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Dortmund Coping Well in Gündoğan's Absence

Despite star playmaker Ilkay Gündoğan's recent foot injury, Dortmund have been faring just fine. Which gives us some encouraging signs if we are going to be without him next season.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

With mindless transfer rumors constantly floating around, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Ilkay Gündoğan remains at Borussia Dortmund next season. His agents have met with Pep Guardiola's agents, making Manchester City appear as the most likely destination. While nothing is official, fans still worry about another star leaving Borussia Dortmund.

The last time that Dortmund lost a player of his quality was Robert Lewandowski's departure, which was followed by a miserable season that saw us in last place as late in the season as February. It can be understood why many fans fear the worst for Gündoğan's possible departure, but recent weeks have shown that Dortmund can probably cope without him just fine, and he's not as irreplaceable as some might think.

Gündoğan was ruled out of the first leg of the clash with Tottenham due to a foot injury sustained in training, not the most encouraging sign before one of the biggest challenges of Dortmund's season. However, Tuchel's men didn't skip a beat. It was arguably Dortmund's best performance of the season and it happened without Ilkay Gündoğan. There's been no rush to get Gündoğan back to action, as he's too good a player to risk it, and the team has proven capable of world class performances without their world class midfielder. He'll be staying in Dortmund over the international break and should be good to go once club football resumes in a week and a half.

Dortmund have gone without Gündoğan in the last four games due to the mysterious foot injury, and delivered quality performances in each game. One player that has softened the impact of Gündoğan's injury is 28 year old Gonzalo Castro, who was originally brought in as Gündoğan's replacement in the summer. Castro has been able to provide that link from defense to attack, and even can make some amazing runs on the ball, like the one that produced the opening goal against Mainz.

Sunday's game against Augsburg was the game where Gündoğan's absence was felt the most. For the first 45 minutes, Dortmund were stifled in attack by Markus Weinziel and the Augsburg defense. Nuri Sahin and Julian Weigl aren't the same types of players as Gündoğan, making the midfield pairing play as a doppelsechs rather than featuring a player who has the license and ability to attack and link up play between attackers and defenders. At the end of the first half, it was a world class move by Mkhitaryan that got Dortmund the equalizer, something that top players like Mkhitaryan and Gündoğan can still offer even on an off day.

Tuchel decided to bring on Gonzalo Castro at half time for Marco Reus, a decision that proved to be a good one as Castro quickly took control of the game and got himself a goal. Moritz Leitner was also brought on, and completed 97.4% of his passes, which calmed that game down and allowed Dortmund to ease to victory after the go-ahead goal.

Thomas Tuchel's ability to get his team to perform without the best possible line-up has been one of his more impressive accomplishments in his time at Dortmund. No player, expect Henrikh Mkhitaryan, seems to be irreplaceable in this Dortmund side. This bodes well for the future if Gündoğan does leave, as Tuchel already has the team playing well without him, and the club will have the summer transfer window to find a suitable replacement.

This isn't to say that Gündoğan won't be sorely missed if he does end up leaving the club. However, the past few games have shown encouraging signs that Dortmund have the personnel, quality, and the manager to be able to cope with such a huge loss. Ilkay Gündoğan has been the only Dortmund player this season besides Henrikh Mkhitaryan to deliver consistent world class performances, but it speaks for the rest of the quality on the team that his absence can be dealt with in such a convincing manner.