It's not easy to move on after heartbreak, just ask my ex-girlfriend. Or ask a Dortmund fan. Each one of our stomachs will turn every time "the Liverpool game" is mentioned. This game will live on in history for being quite possibly the most exciting Europa League match ever, and unfortunately, Dortmund are on the wrong side of it.
It can't be easy for Thomas Tuchel, who's enduring his first rough spell as manager of Dortmund. It'll be a major challenge for him to get this team back on track and focused to finish the season on a high note. He took the defeat well in the press, but it will certainly not go over so kindly in training.
Tuchel said: "We couldn't win like champions but let's behave like champions and wish them the best. All congrats to Liverpool."— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) April 14, 2016
In Dortmund's most important month of the season, Tuchel has been noticeably off-beat. Against Bremen, Dortmund struggled for large parts in the game, but came away with a 3-2 win due to some smart substitutions. Tuchel's genius shone through, but there were many cracks in the performance. The 1-1 draw against Liverpool was also a disappointing result, as Dortmund had trouble dealing with Liverpool's pressing and struggled to create any clear chances.
In the Revierderby, Tuchel made eight changes, giving key players like Reus, Aubameyang, and Mkhitaryan a rest before the decisive game on Thursday. While Dortmund's B-team outplayed Schalke, Tuchel might regret not starting one of his superstars to give them the edge they needed on the day.
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While it's impossible to attribute Thursday's implosion to solely Tuchel, the manager must be questioned after the team failed to retain the ball in the final twenty minutes of the game, and created so little in the second half of a game they should've put to bed. His substitutions were questionable, even though he usually makes the right call.
Bringing on Ginter makes sense on paper, but he's a shaky defender who's played midfield recently. The issue I have with that substitution is the fact he took off Kagawa. Shinji was the one who was sniffing out corners, surprisingly, and headed quite a few of them away. Right after the substituion, Milner's corner that Sakho scored from bounced before it reached the danger area, and would've likely been cleared if Kagawa was there, like he had been all game. Tuchel may have wanted to go to a back five, but he needed control in the midfield and someone to defend corners.
The Ramos substitution was the most questionable, as it would have made more sense to bring on Sven Bender, an actual defender, which would have been much more useful in the final ten minutes than a striker who can hold up play (and we didn't even have possession for him to do that!). Tuchel's choices can be forgiven, since he's been right so many times, but it still hurts nonetheless.
However, dwelling on the what-could-have-been's won't do us any good, so let's think forward.
Dortmund can still get a trophy out of this season. Thomas Tuchel will be hard pressed and motivated to right the ship and get things under control after this display. It's easy to forget it's just his first year here, and there's still so many ways this team can grow under him. The honeymoon period has lasted a long time, and Tuchel's a fantastic manager, but there's always going to be bumps in the road.
Points-wise, we're on track for our most successful season ever, and it'd be a shame if we came up short of some glory at the season's end. While every Dortmund fan wanted to add the Europa League trophy to Dortmund's collection, our season can still be successful, despite the sour taste the Europa League left us. The season might feel empty now to some, but it's important that the team doesn't let this huge defeat affect their performances the rest of the way.
Next Wednesday, Dortmund will travel to Berlin to face Hertha in the DFB Pokal semifinals. We've lost the past two Pokalfinale's we've been in, and the Pokal is a cup worth winning. Dortmund last won it against Bayern in 2012, by a 5-2 scoreline, in one of the best Dortmund games over the past few years. If Dortmund can take care of Hertha, they'll likely get another shot at Bayern, assuming they beat Werder Bremen. Thomas Tuchel has yet to beat the Bavarians at Dortmund, and it'd be a nice accomplishment if he did it in Berlin.
With the Bundesliga title now out of reach, the DFB Pokal takes the spotlight. After playing in the final in each of the past two seasons, fans and players should be thirsty for the trophy this time around, even though it feels like a consolation. Marco Reus has still never won a major trophy, a shocking fact for a player with such a successful career. He and the rest of the Dortmund team would like to change that, and it could start against Hertha.
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League-wise, we might see Tuchel give some fringe players more of a chance now that we're for sure out of the title race. Players like Moritz Leitner and youngsters like Christian Pulisic and Felix Passlack could see some more time on the pitch, as Dortmund aren't moving anywhere in the table. It's a huge chance for them to show what they can do, and there's no real pressure to perform, as the two 17 year olds will still be huge prospects and have their shot at the first team again next year.
Other players will be fighting to keep their spot on the team. Guys like Sokratis, Lukasz Piszczek, Nuri Sahin, and Erik Durm all have a lot to prove. As Bleacher Report's Lars Pollmann pointed out, Dortmund desperately need an elite second center back. Sokratis has not been impressive lately, and struggled throughout the Hinrunde as well. Sven Bender has been the better center back, but Dortmund need someone who is near Mats Hummels' level of play.
Of the other players just mentioned, Nuri Sahin needs a good performance. He had a rough go of it against Schalke, and has looked nowhere near like the player we saw in the 2013-2014 season, and in spurts during the 2014-2015 campaign. It's unlikely that Lukasz Piszczek and Erik Durm would lose their spots, but both have left a lot to be desire at right back and in midfield, respectively. Dortmund probably won't be actively searching for replacements, but both need to step their game up if Dortmund are going to be big players next season.
Even though Dortmund didn't win the title they wanted this season, it can still be a successful campaign. Winning the DFB Pokal won't be a small achievement considering our likely opponents, and could make some of the pain go away. Unfortunately, this one will hurt for a while, and we're left with sour taste in our mouthes after our record season, even if Dortmund win the Pokal.