90. It remains to be seen if he’s a left-back in name only or if he can actually combine shooting a lot without leaving an empty space in behind. When trying to prevent low-pressure breakaway shots, Guerreiro at left back is a risk I don’t expect Tuchel to take early on.
Bartra is presumably in to try and recreate Hummels magic with the ball. How the backline looks without Hummels will be fascinating. I can never get a good read on how good he really was and wavered from one of the best in the world to maybe just an above-average Bundesliga CB depending on the phase of the moon.
Good Season: Neck-and-neck for the title, lead for chunks of the year.
Average Season: Comfortable 2nd that signify losing the big 3 will not be a huge blow.
Bad Season: Rely on Schurrle to run behind defenses a lot, Gotze isn’t back to form, can’t keep teams from getting low-pressure shots, finish behind Leverkusen.