There are several reasons why Dortmund need to sign another center back, mostly because of the current squad depth in the position. At the end of the 2020/21 season, Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji were the only fit players for the position, and with the beginning of the new season, that is still the case. While Emre Can has filled in admirably, the German is not naturally a center back and continuing to expect him to play the position at a high level is, in this writer’s opinion, not a wise course of action.
The bigger reason for Dortmund to sign a new center back, however, is Thorgan Hazard.
After a difficult season where Hazard found himself more often on the injury table than the field, Hazard lit up Euro 2020 with several excellent performances at left wing back. The Belgian tucked away one of the best goals of the tournament, and looked sharp after a long spell getting fit. But what does Thorgan Hazard have to do with center back?
Let’s dig a little.
Hazard arrived at Dortmund in the summer of 2019 following their failure to secure the title in the dying embers of the season. Hazard brought experience and the potential to replace Christian Pulisic, whose departure had left a hole in the squad despite his waning influence toward the end of his black and yellow tenure. Primarily used as a winger or center forward during his time at Borussia Monchengladbach, Hazard has frequently been deputized at left wing back for the Belgian national team to great effect. At Dortmund, the predominantly right-footed Hazard has been shuffled around the field, filling in on either wing, as a number 9, and even a few central midfield appearances as a substitute. Hazard has relied on quick feet and a cunning understanding of the game rather than raw pace or physical prowess to dominate. Who else in the Dortmund squad fits this profile?
Guerreiro has been one of the standout performers in Black and Yellow the last several seasons, cementing his place on the left flank and terrorizing the opposition in the process. Guerreiro has the ability to add that extra something to a forward progression, providing an outlet for midfielders to escape the press, or an option for goal when marauding in at the top of the box. Despite being on the smaller side, he has established himself as one of the best fullbacks in the world.
Where are we going with this, Zac?
Dortmund need to sign another center back in this transfer window so that Marco Rose can field a functional three-back, allowing Thorgan Hazard to become a full time right wing back. Take a second to think about how much sense that makes.
Dortmund were flying as high as can be under Lucien Favre when Achraf Hakimi and Raphael Guerreiro were playing in wing back roles. Hakimi’s blistering place and Guerreiro’s trickery meant that when Dortmund overloaded the attack, there were too many bodies to cover and many defenses could not cope. The arrival of Thomas Meunier in place of Hakimi saw this system stutter, and Favre quickly reverted back to more traditional back 4. Due to the inconsistency at right back, Jadon Sancho became isolated from the attack and his contributions diminished. Many accused the Englishman of being out of form at the beginning of last season, but in fact he was unable to score goals because he needed to carry the ball up the field from defensive zones; with Hakimi, Sancho received the ball closer to the opposition’s goal. Edin Terzic noticed this inefficiency and moved Sancho in front of Guerreiro on the left. Just like that, the Englishman began to deliver. Gio Reyna was shuffled out the right in his place, and the young American’s form immediately stuttered.
Moving Thorgan Hazard into Hakimi’s former role would have several positive outcomes both for the player and the system. For Thorgan himself, an assignment at right wing back would finally give the Belgian a permanent place on the field. For two seasons Hazard has been shifted all across the lineup, making it difficult to create rhythm with his teammates and find consistent form. A permanent place on the field is what Hazard needs to become an integral member of the Dortmund squad. For the system, Hazard would provide a more creative outlet on the right, similar to what Guerreiro does on the left. Instead of trying to replicate Hakimi, Hazard can create interplay in the same way Guerreiro does on the left, bringing the ball into attacking zones and exchanging with the attackers.
On Friday Marco Rose fielded a 4-4-2 diamond against Bologna FC, and has spoken about his desire to develop Gio Reyna into more of a box-to-box midfielder. With the signing of Donyell Malen, a striker, to replace Jadon Sancho, the writing is on the (yellow) wall; Rose is going to bring this Dortmund team forward without wingers. This puts Hazard in a sticky position.
The Belgian is too good to ride the bench, but his role in the team is being evaporated. In order to bring width and creativity into the wide areas, Dortmund need Hazard to fill the right wing back role. Hazard will help maximize space in a narrow formation and progress the ball better than Thomas Meunier would. Hazard also has enough experience in the position with his national team to be prepared for defensive efforts required. With three center backs behind him, he would have the freedom to contribute at the back and work creatively with the attackers like he does for Belgium.
Dortmund need to move Hazard into this new role, and to do so they must sign another center back for the coming season. Even with a fully fit defense, the likes of Nnamdi Collins and Soumaila Coulibaly are not yet ready for extended time in the starting eleven, and Dan-Axel Zagadou cannot be counted on to keep fit. Dortmund have been linked to both Jeremiah St. Juste of Mainz 05 and Merih Demiral of Juventus FC during this transfer window. As August creeps into frame, hopefully new boss Marco Rose will spare a thought for Thorgan Hazard and plea to the board for another center back before the end of the month.