With Abdou Diallo’s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain official, Lucien Favre, Michael Zorc, and the Borussia Dortmund coaching staff will have to rethink the club’s plans for its defense. While Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji were, are, and will be BVB’s top defensive pairing, there are further ramifications for Dortmund’s back line at the center and on the left. Namely, it offers a significant opportunity for several defenders further down the depth chart to have a much larger impact on the upcoming season. This article will be a brief overview of BVB’s current standing on defense in the wake of Diallo’s departure, and what it means for each defender.
With Diallo jetting off to Paris, the position of “third-string” center back is more-or-less up for grabs. Both Manuel Akanji and Mats Hummels have had their fair share of injury troubles, so whoever takes up the role of primary backup will likely see a hefty helping of minutes. Exactly which player that will end up being doesn’t seem clear.
The most obvious candidates are Dan-Axel Zagadou and Julian Weigl. These were the two central defenders who saw the most minutes besides Akanji and Diallo last season. Outside of a few isolated shockers, both performed admirably when called upon. There are some rumors that Julian Weigl might be on his way out this summer, but assuming he actually sticks around, I would expect him to compete with Zagadou in this regard.
The other X-Factor at center back here is Leonardo Balerdi. Before Diallo left, many, including myself, expected Balerdi to go out on loan, an outcome which is still possible. However, Zorc’s willingness to sell Diallo for such a moderate price (€32 million) indicates that BVB might intend to send Balerdi into the fray sooner than previously thought. Balerdi wasn’t a cheap purchase (€15 million), and although 20 years is pretty young for a defender, it isn’t that young. I wouldn’t expect him to start over Zagadou or Weigl, but Diallo’s departure means that Balerdi might be more likely to stick around and start some matches against second-tier opponents in the Bundesliga and the Pokal.
Another position affected by Diallo’s absence will be the left back position. Nico Schulz will be BVB’s starting left back whenever fit, but when he’s out, the picture is a lot less clear. Achraf Hakimi and Dan Axel Zagadou both featured at left back last season. Unfortunately, neither are natural left backs, with their preferred positions being right back and center back respectively. Raphael Guerreiro can be a left back in a pinch, but just like the other two, he can be a defensive liability. With that in mind, another intriguing option would be to shift Manuel Akanji to the left, and have Zagadou, Toprak, or Balerdi fill in for him at center back.
This may seem strange, but it isn’t without precedent. While playing for the Swiss National Team, Akanji frequently shifts to left back while Switzerland are in possession, a tactic which is meant to give Ricardo Rodriguez carte blanche to press higher up the pitch. While BVB likely wouldn’t mirror this tactic identically, it does represent a potential option should one or more of Schulz, Hakimi, and Guerreiro go down or are forced to play elsewhere.
In summary, Abdou Diallo’s departure isn’t as serious as it may have seemed at first. Although he was a viable option at both center back and left back, BVB have several options in both positions. It will involve some rotation and innovative tactics, but BVB’s back line will be just fine come August.