Jürgen Klopp has surely taken Borussia Dortmund to an envious level in Bundesliga. Successfully defending the Bundesliga title from right under the nose of Bayern Munich, earning maximum points in the history of Bundesliga point’s tally (81) and completing the first ever domestic double – Dortmund is the team to beat. In the past two seasons, Dortmund have defeated Bayern five times in five meetings. Not an easy task, at least on paper if quality is evaluated man-to-man between the star-studded Münchners and that of the youthful Black Yellows.
Success always comes at a price. Last time it was Nuri Şahin and this time around it is the turn of the eastern promise, Shinji Kagawa. In the two years spent in Borussia Dortmund, Kagawa became fans’ favourite. An attacking midfielder, with clinical finishing and an eye to pick out team-mates – that is Kagawa for you. Kagawa’s presence, like Şahin’s, will be missed.
And with success comes expectations. Last year, a lot was expected of Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League. Klopp’s men deservingly finished bottom of the group, making a mockery of their real abilities. It took them some time to fill in the void of Şahin, by trying out various combinations of players in the holding role. Finally a permutation of two of Kehl, Bender and Gündoğan in holding role did the trick for ‘Kloppelf’.
Klopp was expected to follow similar strategy of trying various combinations to fill in the void left by Kagawa’s departure. The pre-season friendlies have been used by Klopp so far to try, test and find the best one out of all possible combinations. The interesting part is that not only the personnel were shuffled around during the friendlies, but so was the playing tactics. Klopp has yet again come up with wizardry from his bag of tricks.
Irrespective of the results of the friendlies, which include defeat against Club Brugge (1-3) and against Nuremberg (2-4) in Marek Mintal testimonial match as Dortmund missed most of their double-winning stalwarts through holidays, the games have clearly indicated the personnel in reckoning and a dynamic strategy in Klopp’s mind. Among the youngsters, Halstenberg (RB) and Hornschuh (CD/LB) were both given a couple of outings but surely Klopp doesn’t have them in his plans for the next season.
In defence, Santana has already been looked at as the able back-up to Hummels/Subotic. Santana did a commendable job in Subotic’s absence during the second half of last season. The interesting inclusion in pre-season preparation is that of Koray Günter’s, hailed as the next Mats Hummels, and a star of the German U-17 team that finished third in FIFA U-17 World Cup a year back. Klopp has given him several run-ins, including a full 90 minutes’ outing in the friendly against FC St. Gallen during their training camp at Bad Ragaz. Another notable alteration is that of Oliver Kirch’s, the ex-Kaiserslautern holding midfielder who was made to play in right-back position in the last four friendlies.
Most of the midfielders have been asked to play in a variety of roles. Perisic and new signing Reus have been made to play in left-wing and in the central attacking midfielder’s role. Perisic, the manqué midfielder, looked desperate to topple Grosskreutz from the starting line-up. Playing Reus in that position only makes the competition stiffer. Both Leitner and Amini played in the holding role as well as in the advance playmaker’s role. Leitner had started in several matches in the last term as a holding midfielder. With Amini plying the same trade in the friendlies, the holding midfield position has become another cacophony of talent as Dortmund already have Gündoğan, Bender, and Kehl in that position.
The talent conundrum has reached a bottleneck in the right side of the midfield too. Götze has not featured in the friendlies yet due to an eye inflammation, but he has made his mark by playing down the right flank only. However, Götze may find himself in the role of a playmaker from the new season as the club decided to hand him the number 10 shirt. Poland skipper Kuba, who has extended his contract with Dortmund by another three years, and new signing Bittencourt have been given run-ins down the right flank too. That is in as much personnel shuffling Klopp has done so far to erasure the redolence remnant of Kagawa. The forwards, Lewandowski and Schieber were not subjected to any other variety of roles though, as they were played in the lone forward’s role with one man replacing the other in all the games.
A couple of seasons back, step by step, Klopp took the team to its first top-five finish in years’ time. He discerned that for a potent but not-so-fancied team to become formidable, the first issue to resolve was the defence. Along came the playing strategy of 4-2-3-1 and the team was moulded in to employ slightly defence-heavy and counter-attacking approach to counter stronger opponents. The centre-half pairing of Subotic and Hummels came into fray as well.
When things at the back appeared stable for a season, some shrewd business were made (read snapping up Kagawa from Cerezo Osaka and promoting Götze to the first team) in the next season and Klopp moulded the team in a way so that the strategy 4-2-3-1 can be dynamically broken into 4-2-3-1-Asymmetric (one wing and one wide-midfielder) or 4-3-3-Wings (wide-midfielders turning into wingers) while attacking. Along with these revolutionary stratagem, Dortmund added ball-possession, ball-retention/all-over-the-pitch closing-down and aggressive pressing. End result of that pastiche – Bundesliga title after nine barren seasons!
This season could see yet another tactical genius from Klopp. The most significant feature of the friendlies has been Dortmund’s dynamic tactical variation while building up attacks against teams that sit back. The breaking of 4-2-3-1 into 3-5-2. How does it work?
- The wingbacks to become a part of the midfield, to keep the pressure up. Fullbacks Piszczek and Schmelzer have been good as attacking aides. Of course, it would make Dortmund defensively vulnerable, but the strategy will deployed only against ultra-defensive teams.
- Both centre halves are to pull out wide to play the role of stagnant fullbacks. Hummels and Subotic are habitués at ball playing and could deal with this rejig, if the need be. However, introducing Günter or Santana to this change could prove to be suicidal.
- One of the two holding midfielders to drop deep in an anchor or sweeper’s role. Bender or Kehl fit in this role perfectly, especially Bender.
- The midfield still has five personnel but the trick is that four out of those midfielders are wide or attacking players with only one holding midfielder in place.
- The central midfielder becomes the auxiliary attacker, making it two upfront instead of the lone initial one. Kagawa could have sleep-walked into this auxiliary attacker’s role with his lacquering ability in front of the box. At present it looks likely that either Reus or Götze will take up this role.
Only time will tell if this tactical rejig lives up to its theoretical wonders. But one thing is for sure that at present Dortmund have a plethora of talents to syncopate with the players’ manoeuvrings in order to incarnate Klopp’s attacking idyll against teams that park the bus.
Philipp Lahm has termed Dortmund as favorites for the new season. According to Stefan Effenberg, Dortmund have already surpassed Bayern on and off the field. If Bayern fail to come up with any tactical ruse, this jouissance is likely to linger in and around mythopoeic Borussia Dortmund for a few more years to come. And if Klopp’s vision helps his team see through the Kagawa mist, Dortmund could do well in the continental competition as well.