Borussia Dortmund – Finding coherence under Thomas Tuchel

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The Black and Yellows have climbed to third in the Bundesliga table – occupying that crucial last automatic Champions League spot – and have a strong chance of progressing to the last eight of Europe’s biggest club tournament.

BVB’s choppy first half of the season was surely predictable. Tuchel, after all, lost three players integral to the spine of his side during the summer.

Out went influential centre half Mats Hummels, midfield dynamo Ilkay Gundogan and goal-scoring midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

And while their sales brought close to €90 million into the club coffers, the destabilising effect on the side should not be underestimated.

Losing players of quality was not the only headache faced by the 43-year-old former Mainz coach. Doubtless, he’ll have been mollified by the club’s willingness to reinvest the huge transfer fees in reinforcements.

But integrating a large number of new players into a squad is seldom straightforward.

BVB spent heavily on bringing in German internationals Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze in attack, Marc Bartra from Barcelona to fill the Hummels-shaped hole at the back, and Sebastian Rode and Raphael Guerreiro to bolster midfield.

However, it has been 19-year-old French winger Ousmane Dembele who has been the club’s biggest success in the transfer market, the €12.75 million man turning heads with a series of eye-catching displays.

Fourteen assists and seven goals across the Bundesliga and Champions League at such a tender age mark him out as one of Europe’s most sought after talents.

His emergence and the growing influence of 21-year-old Julian Weigl in central midfield have helped balance the disappointing impact of big money signings Gotze and Schurrle – who cost the club almost €44 million.

Unsurprisingly, given the summer churn, BVB struggled to find coherence and consistency and thus hopes of taking the battle to Bayern Munich quickly faded.

Dortmund may have only lost four times in the league this season, the same as second placed RB Leipzig, but their seven draws to Leipzig’s four is ultimately why they trail the East Germans by six points.

Nevertheless, a steady run of five wins, four draws and only the one defeat in their last 10 games has seen Tuchel’s men creep up the table as surprise packets Hoffenheim, Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt have slowly lost momentum.

In Europe, Borussia Dortmund have been their usual entertaining selves, scoring 21 goals in their six Champions League group games – finishing ahead of holders Real Madrid.

On Wednesday night, they welcome Portuguese champions and league leaders Benfica to Westphalia – trailing 1-0 from the first leg of their last 16 tie.

The German side are favourites to progress, but Tuchel will know that nothing should be taken for granted.

The surprise league defeat at Darmstadt just before their Lisbon defeat three weeks ago should serve as reminders of the inconsistency that can still dog their season.

However, BVB supporters will have been heartened by the return to goal-scoring form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who endured a nightmare performance in the Estadio de Luz in that first leg defeat.

In BVB’s impressive 3-0 win at Freiburg last week, the striker notched his first goals after a confidence sapping four-game goal drought.

And he added another brace in Dortmund’s 6-2 drubbing of Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, where young Dembele was again the star of the show.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Benfica are as accommodating on Wednesday night.

The Portuguese have a goal to defend, and BVB should take note of the fact that of the ten goals they scored in qualifying for the last 16, seven came in their away fixtures – two in Naples, two in Kiev and three at Besiktas.

Everyone knows how The Black and Yellows love to attack, but they may have to keep the back door firmly shut to progress and maintain their new found momentum.

The Author

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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