In the last few seasons Borussia Dortmund have had a rough time of it: the well documented departures of Robert Lewandowski and Mario Götze, combined with the wretched injury luck of Marco Reus, robbed the side of their three best players and with other big names in Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa also departing Signal Iduna Park it has to be said Jürgen Klopp did a magnificent job even keeping them in contention for the Bundesliga title.
After last season’s dramatic goings on in the west of Germany, things have got back to the Dortmund we love to love. Under Thomas Tuchel the Schwarzgelb have rediscovered their high-energy pressing game, started scoring again and, crucially, stopped conceding as many goals as last season. The defensive errors were catastrophic at times: Roman Weidenfeller looked well past his best, Mats Hummels was unreliable and Matthias Ginter looked overpriced, even at around €8 million.
Tuchel brought his successful style of play with him from Mainz, where he had also followed in Klopp’s footsteps (and done better- beware of Dortmund in the coming seasons!) and immediately found success. 11 wins from 11 to start his reign in the Ruhrgebiet was not by any means an easy feat, although Europa League qualification certainly helped boost his stats. His real find, however, was Julian Weigl. The young defensive midfielder was brought in from 1860 Munich as a replacement for the departed Kevin Kampl, who left to join old boss Roger Schmidt at Bayer Leverkusen after less than 6 months at Dortmund. Things didn’t work out, but Dortmund fans won’t be dwelling on that particular memory for too long.
Weigl looks the real deal in the centre of the Dortmund midfield alongside Ilkay Gündogan, playing in the defensive role which used to be occupied by Sahin. His composure on the ball is what really stands him above his peers in the Bundesliga, as displayed time and again in the league this season. He can physically dominate when required but generally relies on his reading of the game to break up opposition attacks. He is an intelligent footballer with the physical capacity to carry out Tuchel’s high speed game plan and he has become the focal point for Dortmund’s transition from defence to attack.
Weigl has the potential to be the key figure in yellow and black for years to come; at just 20 he is already starting to develop into a mature leader in the centre of their midfield and with constant rumours linking Gündogan and Reus with moves away and the ever declining form of Hummels in defence he could be called upon to be a dressing room leader before long too. He seems to have the necessary capabilities and Tuchel clearly trusts him, as the new boss has brought Weigl straight into the team ahead of established names such as Gonzalo Castro and the returned Sahin. The youngster was named captain at 1860 Munich at just 18, the youngest in their (once impressive) history, so the potential is clearly there for him to eventually command the same role and respect at Dortmund. The replacement for the ageing Sven Bender looks like he could one day attain similar legendary status in the Ruhrgebiet, assuming his head isn’t turned before then.
The performance which sparked this article was against Mainz, a game which could have been very tricky for Dortmund. The Mainz attack has been dangerous without ever really getting properly going this season, with new signing Yushinori Muto and creative spark Yunus Malli showing signs that they could be very dangerous as the season progresses. They had the capability to seriously worry Dortmund, particularly on the counter-attack where Dortmund appeared to be vulnerable last year. In reality they were afforded very little in the way of clear cut chances, with Malli superbly marshalled by Ginter and Weigl as he drifted inside from the Mainz left and left Muto stranded up front without supply or support. Weigl proved he not only had the tactical and physical ability to limit the effect of Malli, he also distributed the ball very well when he won it back, often in very tight spaces.
The progression of Ginter (a process which is by no means complete, but is showing very encouraging signs) will also have pleased Tuchel but he will be asking more of goalkeeper Roman Bürki and star-man Hummels in that defence in the coming weeks. Both have been susceptible to a loss of concentration, with Bürki in particular doing his side no favours against Bayern Munich before the international break. If Dortmund want to get back to their title winning form of over two years ago they will need all their players to step up.
For now, Weigl is showing he has what it takes and is leading the way into a new era for the black and yellow of Borussia Dortmund.
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