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Midseason Roundtable Part 1: Grading BVB’s Defenders

We take a look at each defender’s performances this season.

Borussia Dortmund v SS Lazio: Group F - UEFA Champions League Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

While it’s not quite the midway point of the season, this is the closest we’re going to get to a winter pause, so I thought it would be a good time to conduct a brief overview of BVB’s performances so far.

Today, we’re going to look at Borussia Dortmund’s defenders who have received significant minutes this season, and assign them a letter grade based on their performances to date:

Mats Hummels

Paul: B+

I think Hummels has been pretty reliable throughout the first half of the season, though he has had one or two bad games. Any defensive howlers are cancelled out by the continued excellence in possession, and his recent run of goals.

Sean K: A-

Despite what certain pundits would have you think, Mats Hummels is about farthest from the cause of BVB’s concerns as you could possibly get. As bad as Dortmund’s results have been in the last month, they would be much worse if it weren’t for Hummels. There are very few CBs in the world who could handle Hummels’s duties in possession and distribution while also being responsible for leading a defensive line.

Mats’ defensive numbers are absurd. He’s won more than twice as many duels as any other BVB player (Emre Can), has recovered the most loose balls, is tied with Akanji for the most interceptions, and is second behind Emre Can in tackles that won possession. These metrics are more than enough to make up for the occasional mistake.

In summary, instead of looking at BVB’s defensive record and blaming it on Hummels, try to imagine what it would be like without him.

Sean M: A-

Aside from worrying about the health of his hamstring, Mats has been the rock of the team in the first half. His brace against Bielefeld bailed the team out when it looked like we were destined to drop points against another team at the bottom of the table. I honestly don’t know where the team would be without him.

Nick: B+

I’m in agreement with Paul regarding Mats; for as many good performances he has, he’s always due for an absolute stinker. He’s still the best defender on this team, and is a great voice along that backline. I just hope we don’t run him into the ground, as he has had a few minor injuries this season.

Manuel Akanji

Paul: A

Akanji has been one of BVB’s best players this season, in any position, probably only beaten by Guerreiro.

Sean K: A-

For all of Borussia Dortmund’s defensive struggles, it’s hard to deny that BVB have a pair of excellent center backs. Manuel Akanji looked like a lost cause last season, but his turnaround this season has been nothing short of miraculous. He went from looking like a deer in headlights to a confident and reliable contributor to BVB’s backline.

Sean M: B+

It looks like his hip problems are finally behind him, and he is back to being one of the fastest defenders in the league. It’s hard to remember that he is still very young, and at just 25, he has time to get even better. I feel he can be the best central defender in the Bundesliga in a year or two. It would be a shame to lose him to Liverpool in the January transfer window.

Nick: A-

I’ve been a big believer in Akanji, even during periods of poor play over the last two seasons. Ever since the COVID pandemic began and the Bundesliga restarted, Akanji has looked like a totally different player. He’s had a few lazy touches or dangerous passes, but he is still incredibly strong in defense and can dish out a sharp pass or two.

Emre Can

Sean K: B-

Emre Can is not a natural center back, and he’s unfortunately had a tendency to show this at various points in the season. He has a tendency to drift towards the corner while under pressure, which naturally pulls BVB backwards and invites the opposing teams to press higher. He hasn’t developed much chemistry with either Mateu Morey or Thomas Meunier, which was clearly visible during Dortmund’s defeat against Lazio in the Champions League.

What you can’t take away from Emre Can is his leadership on the pitch. He’s the one Borussia Dortmund player who seems to never let his chin slip no matter what happens. Listening to him bark orders left and right on the pitch has made me realize his impact on the rest of the squad. You only have to look at what happened against Stuttgart: Favre subbed him off while the score was 2-1, and BVB almost immediately fell apart.

Sean M: C+

I love the intensity that Can plays with. He came to BVB in search of playing time at centre-back, with hopes of making the Germany squad for the upcoming Euros. While he is serviceable in that spot, I feel his intensity is missed in the midfield. His desire to play further up the field has been a liability for much of the season. Aside from his forward run against Hertha, which led to Haaland’s first goal, his forward play has been inconsistent. Far too often, he gives the ball away with a poor pass and then is out of position.

Nick: C+

I love what he brings to the squad with his intensity and his toughness. Unfortunately, I think that passion, plus his mobility and defensive positioning, is being wasted in central defense, when it can instead be used in central midfield. Even with pushing Can into the backline, he’s been OK, but sometimes ventures into over-aggressive with his play.

Thomas Meunier

Paul: C+

Meunier has had his struggles since joining Borussia Dortmund, but those issues seem to be related to the position he plays. At RB Meunier is solid, but at RWB he is poor. I think there is still a debate to be had about whether Meunier is good enough, but when he is playing at RB, I think he is at least a decent option.

Sean K: C

With the way the fanbase described Meunier’s start to the season, you’d think he was the single worst player to ever exist, and the sole reason behind BVB’s lack of success. However, his subsequent injury, after which BVB’s form only got worse, has sucked the air out of this theory. Dortmund fans got used to Achraf Hakimi’s electric play, so the transition to a 6’3” defense-first right back was always going to be tough for the fans to swallow. Unfortunately, Meunier arrived right at a time when BVB needed an offensively-minded full back, and he’s been unable to fill into this role. I think he’d succeed in another system, but for now he just looks out of place.

Sean M: C-

The scapegoat. Meunier is not a wing-back. While he does run his ass off every minute he is on the pitch, he is better suited in the role of right-back vs at wing-back. I think the team’s drop in form was more related to the hectic schedule than his absence. If he is allowed to play in his natural position in the second half, I think we will get a better glimpse of who he truly is as a player. Expecting him to be a one for one swap for Hakimi is unrealistic, and BVB fans would be good to remember he isn’t that type of player.

Nick: C-

He’s the scapegoat, but it’s not like he isn’t deserving of some criticism. He’s played out of position as a wing-back, but he also hasn’t played great as a full-back. He isn’t the attacking dynamo like Hakimi, but he still needs to improve his passing and crossing when he’s in the opponent’s defensive third. He’s been fine at defending, and Dortmund’s form dropped considerably when he was out with an injury.

Mateu Morey

Paul: C-

Based on performance and contribution to the team, Morey has been below the standard required for a BVB fullback (and the standard set by Hakimi last season). But if we’re factoring in his age and his development, he is getting good minutes and has shown some promise. The potential long-term value of a young player’s development means I’m willing to be a little more forgiving of Morey’s performances so far.

Sean K: C-

I’ll give Morey a bit of slack because he’s still young, but otherwise, it’s hard to find much to be pleased with. Going from Achraf Hakimi, an offensive dynamo, to Mateu Morey, has been about as clear a downgrade as you could imagine. His offensive output has been nonexistent, with no goals or assists in 400 minutes in the Bundesliga and Champions League. Defensively he’s okay, but that’s simply not enough in modern football if you aren’t chipping in on offense, especially from a full back.

Sean M: D

I was a bit disappointed by the limited amount of playing Morey received at the beginning of the season, especially after the strong performances he put in at the tail end of last year. His minutes have increased as of late, but his performances leave a lot to be desired. He loses his man far too often in defense and tends to get sucked into the middle of the pitch in the attack. I feel his pace could benefit Sancho if he can stay wide during build-up play.

Nick: C-

After months of no Mateu Morey, we’ve finally gotten to see him play. And he’s been... blah. He doesn’t really do anything that makes him stand out, and more often than not doesn’t contribute offensively. He also isn’t a defensive specialist. I’ve expected more from him, but it seems misplaced now.

Felix Passlack

Paul: C

Passlack has had some good moments, but at other times he has looked totally out of his depth. He needs to show his best on a more consistent basis if he is to have any hope of being a part of this BVB squad in the future.

Sean M: C-

It was good while it lasted. His play at the beginning of the season was a pleasant surprise. When Hazard went down against BMG, I thought we were screwed, but Passlack held down the left wing-back spot well. I think he is a decent role player but is limited in what he can do. His performance against Koln was a disaster. With that being said, I’d take him over Schulz anytime.

Nick: C

Fine, not terrible. He’s been serviceable when called upon, but doesn’t blow anyone away. He’s good depth, and that’s ok.

Raphaël Guerreiro

Paul: A+

I think Guerreiro is the player of the season so far (not including Haaland, due to limited minutes). Guerreiro offers an incredible combination of ball progression (leading the league for progressive passes), chance creation (top five in the league for passes into the penalty area and key passes, top ten for xA/90, and just outside the top ten for shot-creating actions), and goal threat (chipping in with a couple shots per game and 0.21 xG/90). These numbers, independent of each other, are really good, but taken together? They’re incredible. I am not convinced there are many (if any) left backs in the world that are better.

Sean K: A

Aside from Erling Haaland, Raphael Guerreiro has arguably been BVB’s best player. He leads the team in assists, and is third in shot-creating actions (which includes dribbles, progressive passes, and shot attempts), despite often starting as a left back in a back four. You might expect his offensive to production to come at the expense of defensive stability, but this just isn’t the case.

Sean M: B

This rating may be a bit harsh, seeing as Rafa was one of our better players most of the season. However, he has had a few mental lapses lately. I feel these are attributed mainly to exhaustion/fatigue. He has always been excellent in the attack but has made several mental errors in the defensive third as of late. A player of his ability needs to be smarter with his passes while playing out of the back.

Nick: A

I’m not the only one to call him one of the best players on the squad. He’s such a dynamic player when in the attack, despite starting as a left-back/left wing-back... which doesn’t usually happen. He could improve in defense ever so slightly, but otherwise there’s not much else he could to improve.