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Digital Dortmund: Chapter Two

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New bosses and new beginnings

Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

OK, so 2017-18 in Football Manager world wasn’t great. It took a late-season collapse by Mainz and a run of wins to salvage fifth place and a spot in the Europa League group stage, but at the cost of some key Dortmund players (Pizsczek and Philipp) and the manager Peter Bosz. With new manager Marcelino García Toral the fourth man in five years to prowl the sidelines of the Westfalenstadion, European and another difficult season in the Bundesliga loom on the horizon. With the other German clubs seemingly caught up with Dortmund and Bayern pulling even further away, a great first season is needed by the club to remind everyone who they’re dealing with out of the North Rhine.

Let’s dive right into the summer transfer period!

Summer Transfers

I think it’s safe to say that most of last year’s transfers stunk out loud. I’d say it was a toss-up between Willi Orban and Thomas Meunier as the best signing of the season. As you’ll recall, real-life Hoffenheim striker Andrej Kramaric barely started or scored, and Anderlect signing Leander Dendoncker was only ok with three goals and five assists in all competitions.

Right away, Marcelino started bringing in his guys and shipping off anyone who didn’t fit his plans. Raphael Guerreiro was the first to go in June, with Manchester United swooping in for a massive $56 million offer. While Raph was a lock at right back with 33 combined appearances over the season and one goal and six assist across all competitions, $56 million plus $7 million in potential bonuses and incentives would be a lot to pass up. I suppose this pretty much locks Meunier into the starting right back spot moving forward, as both Raph and Piszczek have been sold.

Orban was also sold in June, and to rival Bayern Munich no less! Um, earth to Marcelino, your job is to help Dortmund get better, not Bayern! Orban played well in a Dortmund kit, starting 29 total games and scoring one DFB-Pokal goal with an average match rating of 6.94. It sucks to lose him in the defense, and I feel like Marcelino and Dortmund could’ve gotten more than $16 million for him, but I’d like to see what we do with the money from both players before I render a judgement.

Once the calendar turned to July, Marcelino and Zorc went to work rebuilding Dortmund. And man, did they make some moves. The first big signing was Köln goalkeeper Timo Horn for $13.25 million, an absolute steal in my opinion! Horn played every game for Die Geißböcke and notched eight clean sheets and averaged a 6.81 rating; Not bad for a guy on a team that allowed 58 goals and finished 10th. It’s clear that Marcelino wants to move on from Roman Bürki, who only recorded seven clean sheets and averaged a rating of 6.64. I know Football Manager isn’t always kind to goalkeepers unless they’re making billions of saves and stopped penalties a game, but that’s horrendous from a guy who has been one of the best players for Dortmund in real life.

The next incoming transfer was for Bayern left back Juan Bernat for $15.25 million with incentives raising the price to a potential $23.5 million. I guess the Neymar signing didn’t cause inflated transfer prices in Football Manager world to continue like it probably will in the real world. Bernat played only 17 total games for FC Hollywood, but he scored two goals and tallied five assists in Bundesliga play. Marcelino also signed Bremen striker Max Kruse for $7.25 million, providing a solid back-up option for Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng. The signing of Kruse signaled the end for Kramaric at Dortmund, and he ended up being sold to Leverkusen for a cool $28.5 million.

August proved to be an even bigger month for incoming transfers, with Roma’s Alisson and Monaco’s Guido Carrillo both joining Dortmund, with Alisson joining for $34.5 million and Carrillo for $24.5 million. Alisson played in 42 total matches in a disappointing 2017-18 campaign for I Giallorossi, in which the team finished in sixth and were knocked out of Champions League competition by Bayern in the Round of 16. In Serie A, Alisson played in every match and recorded 14 clean sheets and an average match rating of 6.9 (nice). So it looks like Marcelino wants some goalkeeper competition, which is great considering Bosz simply handed the starting position to Bürke with little competition around him. He was never hurt in the previous FM season, but we saw what would happen if he were injured in real life this year. As for Carrillo, who scored 19 goals in 43 total appearances for Monaco, he was a key component in their Ligue 1 and Europa League-winning campaign, so it’s nice to bring another player with a championship-winning pedigree into the fold.

Dortmund spent $106.25 and received $108.25 in the summer window. So if my math is correct, and that’s a toss-up on a good day, BVB earned $2 million. For all their purchases, to still take in $2 million for three players sold is astounding. What I’m most happy for is that they solidified the backline with upgrades at left back and at goalkeeper, while bringing in attacking depth.

Also during August, the UEFA Europa League draw was announced. Drawn into Group K, Dortmund couldn’t have gotten an easier group. The German giants were paired with FK Austria Wien of the Austrian Bundesliga, PEC Zwolle of the Eredivisie, and Viktoria Plzen of the Czech First League. The Group of Death would appear to be Group H, with Olympic Lyon, Espanyol, Club Brugge, and Zrinjski. If we didn’t win all six matches in this group, I’d be livid.

Hinründe

After going 2-1-0 in pre-season friendlies, Marcelino picked up his first win as Borussia Dortmund manager in a 5-1 win in the DFB-Pokal First Round against fifth-tier outfit TSG Balingen. An early Yarmolenko goal, plus a second-half hattrick by Isak and a late goal by Jadon Sancho put Dortmund through to the next round with ease. Looking through the tactical reports and scouting, it looks like Marcelino is running a basic 4-4-2 with aggressive wingers and a dynamic strike partnership. Now it makes sense why Marcelino went out and bought a bunch of strikers.

In probably the most anticipated Bundesliga opening day in a long time, Dortmund opened their 2018-19 season against Schalke at the Veltins-Arena. A Reivierderby is a heated, highly competitive environment, and add in that it’s opening-day and you’ve got a steaming bowl of nerve stew for a new manager. Thankfully, a pair of Yarmolenko goals in the latter stages of the second half gave Dortmund and Marcelino a huge 2-0 win to open the season.

A 3-0 win over Hoffenheim in Marcelino’s first official match inside the Westfalenstadion, with Aubamayeng scoring a brace and Pulisic netting one to seal the win, was followed up by a dominant 5-0 Europa League win over Austria Wien (Auba brace, Carrillo brace, Toprak goal). League wins over Hamburg (1-0, Auba goal) and RB Leipzig (2-0, Auba brace) had Dortmund flying high into their meeting with Jurgen Klopp and league-leading Bayern Munich for the top spot in the Bundesliga.

Oh, did I not mention that earlier? Yep, Jürgen mother-effing Klopp is now manager of Bayern Munich. After being sacked by Liverpool following a seventh-place finish in the Premier League, a runner-up in the FA Cup, and being knocked out in the Round of 16 in the Champions League, the Liverpool board must’ve had enough and he was canned. Fortunately for him and Bayern fans, but unfortunate for us, Munich offered him a contract and I guess FM-Klopp lacks the loyalty to BVB that real world Klopp possesses because he signed it almost as soon as he was offered.

Anyway, early goals by Kingsley Coman and Arturo Vidal proved to be enough for Bayern to win 2-0 in the Westfalenstadion, halting Dortmund’s unbeaten run of form. Luckily, Dortmund rebounded from this disappointing Der Klassiker defeat with an unbeaten run that stretched all the way through October and well into November before a 1-0 loss at Bayern Leverkusen on November 11 right before the international break. The streak included Europa League wins over Viktoria Plzen (2-0) and PEC Zwolle (6-1 and 2-1), a 4-1 DFB-Pokal win over Hamburg in extra time, three Bundesliga wins (2-1 @Freiburg, 2-0 vs. Hertha, 3-1 @ Gladbach), and a draw (1-1 vs. Frankfurt). The run of form put the club clear through to the knockout stage of the Europa League and the third round of the Pokal, but we were still second to an undefeated Bayern Munich.

In their next 10 total matches (7 Bundesliga, 2 Europa League, 1 DFB-Pokal) following the defeat to Die Werkself, Dortmund went 9-1-0. Dortmund won six Bundesliga matches and drew one, pulling off a combined score of 15-2, and both of their remaining two Europa League matches were won with 3-0 scorelines, while their Pokal third round match against Hertha Berlin was a 3-1 win to close out the Hinründe in spectacular style.

Their strong rebound from an unfortunate defeat to Leverkusen was astounding, especially at the defensive end with only five goals allowed and eight clean sheets. They also received another generous draw in the Europa League Round of 32 against S.C. Braga, who finished runner-up behind Liverpool in Group F. BVB were given another incredibly favorable draw in the Pokal, facing off against league relegation candidate Bielefeld at home in the quarterfinal.

Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng led the team with 13 league goals, placing him third behind Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner for the Golden Boot race. Second on the squad was Pulisic with four goals, and Reus leads the team in assists with nine. Aubameyang was the leading Europa League scorer with nine goals, while Alexander Isak’s three DFB-Pokal goals leads him in scoring for Dortmund in the competition.

How did the new signings fare in the Hinründe? Mostly good, I’d say. Alisson (6.87 rating, six clean sheets) was named the starter at the beginning of the season and started the first 17 matches, but a broken hand leading up to the Leverkusen match forced Marcelino to go with Horn. After the 1-0 defeat to Leverkusen, Horn managed seven clean sheets and an average match rating of 6.91 over the total remaining matches. Who will Marcelino go with once Alisson returns? Hard to say, but that’s why I’m not a coach of anything other than fourth graders. Juan Bernat played every Bundesliga game and most Europa League matches, averaging a rating of 6.79 and scoring three assists, while Guido Carrillo scored seven total goals and two assists, and Kruse tallied five combined assists. It looks like Marcelino hit on all five incoming transfers, even if the most expensive signing broke his hand.

Dortmund would end the Hinründe with a record of 13-2-2 and 41 points, just one point behind Bayern Munich for first place. Compared to where they were last season (9-4-4, 13 points out of first place), I’d say things are looking significantly better for our beloved Dortmund! They rest three points ahead of Wolfsburg (12-2-3) and six ahead of Leverkusen (11-2-4), so things could get very interesting in the Top 4 should a result or two go against The Black and Yellows. Schalke are just outside the top five with 31 points (9-3-5) to sit sixth, only four points behind RB Leipzig (9-4-4) for the Europa League spot, but are fighting off Hoffenheim (9-2-6) and Gladbach (9-2-6) at the moment. Sitting dead last in the Bundesliga are Werder Bremen with eight points, while Bielefeld (9 pts.) and Heidenheim (9) are solidly in the relegation zone. Hamburg, who just barely saved their season last time out, are positioned 11th with 20 points after fighting through a winless September.

As the club headed to Rotterdam for their winter break, things look to be trending upwards under their new manager and the players. What winter moves will Marcelino and Dortmund make? Can they catch Bayern? Will they bring home some silverware? Find out next time on Digital Dortmund!