Everybody knows that Santa Claus’s “naughty-or-nice” list is one of the most closely-guarded documents in the world. Various world governments, intelligence agencies, private companies, and criminal enterprises would stop at nothing to discover who is naughty and who is nice, and use it to their benefit. We here at Fear the Wall are no exception. Being the crack journalists that we are, we used our “anonymous sources” inside the North Pole to get unrestricted access to Santa’s list.
In true sports blog fashion, rather than use it for something useful like bringing toys to all the happy children of the world, we’re going to instead use it as a contrivance to bicker about all of our favorite Borussia Dortmund players. We were able to look up the “naughty-or-nice” status of each player, and have graciously decided to publish it here. But remember: if you disagree with this list, it means you disagree with Santa Claus.
Which means you’re objectively wrong.
Marco Reus: Nice
There are a lot of #narratives surrounding Marco’s performances during the Hinrunde. He’s old. He’s washed up. He’s struggling. To be perfectly honest, all these narratives are a bit confusing for a player who:
- Is tied with Jadon Sancho for the team lead in scoring, with nine goals
- Is tied with Jadon Sancho for fourth place in the league in scoring
- Is on pace for an 18 goal, 6 assist season, which would roughly match his production from last season (17 goals, 8 assists), a year in which he was a candidate for league MVP. This is clearly the sign of a player in decline.
Oh, and he also got married.
To happily ever after, Captain pic.twitter.com/A3sQ1eDEYK— Borussia Dortmund (@BlackYellow) December 23, 2019
Jadon Sancho: Naughty
Not for his performances on the pitch, of course. Nor for any perceived “lack of focus”, or even a bad attitude. Jadon Sancho has arguably been BVB’s most prolific scorer, and has put in . Unfortunately, it is highly rumored that Jadon Sancho wants to leave Borussia Dortmund for... *gasp*... CHELSEA. If there was ever a team that embodied the spirit of naughtiness, it’s Chelsea.
The good news is that the fee will be a hefty one, probably at least €140 million. Jadon Sancho might be naughty, but money is nice.
Paco Alcacer: Naughty
Paco Alcacer has had a pretty disappointing season thus far. While he’s scored at a decent rate in the Bundesliga, averaging about a goal every 100 minutes, he simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to have a significant impact on the pitch.
Thorgan Hazard: Nice
While Hazard struggled during his first few appearances with BVB, he has really kicked his form into high gear as of late. He’s tied with Christopher Nkunku for third in the league with seven assists. He also has a respectable four goals in the league, and his presence as a prolific shot-taker from outside the box has added a new dimension to Borussia Dortmund’s offense. Finally, his advanced stats are excellent: his xGBuildup of 0.45/90 minutes indicates that he’s also highly-involved in creating chances for which he ultimately isn’t credited on the scoresheet.
Julian Brandt: Nice
Like Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt has taken a while to settle in with Borussia Dortmund. He couldn’t exactly find the right position in Dortmund’s system, with Favre trying him out at center forward, on the wing, and as a #10. Now that he’s carved out a niche for himself as a #8 in the heart of Favre’s 3-4-3, he’s been able to demonstrate why he was rated so highly with Bayer Leverkusen. His technical ability, along with his ability to play the ball forward, has allowed Dortmund to control the midfield much more easily. While he still has to work on his defensive game, he’s laid the groundwork to develop into an all-star midfielder.
Mahmoud Dahoud: Naughty
Dahoud’s mustache alone could be reason enough for him to be placed on the naughty list. Unfortunately for Mahmoud, his play on the pitch hasn’t been enough to redeem that atrocious tuft of hair on his upper lip. He doesn’t seem to have much of a role at this club, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sold in the near future.
Axel Witsel: Nice
Do I even need to explain this? Axel Witsel is the beating heart of this team. When he’s on his game, Dortmund are one of the top-tier clubs in all of Europe. When he’s off his game, or when he’s injured (as he has been the past few matches), it’s glaringly obvious how much the squad misses him. His passing, defensive, and possession metrics are excellent. He even scores a banger every once in a while:
Thomas Delaney: Naughty
To all the Delaniacs out there: remember, this is Santa Claus speaking, not me. I’m just the messenger.
Thomas Delaney hasn’t played in a while due to an ankle injury that he suffered in November. Even before his injury, he only played in six matches in the Bundesliga, and wasn’t particularly impressive while on the pitch. Yes, his game is chippy and “gritty”, but unfortunately, his offensive impact is pretty negligible. To demonstrate why, I’ve pulled the heat map from Borussia Dortmund’s 0-0 draw against Schalke: (BVB attacking right to left)
The brighter the colors, the more BVB retained possession in these areas. As you can see, BVB held at least a decent amount of possession along the wings, but were completely boxed out of the center of the pitch. Compare that to this heat map from BVB’s performance against RB Leipzig (attacking left to right), with Julian Brandt at #8 instead:
Delaney can certainly throw in a tackle or two, but when it comes to maintaining possession, he could use some improvement.
Julian Weigl: Naughty
Santa Claus was reportedly very torn over whether to put Weigl on the “Naughty” or “Nice” list. While he’s played well as the main defensive midfielder in Favre’s 3-4-3 with Axel Witsel injured, and played particularly well against Leipzig and Mainz, he’s also had a lot of poor performances, especially against Hoffenheim, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich. His pass completion rate indicates he’s turning the ball over much more often than in past years.
On the other hand, his defensive stats indicate that he’s developed a much stronger inclination to fight for the ball than he has in the past, or at least that he’s gotten better at it. Finally, there’s the fact that he has reportedly asked for a transfer once or twice over the past few months, so that he can go rejoin Thomas Tuchel with Paris Saint-Germain.
Overall, it hasn’t been the worst Hinrunde for Weigl, but he still has room for improvement.
Mario Götze: Nice
Mario Götze simply hasn’t had enough playing time to determine one way or another whether he has a future in this squad. He’s played 559 minutes in all competitions, in which he’s recorded three goals and an assist. That’s not exactly outstanding, but it’s not bad either. At the very minimum, Götze has done enough to deserve more looks at center forward, especially with Paco Alcacer struggling.
Dan-Axel Zagadou: Nice
The emergence of Big Zag as an all-around great defenseman has perhaps been the season’s most pleasant surprises. Manager Lucien Favre kept Zagadou on the bench for much of the early portion of the season, but ever since Favre switched to a back three, Zagadou has turned into a key member of the squad. While his performances haven’t been perfect, and he can be overhyped at times, it’s hard to deny that he’s the real deal. He seems to have everything you want from a defender: he can distribute the ball well, he’s quick, he can win tackles, and he can even occasionally connect on a corner kick.
Manuel Akanji: Naughty
I feel bad for Akanji. I think that he was unfairly maligned during the first few months of the season, when problems within Dortmund’s system isolated him and frequently put him in difficult defensive positions. Ever since Favre switched to the 3-4-3, he’s been right up there with Zagadou and Hummels in terms of his defensive performances, but he hasn’t gotten the recognition that the other two have gotten.
Santa might be buying into the Zagadou-stanning that you frequently see on Twitter and Reddit, in which every positive defensive outcome is accredited to Zagadou or Hummels, and every negative defensive outcome is accredited to Akanji.
Mats Hummels: Nice
Mats Hummels has not only been one of BVB’s best players, but he’s been one of the best players in the entire Bundesliga. His calmness on the ball, expert tackling, and veteran presence have more than made up for the lack of pace that had many people worried about whether he’d be successful with Dortmund. He’s been so strong, in fact, that Deutsche Welle included him in their Bundesliga XI of the season:
Nico Schulz: Naughty
It’s difficult to argue that Nico Schulz isn’t the most disappointing of all the summertime arrivals. While it was assumed when he arrived that he would become a mainstay of Dortmund’s lineup at left back, Schulz’s first few months with Borussia Dortmund have been marred by injuries and inconsistent play. While playing as a wingback under a 3-4-3 should theoretically loosen Nico Schulz’s defensive responsibilities, such a system also benefits other players like Raphael Guerreiro, who would have more of an offensive upside.
In addition to defensive instability, he’s been almost nonexistent on offense, with only 0.09 expected assists through 556 minutes of game time. For those interested in the math, that adds up to 0.01 expected assists per ninety minutes. For comparison, Raphael Guerreiro and Achraf Hakimi have 0.11 and 0.23, respectively.
Achraf Hakimi: Nice
Achraf Hakimi is quickly turning into one of the best young fullbacks in the world, and one of the most crucial players in the squad in general. He featured in all but one match in the Bundesliga during the Hinrunde, and racked up two goals and six assists in doing so. His performances in the Champions League were even better, with four goals in six appearances. His ridiculous pace, crossing, and offensive prowess has become so valuable that he’s even been used on the wing when Dortmund’s forwards have been in poor form.
Raphael Guerreiro: Naughty
Guerreiro is having a quiet year. With a glut of quality wingers above him on the depth chart, Guerreiro has mostly been relegated to his old position at left back. His offensive numbers have suffered as a result, with his expected goals and assist rates being the lowest they’ve been since he arrived in Dortmund. He’s shouldered a greater share of defensive responsibilities. Unfortunately, this is also the weakest area of his game, which means he’s been a liability more often than not on defense.
Lukasz Piszczek: Nice
With Achraf Hakimi solidifying his position in the first eleven, Lukasz Piszczek has adopted more of a hybrid role, occasionally taking Hakimi’s place at right back or joining the back three as the right-most center back. I’m not going to pretend that he hasn’t shown his age a little bit, but he’s performed admirably when playing. Most of his numbers are still better than Nico Schulz’s, believe it or not.
Roman Bürki: Nice
When the season began, it was questionable whether Bürki would continue his excellent form from last season, or if he would revert to his poor form from his first couple years in Dortmund. Luckily for Dortmund, Bürki has proven that his performances last season were no fluke. In the worst of defensive performances this year, Bürki has single-handedly kept Dortmund in games, and has cemented his status as one of the best keepers in the Bundesliga, and the heir to BVB legend Roman Weidenfeller.
Marwin Hitz: Nice
Marwin Hitz has only made four appearances this season: three starts and one substitution. Across those four starts, he gave up one goal, and that was in Dortmund’s victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach in October. You can’t really ask for more, can you?
Do you agree with Santa Claus’s assessments? If not, are you prepared to get coal for Christmas yourself? Leave your thoughts below.