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Midseason Roundtable Part 2: Grading BVB’s Midfielders

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Borussia Dortmund’s midfielders have had some up and down performances this season.

Eintracht Braunschweig v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup: Second Round Photo by Mario Hommes/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 midfielders who have received significant minutes this season, and assign them a letter grade based on their performances to date:

Axel Witsel

Sean M: C+

Witsel is great at controlling the ball and being a safety outlet for anyone under pressure. The problem is he is extremely risk adverse. His first thought is to pass the ball backwards. This can be problematic when the ball needs to be pushed down the field. Too often this season he has decided against moving the ball forward and stalled the attack. At this point, it feels like he is a better bench option.

Paul: C

Witsel has been fundamental to BVB’s success in the last two seasons, but he has been pretty disappointing this season. Perhaps he just hasn’t found his groove, or the short turnaround in the summer has left him fatigued, but given Witsel’s age, it feels like we may have witnessed him dropping off.

Nick: C-

It looks like age and a short offseason have had an impact on Witsel. He’s great in ball retention in tight spaces, but he’s been below his standard in passing and defensive effectiveness. Perhaps some time off can positively impact him, but we’re reaching a point where BVB need to start looking for his replacement.

Jude Bellingham

Sean M: B+

What an amazing signing. At 17 he is already one of the best midfielders in the league. He has had a few poor performances, but that is expected due to his age. What impressed me the most is how he continued to grow into the team as the season progressed. Jude struggled in the first Inter match, being subbed off at halftime. You would expect a young player to take a while to bounce back after something like that, but Jude responded right away. His ability to handle adversity might be his best attribute. I expect big things from him in the future.

Paul: A-

I went into this season as probably the leader of the Jude Bellingham hype train, and my bold claim was that, by the end of the season, he would become a regular part of the rotation and would receive his first cap for England. He achieved both before Christmas, and he is already on the cusp of becoming a regular starter. I thought Bellingham’s ceiling was incredibly high before he joined BVB, but now I had a hard time placing any upper limit on what Bellingham can become.

Nick: B+

There isn’t much competition, but Jude has been the signing of the season so far. He plays like someone who isn’t in his first season of Bundesliga competition, and he’s one of the best central midfielders in the league at only 17 years old. He needs to become more consistent and learn to play better against midfield presses (his performance against Stuttgart highlights this), but he’s still playing at an incredibly high level in one of the best leagues in the world.

Thomas Delaney

Sean M: B-

He provides the tackling intensity that we seem to be lacking from our other midfielders at the moment. He does pick up quite a few cards but that is to be expected from a player of his ilk.

Paul: B-

Nick: B-

Same as Sean M; He’s a solid defensive presence in midfield, but doesn’t offer much else other than intensity... which isn’t a bad thing.

Julian Brandt

Sean M: D

The man without a position. I think part of his difficulties this season have been attributed to his continued rotation throughout the pitch. His best performances at Leverkusen came when he was deployed centrally. If he is going to play regularly in the second half of the season he should be deployed as an 8 or a 10. He is an awful 9 and looks too out of shape to play on the wing. That being said, he needs to work on controlling the ball better with his first touch and avoid getting too dribble happy in the final third. It’s time for him to play up to his ability.

Paul: D

Brandt has had a really tough time this season. It’s hard to spin it any other way. He isn’t being used in his optimal position generally, which doesn’t help, but he should still be able to contribute a lot more than he has so far. Hopefully, he can pick things up a little in the second half of the season, because there is no doubting the talent is there.

Nick: D

It’s been a rough season for Brandt. He hasn’t been a factor for the squad at all this season, underperforming whenever he’s on the pitch. He hasn’t been playing in consistent positions, and that’s hurt his confidence.

Mahmoud Dahoud

Sean M: N/A

From what I’ve seen from Mo this season he looks like he is coming into his own. Unfortunately, he has only played 260 minutes in the league. He seems to be limiting what the Yellow Wall Podcast guys call “Hollywood ball”, while still being aggressive with his passing. I hope to see more from Mo in the second half. I feel like he could be our X factor if he gets some consistent playing time.

Paul: B

Dahoud started the season really well, and it seemed as though he was starting to establish himself as a regular part of the squad rotation. However, he has since dropped back out of the lineup, and it isn’t entirely clear why. I think it’s possible that Dahoud is losing out to Bellingham, because they play a similar role in BVB’s midfield, but I still think Mo has plenty to offer. He’s a more cultured passer than Bellingham, and I think his defensive work tends to be a little more disciplined than Jude’s high-octane approach. I’d like to see him get more minutes. I think he still has something to offer.

Nick: B?

I haven’t seen enough of Dahoud to make a full judgement, but of what I have seen him play, I like it. He brings a controlled intensity to the field that is lacking (outside of Haaland, Can and Delaney), and his passing has improved considerably from when he was originally brought in in 2017. The fact that he didn’t see the field during this crazy stretch of games is troubling, but I hope he can see more minutes moving forward.