For Borussia Dortmund fans watching Sunday’s Round of 16 match between Portugal and Belgium in EURO 2020, a pair of familiar faces found the scoresheet. It was BVB’s Thorgan Hazard who scored the decisive goal in Belgium’s 1-0 victory over defending champions Portugal. Another Borusse, Thomas Meunier, found his BVB compatriot with a quick pass before Hazard unleashed a Robben-esque curler that found the top corner of the net. The goal lifted Belgium over the reigning European and Nations League champions. Belgium have once again punched their ticket to a quarterfinal of a major tournament, as this golden generation looks to build upon their 2018 World Cup third place finish in Russia.
The goal capped off what has been a surprising tournament for both Hazard and Meunier. Both players struggled this past season for Borussia Dortmund, whether due to injuries or poor form, and due to a lack of transfer activity will need to improve if BVB are to find success next year. Fortunately, their performances with Belgium are encouraging. The question that remains is how to make sure that form carries over to the club season.
Club Seasons to forget
Both Hazard and Meunier had seasons to forget for Die Schwarzgelben, despite the success of the club overall. After a strong first season with Dortmund, Hazard was never really able to get going this time around, having gone down injured in the season opening match against his former club Borussia Mönchengladbach. Hazard would then return only to be forced back into the medical room six weeks later, and was out of action until late February. By the time he got fully up to full speed once again, the club season was over. With Sancho looking likely to depart for Manchester United anytime now, a healthy and confident Hazard heading into next season is vital to Dortmund’s success.
On the other hand, while Thomas Meunier was relatively healthy all season for the black and yellow brigade, he just wasn’t very good. A free transfer signing from Paris Saint-Germain, it was always going to be difficult for Meunier to replace Achraf Hakimi on the right hand side. Hakimi and Sancho seemingly shared a brain on the right side of attack, with Hakimi’s pace and finishing serving as the perfect complement to the English wing wizard. However, Meunier and Sancho struggled not only to create, but also in former coach Lucien Favre’s intricate build-up play. Dortmund struggled early in the season to progress the ball and many Bundesliga clubs were setting up tactically to force the ball to Meunier before applying their press. This tactic worked well for many clubs with Meunier failing to connecting with his teammates, and BVB endured a difficult (start to the) season. Even a change in formation did not seem to help Meunier, and with new Coach Marco Rose coming in, Meunier’s role will most likely look different once again.
Marco Rose’s fullback play
Meunier’s struggles for Dortmund last year were hopefully just a bad season, but if he wants to play for Rose, he is going to need to step up his game. While Rose is tactically flexible, he seems to have his favorite concepts just like any coach has. After watching a lot of Gladbach games over the past two seasons, the role of Stefan Lainer for Die Fohlen should not be overlooked. Lainer is not the flashiest fullback, but he has a high motor and always seems to choose the right moment to go forward and provide width on the right side, something Meunier struggled to do this past season. Another staple of Rose’s philosophy are cut-back passes instead of crosses from the fullbacks, which is different than what Meunier usually provides for his country. Rose wants his fullbacks to get further up the pitch and play ground passes back towards the center of box for midfielders and strikers to tee up on goal. If Meunier wants to have any part in Dortmund’s team next season, he is going to have to figure out a way to adapt his game to what Rose wants. With the losses of both Lukasz Piszczek and Mateu Morey, it will be critical that Meunier adapt and step up this season.
Club over Country?
We know Meunier can play. He’s been doing it for Belgium for years. Sometimes a player just needs time to adapt, but given how well Meunier has performed for his national team, we should be expecting a better season from the Belgian. After all, Meunier has 8 goals and 14 assists in 43 starts for Belgium since he was first capped by the Red Devils. Not only that, but he has 1 goal and 2 assists in only 2 starts at the Euros this summer and has played well overall as the teams right wingback.
Hazard meanwhile has 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 starts at the summer’s biggest tournament, including the weekend match winner which was sublime. While playing as an unorthodox left wingback, Hazard’s work-rate on both the defensive and attacking ends is outstanding. He continually finds himself at the center of things and seems to always impress for his country despite being asked to play a different position. Hazard did play some wingback for Gladbach, and he even started the season at the spot for the injured Raphael Guerreiro until he himself went down. However, there just may be something to that position for both Hazard and Meunier that Rose may need to look at.
Change of Shape?
Perhaps Hazard and Meunier for Belgium offers Rose a roadmap for how best to use both Hazard and Meunier. A move to a back three could be very beneficial for Dortmund, as it was for several months under Favre. With Raphael Guerreiro on the left, Marco Rose already has one of the best wing backs in Europe at his disposal. If he can get Meunier to a similar level, then it would greatly bolster BVB’s attack and lessen the burden on Rapha. Hazard would most likely be able to play on the right, and when necessary can fill in on the left if Guerreiro is hurt or needs rest. This would then allow Meunier to play on the right giving Dortmund three quality players rotating the two positions. Felix Passlack would serve as the fourth option and while we know that he is limited, he can play on either side to the same effect.
Of course, a change in shape would also require more depth at center back. Manuel Akanji and Mats Hummels are great players, but Emre Can can only pinch in on occasion, and relying on Dan-Axel Zagadou to be healthy is never a good idea.
After such horrendous club seasons, it should only be seen as a positive that both Hazard and Meunier are having a strong Euros for Belgium. We know that both players have quality and could really bring something to the table, especially with Hazard. With Meunier, however, he still may struggle to fit into a Rose system and philosophy moving forward. Nonetheless, it is imperative that Rose find a way to use Meunier to his best ability because of the current lack of options on the depth chart. Should Meunier continue this great form, and with that poor season behind him, perhaps confidence will allow him to overcome any issues and be a productive player for BVB over the next few seasons. There is a lot riding on this, so hopefully we get the Belgium Meunier from now on.
Will Hazard and Meunier have strong campaigns this next club season?