Borussia Dortmund midfielder Sven Bender is set to miss the first three weeks of the new Bundesliga season and fellow German international Ilkay Gündogan has replaced the 21-year-old, moving off the bench into the first-eleven, causing coach Jürgen Klopp to reconsider his preferred midfield combination. But will Gündogan keep that spot? And what does that mean for Bender?
Die Schwarzgelben skipper Sebastian Kehl, when fit, starts in one of the two deep central midfield positions, while the other is taken by Bender. But with Bender injured, Gündogan has been given a chance, but will find it hard to keep that first-choice spot as Bender is more defensively sound and Klopp’s preferred choice.
Bender kicked-off his Dortmund career with 19 appearances in the 2009-10 season replacing the injured Kehl, before playing 31 of a possible 34 games in the 2010-11 season alongside midfield maestro Nuri Sahin forming an impressive partnership. Luckily for Bender, Kehl could only play 12 games over two seasons. Sahin took the role of the deep-lying playmaker, while Bender played the more defensive, anchorman task of screening the back four.
Kehl’s return to fitness was accompanied by Sahin’s move to Real Madrid, allowing Bender to keep his spot in Klopp’s midfield unit. With Klopp’s faith in him and his admirable skill set, Bender impressed a great deal in Dortmund’s victorious campaign of 2011-12 and sealed his spot in the starting XI.
Bender is defensively solid and disciplined, in his 28 games last season Bender only received three yellow cards, an impressive record for a defensive midfielder, with just the one goal to his name. As one could see, goal scoring is not his forte. But this doesn’t hamper the new Dortmund vice-captain, as he tends to sit back and focus on the defensive side of the game.
But like his predecessor, Bender too has recently run into a rut of injuries during the last season. However when available Bender was preferred over Gündogan, and at times youngster Moritz Leitner was even preferred over the former Nuremburg midfielder, as Gündogan struggled in his first Dortmund season.
This season Gündogan has been given the chance to impress and prove last season was just a transitionary phase. Last season the former Schalke youngster tended to drop out of games, struggling to see out the 90 minutes. The 21-year-old is comfortable on the ball and is very lively, but needs to get more involved, after all Gündogan is the playmaker of the two central midfielders, with Kehl or Bender the more defensive.
Gündogan, born in Gelsenkirchen to Turkish parents, has been seen as Sahin’s replacement, but they are not similar players. Gündogan prefers to be further up the pitch pushing forward, whereas Sahin has the engine to track back and play as a box-to-box midfielder in a playmaking role, similar to Chelsea’s Frank Lampard.
Bender and Gündogan are similar in age, they are both German internationals and Klopp and Die Mannschaft Coach Joachim Lӧw believe the duo have an international future. Despite Bender having more Bundesliga experience and being a year older, Gündogan has recieved one more German cap (3 compared to Bender’s 2) mainly due to Bender forcing to pull out of National squads due to injury.
Despite similarities in age and international experience, the two players have their differences. Bender is strong in the air, does well winning the ball back, while Gündogan is stronger with the ball at his feet pushing forward to create a goal scoring opportunity, completing 85% of his passes last season, compared to Bender’s 78%.
After Klopp made the decision in handing Bender the vice-captaincy, the former Mainz coach obviously believes that Bender will be a key part of his side, restricting Gündogan’s involvement. One could expect from that decision that Bender, once fit, will move straight back into the first-eleven.
Gündogan is going to have to perform well in the opening games of the Bundesliga season and hope that Bender continues to struggle with injury. Klopp will need to be convinced that Gündogan’s more attacking senses are more beneficial to his side.
It’s unlikely that Gündogan will retain the position, as Bender is the new Vice-captain, as well as the preferred option for Klopp. However if Klopp and Dortmund would rather have a more attacking option in midfield, a more balanced option, then Gündogan will get the nod.
Bender though would fight for his position, whether coming off the bench, or doing well in the cup games or against the smaller opposition. But with BVB once again competing in the UEFA Champions League, rotation will be a necessity, so the pair will be given a chance to fight for the spot alongside Kehl, or possibly play together, if Kehl falls to injury once again.
The victor of this intriguing battle would edge in front in the pecking order for Lӧw’s German midfield, which could make or break a career. Bender will need to ensure he gets fit quick, while maintaining himself to avoid future injury. Whereas Gündogan will need to stay fit and showcase his phenomenal creativity so he can take his chance with both hands, showing he deserves to keep his spot.
Written by Guest Author Daniel Quinn
Follow the author on Twitter: @Quinby07