There's no way to get around it, Dortmund massively underperformed in the first half of the 2016-2017 Bundesliga campaign. We'll dive into some of those reasons here on Fear The Wall during the Winterpause, but for now, I'm going to share my realistic ideal starting line-up for Borussia Dortmund that can be achieved by the start of next season.
Goalkeeper: Roman Bürki. The 26-year-old Swiss international endured an up and down first year at Dortmund last season, but has been at another level this year. He pulled off some good saves to secure a win against FC Bayern this season, and had an even better performance last year to earn a 0-0 draw. We've seen how valuable he is to the team in his absence with a broken hand.
Right back: Felix Passlack. Although he seems to have fallen down in the pecking order since the start of the season, Passlack is the future for Dortmund in the right back position. He's only 19, but it's not a stretch to say he's a better all-around player than Lukasz Piszczek is. He is a better defender and passer than Matthias Ginter, and often played right wing for the u19's. The physicality and aggression he has shown in the Bundesliga at his age is impressive, and he should continue to improve.
Center back: Sokratis. Last year I might have suggested Dortmund needed an upgrade over Sokratis, but this season, the Greek has proved me wrong. This year, he has been Dortmund's best and most consistent, no nonsense defender. The defense struggles without Sokratis, and it has often left Marc Bartra exposed. "Papa" is a staple in the Dortmund defense.
Center back: Ömer Toprak. There were rumors last summer that Dortmund were about to sign him for more than 20 million Euros, and most people, at the time, thought that Marc Bartra at 8 million was the better deal. Now, we have no way of knowing how Toprak would have performed, but Bartra's disastrous defending has made the mere 8 million Euros investment look like a bad one. Toprak, only 27 years old, is widely regarded as the best center back in the league that doesn't play for Bayern. He's been Leverkusen's consistent rock for years, but his release clause that is activated in the summer could bring him to Dortmund.
BILD: Leverkusen's Ömer Toprak will join Dortmund at the end of the season. #B04 #BVB— Bundesliga Spotlight (@BundesligaSpot) December 22, 2016
Left back: Marcel Schmelzer. Mr. Captain has not been at his best at times this season, but Schmelzer enjoyed one of his best seasons at Dortmund last year, and still has it in him. His leadership, though, has been outstanding, and his seniority and experience can be invaluable to a team of youngsters. Raphael Guerreiro, his lone competitor at left back, is better used up the pitch, leaving Schmelzer with little risk of losing his spot.
Defensive midfield: Julian Weigl. The 21-year-old midfielder just extended his contract to 2021, meaning he won't leave Dortmund for at least four or five years. It's huge that Dortmund have their midfield lynchpin locked up. Hopefully, it sets the precedent for other youngsters, and gives Dortmund a nice model of sustainability knowing they'll have one of their most important players for years to come. Weigl is still continuing to grow, though, as opponents have become accustomed to pressing him to take him out the game. However, Weigl's positioning and passing makes that difficult to do, and with the right partner, the Dortmund midfield can once again be deadly.
ICYMI: Borussia Dortmund go into the future with @JuWeigl #Weigl2021 https://t.co/PtdA8IymJd pic.twitter.com/BGUYh46tIe— Borussia Dortmund (@BVB) December 20, 2016
Left central midfield: Raphael Guerreiro. The Portuguese youngster has had his share of injury problems early in his Dortmund career, but when he's been on the pitch, he has looked like one of Dortmund's most creative and intelligent players. His creativity and influence would be wasted at left back, where he plays for the Portuguese national team, but for Dortmund he fits in well in the left side of the midfield.
Right central midfield: Mahmoud Dahoud. Another rumor that has made its rounds is the possibility of Dahoud signing with Dortmund this January. He has been Gladbach's link from midfield to attack, and could be of similar importance to Dortmund. Since Ilkay Gundogan's departure, Dortmund have struggled to break down many defenses. Dahoud can operate well in tight spaces and against the press, and he'd be an immediate upgrade over Sebastian Rode and Gonzalo Castro. If Dortmund can get this one done in January, it'll be another supremely talented 20-year-old signed on for the next four or five years.
Attack: Ousmane Dembélé, Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. These three combine together so well that it's just easier to mention them altogether. Since Marco Reus' return, the trio have combined to score and assist a whopping total of 23 goals in those seven games. Most recently, the most impressive been the youngest of the three, Ousmane Dembélé. Over the past few weeks, he has stepped his game to another level, something we knew he was capable of if he showed a bit more awareness and could apply a finish or a final ball. Their chemistry is undeniable on and off the pitch. Reus and Aubameyang had a great friendship before the signing of Dembélé, who has become the best of pals with Aubameyang, if Instagram and social media are of any indication.
The biggest question mark in the line-up does lie in attack, though, and that's because of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's possible departure. The lift of Real Madrid summer 2017 transfer ban means that they'll be free to sign Aubameyang, who has been vocal about his desire to play for the club because of a deathbed promise to his late grandfather. The Gabonese striker is leading the Bundesliga in scoring, and it would make no sense for Real Madrid to not attempt to sign someone who seems so keen on joining.
Players left out: Mario Götze, Andre Schürrle, Christian Pulisic. These three, arguably, are the biggest players left out of the my ideal line-up. However, each of them could slide into the side pretty seamlessly, and they each could make a huge impact off the bench. Götze is the closest of the three to make my line-up, as he could be asserted into a multitude of positions, and has an effective partnership with close friend Marco Reus, as we all know. A player of his quality shouldn't and won't be limited to just minutes off the bench. Schürrle, on the other hand, has struggled to make much of an impact this season, and I'd be quicker to give a chance to the American, Christian Pulisic.
In text form: Bürki; Passlack, Sokratis, Toprak, Schmelzer; Weigl, Dahoud, Guerreiro; Reus, Dembélé, Aubameyang