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Dortmund Season Recap: A Tale of Two Peters

AFC Sunderland  v Borussia Dortmund  - Friendly Match Photo by Deniz Calagan/Getty Images

Last year Dortmund won the DFB Pokal. Even though there were many problems in the team during the regular season and a bus bombing took us out of UCL, we still won a trophy and made top 4 with ease. There was a lot of hope with a young core of players including Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele. Striker Pierre-Emirick Aubameyang was clearly in the peak of his career and looked to be the best striker in the league. Our manager Thomas Tuchel had gotten better results with a team that lost three stars against his wishes the summer before. Things looked like they were going to improve.

Summer came and the situation in Dortmund went sour for the second summer in a row. Tension between Tuchel and Watzke led to the manager’s sacking. Ousmane Dembele acted radically and forced a move, albeit for one of the largest transfer fees of all time. Not much of those transfer fees were re-invested.

However, it seemed like Tuchels replacement would be adequate, Peter Bosz had done well with Ajax who regularly draw comparisons with Dortmund for their ability to develop young players. There were a few promising signings as well. Phillip, Sancho, Dahoud and Toprak all came to us in the summer. It looked like the squad may still build off the success despite some summer troubles.

The first two months of the season made it look like Bosz and this squad were going to legitimately compete for the title. Bayern were floundering and we didn’t lose any of our first 7 league games, with 6 of those matches wins. While there were some problems in UCL, our group was tough and it looked like we still would make it through. During that stretch Aubameyang seemed like he would continue his top scorer form. Nuri Sahin was one of our best players during that stretch, it really looked like his career would be revived. The team was working well together and everything was going great.

And then everything went to shit.

From September 30th, Dortmund would only win one game until December 12th, that game being against (at the time) 3rd division Magdenburg. Embarrassment after embarrassment clearly weighed on the team. Bosz was running game plans that called for heavy possession, and we just couldn’t keep that together. Julian Weigl disappeared off the map, something that would plague us for the rest of the season. Weigl had been one of our 3 most important players the two years prior, and it suddenly seemed like he forgot how to control games. Nuri Sahin came down to earth and his pairings with Castro were disastrous. The entire team looked terrible out there time and time again. While we did get some flashes from Phillip, Aubameyang, and Gotze, it was not enough.

If there is one terrible game we should revisit from the Bosz era it is that tie against Schalke. A quick 4-0 lead from us against our rivals had everything feeling great. Bosz’s attack heavy tactics looked to find their groove again. But as the second half rolled around the team crumbled. This game shows the other side of our problems, it wasn’t just a manger issue, our team let themselves get shook very easily. Once our team looked like they were on the back foot they almost never came back. I’m not a armchair psychologist, I’m not going to say the team was mentally weak or lacked confidence or any of those silly things you hear pundits say these days. But it was clear that whatever the game plan was game to game, the team would let it fall apart once things got rough.

The team gave up on Bosz. His tactics stopped working, his lineups were awful, and rifts and factions grew in the locker room. He lost 2-1 to Werder Bremen on December 9th in what would be his last game. On Sunday December 10th Peter Bosz was sacked. To replace him was Peter Stoger.

Stoger was a weird hire. While it was clear and exciting that he was a real passionate type manager, an archetype that BVB loves, he was hired after not winning any games with Koln to start the season. He oversaw the beginning of the season for the worst team in the league, but the FO was confident in him. Maybe because he was known for defensive cohesiveness or maybe because he was the only one available but he is the guy we were stuck with for the rest of the year.

Things looked good at the start of this Peters tenure as well. We ended the Hinrunde with two wins against Mainz and Hoffenheim. The team looked solid at the back. However, Aubameyang no showed for our Pokal game vs Bayern that eliminated us. After that rumors swirled Aubamyeang was pulling a Dembele and refusing to play. As January rolled around it was a “when” not “if” situation. However I can’t fully blame Aubameyang. Reports are that he was promised a sale over the summer that was not given to him. While you can have doubts about whether that was his true motive, a double-cross like that is not below something Watzke would do. Aubameyang leaving did have its benefits. We got a good price for him and we got a new striker on loan with the deal, Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea.

Michy Bastshuayi helped save Dortmund's season. Stoger-ball lacked all imagination and Bats’ ability to create something out of nothing was crucial for the first half the the Ruckrunde. 7 goals in 10 appearances is impressive for someone thrown into a struggling side in the January window. Hopefully Dortmund can keep the services of young Bats.

While things did look awful at times for BVB, we went three months undefeated in the league. The only real disappointment during this time was our terrible Europa League play that saw us eliminated to Red Bull Salzburg. While not losing helped us get to top 4, the football was very hard to watch. In addition to Stogers uninspired play style, the players he rolled out time and time again always disappointing. Castro and Schurrle played much more then they should have been allowed. I think every preview I wrote this spring had “please god no Castro” written somewhere, for good reason. While injuries and other players falling out of form led to Schurrle and Castro getting lots of playtime, it was still the wrong choice. Pulisic and Sancho should always have had looks over Schurrle. Dahoud, Weigl and Gotze should have always had looks over Castro. While Castro eventually did lose his spot in the squad, Schurrle did not. Sokratis as well proved that his time with Dortmund should end. He regularly looked clueless and gave up his fair share of goals throughout the season.

There were players that shined in the second half of the season. The return of Marco Reus was crucial down the stretch of the season. Reus makes every player around him better, even Schurrle looked comfortable at times playing next to number 11. It’s not a hot take to say if Reus had not come back from injury then we would not have made top 4. In addition to Reus there were other bright spots that got us over the finish line. Gotze created chance after chance for BVB and despite lacking in goals, his ability to create goal scoring opportunities was a joy to watch. Jadon Sancho also succeeded in his playing time at the end of the year. It’s clear he made the right choice coming to BVB. With Pulisic rumored to be looking for an exit this summer, BVB are lucky they get to keep Sancho who looks just as talented a player. Manuel Akanji went from a prospect that could be useful for BVB in the future to Dortmund's best center back quickly, and should be a player along the back-line to build around. His ability to get back and make the right tackle as well as his ability to pass from the back puts him above Sokratis in the depth chart.

To end the season things were very up and down for BVB. After the Bayern game we had a stunning win against Stuttgart where it looked like BVB-style football was finally returning. To follow that up we put up no fight against Schalke to lose 2-0. And then even more astonishingly we bounced back for our most crucial game of the year, absolutely hammering Bayer Leverkusen 4-0. Again it looked like Dortmund were fully prepared to play the football our talent had the ability to play. Then as we all know, we petered (pun intended) out and did not win any of our last three games, losing the last home game and almost dropping out of top 4. Our top 4 hopes were probably saved by Bayer blowing it more the us doing anything to save ourselves.

Its hard to draw many definite conclusions about the future of BVB after this season. There are the obvious things, like Sokratis, Schurrle, and Castro definitely going and Scmelzer and Yarmolenko being re-evaluated, We also need a new goal keeper; Burki has proven to play great in games that don’t matter. When the stakes are raised, he seems to crumble. That is simply not good enough. Everything should be done to keep Michy Batshuayi as well. Also its clear this team needed a culture change, something we’ll get with Sammer coming on board. Other then that I can’t make many more conclusions about BVB. The two Peters are gone and with them their bad tactics. This team has tons of potential and proven talent. There were long stretches of the season we dramatically under-preformed xG, had we finished those chances we may not even be looking on this season in as much disappointment.

Again it will come down to a good summer for BVB. Two summers of more mistakes then good moves have driven the club the the brink of relevancy. Hopefully Watzke and Zorc fully understand their mistakes and don’t fill their summer with bad feelings yet again.

One last note, I want to thank you all for following FTW through another full season. This is the second full season we have been around and this site has grown larger then I’d initially ever thought. We’ll still be updating all summer as transfer season picks up and the World Cup gives us some good stories to follow. Thank you!