Borussia Dortmund fans could be forgiven for having given up on Moritz Leitner. After a promising start to his BVB career, Leitner left for VfB Stuttgart on a two-year loan deal, seeking more consistent playing time in an effort to help his development - with mixed results.
Returning to the Westfalenstadion for the 2015/2016 season, Leitner found himself on the outside looking in when it came to first team involvement. However, as the season progressed, the young midfielder worked his way into manager Thomas Tuchel's system and likely appears headed for more first team action next season.
The final numbers for Leitner this season - just 9 league appearances (2 starts), 4 cup appearances (3 in the Europa League, 1 in the Pokal) - do not tell the whole story. He spent the majority of the Hinrunde with the second team, learning Tuchel's system and readjusting to life back with Dortmund.
The central midfielder did not appear with the first team until Matchday 17, when he went unused as a substitute. From Matchday 19 onward, however, Leitner featured in 9 of the final 16 league fixtures and made the bench for another 6. This indicates a growing trust placed in Leitner by Tuchel.
Perhaps the best indication of Leitner's potential under Tuchel was his 73 minute performance against bitter rivals Schalke 04, during which the midfielder notched an assist and generally dictated BVB's play in the 2-2 draw. He looked assured on the ball, provided adequate cover in midfield, and played several incisive passes.
This followed up a superb appearance off the bench in the 3-1 victory over Augsburg three weeks prior in which he notched another assist. Unfortunately, Leitner did not start another match and was only given brief substitute cameos the rest of the season. The flashes of quality he did show, however, reminded all Dortmund fans just why he was so highly thought of when he arrived in January 2011.
It is easy to forget that Leitner is just 23 years old and is not yet a finished product. BVB fans may have grown frustrated with his lack of development and failure to grow during his time with Stuttgart. But the arrival of Tuchel and the subsequent trust the manager has put on Leitner (starting the youngster on the road in a hostile
Gelsenkirchen environment in the Revierderby a chief example) bodes well for his future with the Black and Yellows.
With the imminent departure of Ilkay Gundogan, there appears to be more minutes available in the BVB midfield - and Leitner seems poised to take advantage if he can continue his growth under Tuchel.