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A Series of Unfortunate Events

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What has gone wrong in Dortmund?

Borussia Dortmund Training And Press Conference Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

I confess I do not know the first thing about the novel series for which this article is titled, but I do know that for the most part, the events that have befallen Borussia Dortmund for the past twelve months fit perfectly under that marquee. Things stink in Dortmund these days but like the USMNT issues, this problem does not have an easy solution nor some clear teaching points other than know what you are getting when getting it... and this goes for the hiring of Tuchel even more than Bosz.

When Thomas Tuchel struggled a bit last season, hot takes on Twitter and FTW comment boards foreshadowed the unease to come. When they meekly acquiesced to Leverkusen in the Hinrunde, giving up two goals while struggling to create a single chance, I will agree it was difficult to stay calm and we all struggled to see what Tuchel’s response would be to a high press.

The answer was pretty much nothing. Tuchel always struggled against teams that would press us high up the pitch and shut down our buildup play from Weigl forward. With no-one replacing Ilkay Gündoğan, we were always struggling. But with only a few teams to worry about that employed this, we were fine… and Tuchel always had a plan B, even if he sometimes waited a bit too long. He though, was able to mix things up by employing a back three with wing backs against strong sides like Bayern and learn from his previous mistakes.

When people kept calling for his sacking, I, and many other writers and analyzers of the game warned people to be careful for what they wish because it just might come true. Well, it did. And now we are here.

We have over-analyzed the decision to fire Tuchel, and it was a decision that I think most of us here at FTW disagreed with. The fact is that the relationship between Aki Watzke, Zorc, and Tuchel had become too toxic to repair. From the failed promise to retain at least one of Mkhitaryan, Gündoğan, and Hummels, to Tuchel’s passive/aggressive public defenestration of Watzke following the decision to play the day after the bus bombing; from the failure to transition from a selling club, to a certain Emre Mor crawling on all fours and losing the core of BVB’s team leadership, it was inevitable that Tuchel would leave.

And so he left. Some rejoiced loudly that the bad, bad man was gone and praised signing Peter Bosz, a manager who had Tuchel-like baggage with him, having spent time with THREE clubs in the preceding year alone. Bosz had never managed in any of the top five European Leagues but had had some success at Ajax taking the team to the Europa League final. But the Eredivisie is not the Bundesliga.

And here we are. He started with a bang at Dortmund, with six wins out of seven and no goals conceded in the first five. But even armchair analysts could see the cracks in Bosz’s team. The humbling at Wembley showed how vulnerable Dortmund could be against a team that sat back and had the quality to punish mistakes in the buildup. The 0-0 draw at Freiburg showed how a team that sat back could stifle Dortmund. The 3-2 loss to Leipzig showed that in a slug-fest with defense optional, it would be only even odds who could come out on top. The draws to APOEL show that Dortmund can’t win when their offense falters even a bit.

We knew this would be a struggle, but I do not think we knew how much it would be. Tuchel radically changed the team and built his squad for his style of play. The leftovers from the Klopp era that forced Tuchel out, Schmelzer, Reus, and Şahin in particular, know the gegenpressing style, but Schmelzer and Şahin are nowhere near the athletic players they were four years ago and Marco is, well, always injured. This team was built around Tuchel’s style. Aubameyang is a perfect case study. He was recruited to be a winger in Klopp’s set up and struggled quite a bit. When Tuchel arrived, Auba became king of the tap-in and flourished in the play in the final third. Now he looks lost. One could tell that Auba and Dortmund were having a bad game under Tuchel when the Gabonese striker would drop into the hole to try to receive the ball. Now under Bosz, he is asked to do so as a part of his system. We have essentially taken the Bundesliga player of the year of 2016-17 and asked him to neuter his best skills and play a role he is really poor at. Julian Weigl was arguably Dortmund’s most important player under Tuchel as the architect of the offense, constantly circulating the ball as the sole holding midfielder. Under Bosz, Weigl looks lost when asked to play a more advanced role and teams that mark him in the role basically neuter our build up play through the middle. And don’t get me started on why we are taking over ten shots a game from the cheap seats when our team managed to score ONE goal directly from a free kick in two years. Guardiola would bench half the current team for doing so.

Probably the most concerning thing is how individual players have seemed to regress since the start of the season. I have never seen so many turnovers coming from the back up. I do not know if it is a result of the players not knowing this mysterious system Bosz has that no one can see. But I do see poor mistake after poor mistake from players who used to not make them.

We could go on and on analyzing how poor Dortmund are right now. I do not know if Bosz is just a poor tactician. I do not know if he just hasn’t had enough time to teach his system. I do not know if we just hired a guy who will have to build an entirely new squad that can play his system. But I do know we cannot fire him right now despite our form and the lack of any evidence of a coherent plan for success. Why? The same reason I and others said it would be unwise to fire Tuchel. The lack of alternatives. Who else could we actually get mid-season? Sacking Bosz at this point and handing the keys over to someone else would be writing off the entire year and we are far from a relegation battle. Not to mention firing Bosz this early would be a massive concession by Watzke and Zorc that they made a bad decision… and we know that will not happen.

I also know we can probably say Auf Wiedersehen to Julian Weigl, Christian Pulisic, Aubameyang, and perhaps Mahmoud Dahoud next summer. Dortmund may not have ambitions to win titles every year, but these potential world-class players do. They have a lot more ambition than the club currently seems to have.

Is there a fix? Sadly, no. I do not know who poisoned the waters with Tuchel but it does not matter anymore. It just is. And it is depressing. Personalities aside, under Tuchel and with the team he assembled, Dortmund would likely be favorites for the Meisterschalle and would probably have already qualified for the knock-out rounds of the Champions League. Instead, we are drawing twice against the fourth place side in the CYPRIOT league whose manager just offered to resign. Short of tearing up the 50+1 rule, enticing a Gulf Arab potentate to invest two billion Euro, and prying Pep Guardiola from the Etihad, we will continue to be a club with some successes, but little ambition while our insufferable American Bayern fans look on us with varying degrees of pity and snobbery, patronizingly offering their unsolicited advice on how to fix our club.