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The Rise of Jacob Bruun Larsen

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Borussia Dortmund v Manchester City - 2016 International Championship Cup China Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Amidst the many positive storylines surrounding Borussia Dortmund to start the season, like Paco Alcacer’s goal-scoring explosion and Jadon Sancho’s barrage of assists, one which has received remarkably little attention is the emergence of Jacob Bruun Larsen as a reliable option on the wings. After his tepid preseason in which he didn’t look too impressive, few in the media figured that the young Dane would feature more than occasionally for Borussia Dortmund, and even fewer thought he would be a consistent offensive contributor.

With the season well underway now, though, it looks as if Jacob has played his way into a regular rotational role with the squad, fighting his way into an already-deep collection of talented young wingers. In the time that he’s been on the pitch, he’s managed to sustain a solid level of goal production, and has the underlying numbers to back up his performances. He’s gained enough trust in the eyes of Lucien Favre to feature several times in the starting XI. Here’s a look at what JBL has done to earn his role at the club:

A Breakdown of his Performances

Here’s a scoring chart for each of his five performances thus far:

Untitled

Match Minutes Goals Assists xGChain Key Passes Shots
Match Minutes Goals Assists xGChain Key Passes Shots
Frankfurt 58 0 0 0 0 0
Nürnberg 74 1 1 1.43 3 2
Leverkusen 90 1 0 1.17 2 4
Monaco 45 1 1 N/A 1 2
Augsburg 70 0 0 0.03 3 0
Total 337 3 2 2.60 9 8
Rate (/90) 0.80 0.53 0.69 2.40 2.14
Data from: Understat & Whoscored

I have two quick thoughts on this table:

  1. Understat only provides stats for the Bundesliga, and I was unable to find his xGChain from the match against Monaco anywhere else. I apologize for this.
  2. I’m skeptical about his xGChain against Augsburg being that low. Understat also lists his xA for the match at 0.35, and usually xA factors into xGChain, so it’s strange to me that his xA is higher than his xGChain.

While this is a relatively small sample size, I like it because it demonstrates varying levels of opposition quality, and I think there are still takeaways we can glean from this data. What I like most about JBL’s performances so far is his consistency. In every match since his season debut against Frankfurt, JBL has found a way to contribute positively to Dortmund’s offense. Not only is he’s scoring goals, but he’s creating shots, by taking them himself or by setting them up, with regularity.

He also didn’t pad his stats against a lousy opponent like Nürnberg; he found a way to get involved in two important matches against Leverkusen and Monaco. While one could argue that his goal against Leverkusen was a rather fortunate tap-in, I would counter by arguing that tap-ins are usually the result of good positioning. Furthermore, as I wrote in my breakdown of Paco’s match-winning goal, his off-the-ball movement was crucial to the play, even if he didn’t end up getting a touch in the buildup.

What he Adds Tactically

Unlike Dortmund’s more prodigious young wingers Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic, Jacob Bruun-Larsen does not necessarily have world-beating talent. He’s unlikely to dribble his way through waves of defenders, nor does he have the pace to pass them outright. What JBL does instead is provide a constant stream of direct, off-the-ball runs that bring him into good positions, where he can then use his superior finishing and passing abilities to create chances.

In Gregory’s tactical breakdown of Favre’s 4-2-3-1, he went into a bit more detail about Jacob Bruun Larsen’s tendency to drift into the 18-yard box and find space for himself. His goal was a perfect example of his sense for positioning and finishing ability. This doesn’t mean he’s one-dimensional, though, because he can still play as a traditional winger, trying to make runs down the touchline and use his acute passing ability to pick out forwards in the center. His assist on Marco’s goal was pure class:

By holding tight to Monaco’s back line, he’s able to wriggle out enough space for Abdou Diallo to lay out a perfect ball down this wing. While JBL isn’t remarkably quick, he still starts off with a good jump and beats Monaco’s full back to the ball. He fakes out the defender to buy himself some time and space, and then picks out a brilliant pass to find Reus at the back post, and creates a goal.

Conclusion

Jacob Bruun Larsen may not be a superstar, and he may not get the media attention that Sancho and Pulisic get (I guess I could be wrong, though. Maybe there’s a Danish version of Alexi Lalas out there fawning over his every move). JBL has played his way from an afterthought to a regular within Dortmund’s rotation. He’s been rewarded with consistent playing time, and upper management has also taken notice.

If JBL can continue on his path, then he could establish himself on Borussia Dortmund’s squad for years to come. Here’s to hoping he does.