When the deal that sent Jadon Sancho to Manchester United was finally completed, many Borussia Dortmund fans were naturally curious to learn how the club would replace him. Sancho was one of BVB’s most effective attacking threats over the past three seasons, and the club would need to find a replacement if they had any chance of succeeding in the Bundesliga, Champions League, or DFB Pokal. BVB’s front office got off to a decent start by signing Donyell Malen from PSV Eindhoven, but after the potential loan deal for Callum Hudson-Odoi fell through at the last minute BVB closed up shop, apparently satisfied with the offense as is.
The squad that remains is mostly comparable to last season, although Donyell Malen is a pretty clear downgrade from Jadon Sancho. This means that if Dortmund are to improve on last year’s goal tally, they will need to improve either with a better coaching system, or through players growing to their potential. While the jury is still out on Marco Rose and his system, there are a few players whose performances could either push BVB over the top to a major trophy, or sink them back to the days of Peter Bosz and Peter Stoger. No player encapsulates this more than Gio Reyna.
The young American is entering his third season with Borussia Dortmund’s first-team squad, although it’s only his second where he’s expected to see significant minutes on the pitch. He’s going to turn 19 in November and while he’s still remarkably young in the grand scheme of things, Dortmund can’t afford to relegate him to a passing role. With the departure of Jadon Sancho, and a new system that demands skilled, ball-moving central midfielders, Gio Reyna’s importance to the squad is greater than ever. His minutes demonstrate this fact, having already played more than 200 minutes while starting all three matches in the Bundesliga so far.
While the sample size is admittedly small, Reyna’s performances have thus far been promising. He already has two goals to his name. His second goal, which came against Hoffenheim, demonstrated his ability to control the ball in tight areas under pressure and still get off a pinpoint shot:
His quick start doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be a breakout scorer this year; if you recall, Reyna started last season on a tear as well before going through a lengthy scoring drought. Furthermore, while scoring goals is always a bonus, we ultimately have plenty of players who are better finishers than Reyna. Instead, where Reyna will need to improve the most is in winning the ball either by intercepting or stripping it off the opposition, turning, and progressing the ball quickly to BVB’s attackers. These are the key ingredients to a successful counter-attack in football.
Of every player that’s played at least 90 full minutes, Gio is second on the team in successful pressures behind Jude Bellingham, second in successful dribbles, and third in progressive carries into the final third (all per 90 minutes). Even if he isn’t scoring at his current rate, if he’s still bringing these underlying fundamentals to the game, then his presence on the pitch will be valuable. These are some of the areas where Jadon Sancho most helped the team, so if Gio Reyna is able to come even close to replicating his success in these areas, then the club will have a much better chance of winning a trophy this season.
Whenever there’s an American in the Bundesliga, I feel very wary of falling into the trap of overstating their importance and quality. It’s pretty clear, though, that I’m not the only one who considers Reyna a vital player in the squad. The front office giving him the #7 following Sancho’s departure is a clear indication that they expect him to play more than just a complimentary role in the squad.