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Tactical Tuchel and Dortmund's Formidable Midfield

A review of this summer's additions in midfield by analyzing how the new faces fit in tactically.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund suffered a big blow early in the off-season when Ilkay Gundogan left the club to head to England. Fellow midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan soon followed suit, leaving Dortmund looking weak in the middle.

Although Dortmund lost its top chance creator and a stalwart center midfielder, a prosperous summer transfer window has left the BVB midfield looking better than ever.

TRANSFERS IN (Midfielders):

  • Mikel Merino - Osasuna
  • Jakub Blaszczykowski - return from loan at Fiorentina
  • Sebastian Rode - Bayern Munich
  • Mario Gotze - Bayern Munich
  • Andre Schurrle - VfL Wolfsburg

Additionally, the arrivals of young wingers Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembele give Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel quite the array of talent and tactical diversity as his disposal. With pretty much an entire midfield full of rotatable, versatile players, Tuchel could use just about any formation, making Dortmund dangerously unpredictable.

Last season, Dortmund used a 4-3-3 for much of the season, occasionally switching to a 3-5-2.

While there is no doubting the talent of Gundogan and Mkhitaryan, the duo wasn't exactly versatile. Sure, Gundogan could clog up central midfield but he was injured most of the time. And Mkhitaryan created endless chances that will be sorely missed but he didn't really provide many tactical options other than winger.

Regardless, the departure of Gundogan and Mkhitaryan was a huge loss at midfield. But I believe the team has become vastly improved this summer.

The purchase Andre Schurrle, the re-integration of Mario Gotze, along with the other summer additions will make this Dortmund side more offensively potent and more difficult to carve up in midfield. The new signings not only add depth but also a new style to Dortmund.

As for formations, the first match in the ICC against Manchester United saw Thomas Tuchel using a 3-2-4-1 formation. While it seemed to work wonderfully against Manchester United, it's a bit of an unorthodox formation. The following game against Manchester City saw a return for the 4-3-3 and a lack of attacking prowess.

The loss of Gundogan in the middle means a tactical change must be made in the midfield. With so many midfielders, it looks as if the 3-2-4-1 could actually be a viable option. Here's how it would potentially look.

With a whopping six midfielders on the field, the formation would obviously be a success in attack. But with two layers of midfielders to cut through, the 3-2-4-1 could also be a defensive threat as well. The formation relies on layers rather than numbers.

On the wings would be Marco Reus and Schurrle. Normally, both would push forward to create a triple threat in attack. Tactically, they would sit back in the midfield to allow for a layered approach.

In the middle would sit Gonzalo Castro and Gotze. While there remains an ongoing debate about how to replace Gundogan, it can be argued that Dortmund already has, although not directly. Instead, the combination of Gotze, Castro, Julian Weigl and Sebastian Rode in midfield will act to replace Gundogan in the aggregate.

Gotze's re-acquaintance to Dortmund marks a shift from defensive to attacking emphasis. Castro will be the more distributional of the two central midfielders, but after his dazzling preseason display, it appears he is also a scoring threat.

At CDM would be Julian Weigl and Rode. Weigl is only 20-years-old and is already one of the top defensive midfielders in the world. Alongside him is Sebastian Rode who struggled for minutes at Bayern, but could become instrumental for Dortmund. Two other options at CDM include Nuri Sahin and Raphael Guerreiro.

While Sahin is an out-and-out midfielder, Guerreiro is traditionally a left back. The Portuguese international's allure, however, comes from his extreme versatility. Guerreiro can play left-back, left midfielder, and even left wing. Not to mention the youngster is a set-piece extraordinaire. His perfect position may just be left defensive midfield. It might seem crazy, but it could be worth a shot, especially with his dangerous free-kick abilities.

An alternate, more defensive formation comes in the form of a 4-1-4-1. The same front four midfielders remain while Rode or Guerreiro makes way for a center back. Marc Bartra, Sven Bender, or Matthias Ginter are all options, but a fourth has entered the running in midfielder Mikel Merino. Used as an attacking midfielder with Osasuna, Merino has been used primarily at center back by Thomas Tuchel in preseason.

And so far, he's had some success with the new position. Merino's versatility will best suit a formation like the 4-1-4-1 as he could play in either defense or midfield.

The final possible formation could be a 4-2-3-1. This one is even more defensive than the previous two but at the same time gives Dortmund a more spread-out attacking approach.

In this formation, Gonzalo Castro or Mario Gotze will have made way for a defensive midfielder or center back. Castro could also slot back into a defensive midfielder role, but could likely be replaced by Rode or Sahin. Bartra would slot in at center back and the central midfielder would push forward. The latter two formations are similar variations of a 4-3-3 with just a bit more variance to them. All three, however, could be used at any given time by Tuchel and BVB.

So to wrap things up here, the Borussia Dortmund midfield is not only deeper than last season, but also allows for many different tactical alignments with various versatile players able to slot in at different areas.

As for whether or not Dortmund has successfully replaced both Mkhitaryan and Gundogan, stay tuned for further analysis on that.