It is no secret that long-time Borusse Raphael Guerreiro was underwhelming with his performances last season. He was often injured, and when fit he was mediocre, and a far cry from the form that put him in the conversation with some of the best left-backs in world soccer. This summer, a slurry of rumors has involved the generation of funds to bring in Hoffenheim speedster David Raum. Axing Guerreiro would open the door for his direct replacement and is seen by many as the chance to complete a defensive revamp following years of mediocrity at the back.
How could the team be so quick to part with their second longest-serving player, one who has delivered world-class performances and, at 28, is entering the prime of his career? Why should Guerreiro be shown the door so quickly after a so-so season when other players in the team have been equally inconsistent?
This argument holds water as well.
Let’s take a look at the Guerreiro debate from a few angles and see if the right answer is in there somewhere.
This would not be a very reputable journalistic argument if it did not start with the data.
Because Guerreiro has played so many seasons in Black and Yellow, there is plenty to work with; I will be using stats comparing Guerreiro against other Bundesliga left backs over the years because that data is available. Raum by comparison only has one season in the Bundesliga, and while it was by all accounts an excellent one, it is worth bearing his relative lack of experience in mind when comparing him to a veteran player like Guerreiro.
Guerreiro has never been the most resolute defender, but his contributions going forward generally made up for shaky work at the back. This past season felt worse at both ends of the pitch, but that may be because the work at the back was just so so bad.
In Guerreiro’s defensive contributions, the reading is bleak. The 3rd percentile for pressures and 10th for clearances is unacceptable at the level Dortmund needs. This supports the argument that Guerreiro is apathetic in defense, doing a poor job closing down his man and getting stuck in. This particular instance against Leverkusen comes to mind.
Guerreiro was not even in the same zip code as Leverkusen on this play, and he made almost no effort to change that. Instances like these have Dortmund fans ready to part ways with the full back, regardless of his offensive prowess. In past seasons, the numbers have not read much better, even in 2019-2020 when Guerreiro and Achraf Hakimi ran the show in the Bundesliga. It is worth noting that looking solely at the stats, Guerreiro’s defensive contributions have actually been somewhat consistent during his time at Dortmund, but he has fallen in the percentiles because the level of play in the league has increased due to players like David Raum.
Raum by comparison has somewhat more favorable numbers in the defensive half.
The German full back makes it up to the 42nd percentile for aerials won and 39th for pressures, but those are still not show-stopping returns; more than half of Bundesliga full backs are outperforming him. Statistically, he performed worse than Guerreiro in both tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes.
Guerreiro’s ball progression and offensive stats were excellent when compared to other players in his position, especially being in the 97th percentile for passes completed and 83rd for key passes.
Raum meets and exceeds Guerreiro’s offensive outputs in almost all categories for the past season, only falling short in completed dribbles. His cross and assist outputs are astounding, and he even beats out Guerreiro’s second-best stat, key passes.
Style and Fit
Both Guerreiro’s and Raum’s numbers from last season highlight a key difference between the two; their offensive contribution style. Guerreiro was at his best for Dortmund when he and Jadon Sancho linked up on the left side of the field, using intricate interplay to isolate and confuse opponents. This is reflected in his 95+ percentile for completed passes over the last four years, and his high dribble success rate. Raum, by comparison, uses his pace to maraud forward and beat defenders into space, allowing him to swing crosses into the box. Guerreiro has never come close to the kind of crossing output of Raum because that is not his play style.
What is important to determine here is which style will better suit the team Edin Terzic is building, starting with the players who will be looking to smash home chances. Sebastien Haller is a power forward. His strength, aerial prowess, and keen attacking positioning get the ball in the back of the net.
Looking at this goal (yes, this goal), David Raum seems the better fit for a striker like Haller, who will be eager to receive high-quality crosses. In many of Haller’s highlights, he gets the ball into the back of the net by crashing the box and finding the ball, whereas Guerriero often labors on the ball, waiting to beat a man and forcing the players in the box to wait for his service.
This season, Terzic may choose to run a two-striker system with a combo of Haller, Malen, or Adeyemi up front. These players will want to be in and around the box, meaning if Guerreiro wants a player to interchange with, it will force Reus out of the center or Bellingham too far up the field.
Should Terzic field a three-man attack, Guerreiro will be exchanging with Donyell Malen, who likewise will be more interested in cutting inside and getting behind defenders than using tight pass exchanges with the Portuguese in wide areas.
Either way you cut it, Guerreiro may not find a system that favors his attacking game in 2022/2023.
Beyond the Statistics
Numbers tell a lot in sports, but not everything. Things like experience, consistency, and club culture are also important in personnel decisions. Beyond their performances on the pitch, what makes each of these players fit to wear black and yellow?
After Marco Reus, Guerreiro is Dortmund’s longest serving player. Arriving from FC Lorient in 2016, Guerreiro was meant to ease the load on an aging Marcel Schmelzer and join an increasingly French contingent at BVB. Guerreiro was not immediately successful, missing large chunks of the 16/17 and 17/18 seasons to injury. He was often frustrated playing left-back instead of in the midfield and made as much clear to his coaching staff, tempted by a move to PSG which promised him a new role. Still, Guerreiro remained loyal to BVB, deputizing at left back and left wing-back under numerous coaches, next to a variety of center-backs, and throughout SIX tumultuous seasons.
In several of those seasons, Guerreiro has been one of Dortmund’s finest players, and even occasionally in the conversation for best in the world. Never mind the statistics, the Portuguese playmaker is a class act on the ball and has shown over the course of his career that his technical ability is a cut above.
Raphael Guerreiro only scores beautiful goals pic.twitter.com/hfSmmGAWsq— GOAL (@goal) September 22, 2021
He is decorated for Portugal as well, winning a Euro tournament and making the left-back position his own. For his club, he has shown long-term commitment, moving his family to Dortmund and putting his children in school near the club. In an era where Dortmund has oft been seen as a stepping stone, Guerreiro has made it his home.
My colleague Patrick Morrison put together a thoughtful article on the way Dortmund treats its players, and some might argue that forcing Guerreiro out of the club would be the most egregious treatment yet. Still, his behavior off the pitch cannot always be used to justify what he shows on the pitch which, this season, was not good enough.
Bringing in David Raum is a no-brainer from a chemistry standpoint for Borussia Dortmund. Niklas Sule and Nico Schlotterbeck will form the core of defense in Die Mannschaft for years to come, and Raum will likely line up with them for the foreseeable future. The opportunity to bring another German national to the team is great for branding, chemistry, and the long-term success of the current squad. Raum has consistently expressed his desire to join BVB this summer, and it was clear from the images out of the national team training camp that he is plenty chummy with the BVB representatives. His style is also well suited to the squad and BVB’s new forwards.
Raum could be the player Dortmund thought they were getting in Nico Schulz; a capped international who could secure the left side of the defense and get involved in attack. It is worth remembering, though, how that worked out. Raum is a similar style of player to Schulz and has less experience in the Bundesliga than Schulz did when he arrived in 2018. This summer, BVB has seen just how poorly thought out that transfer was for the team. Bringing in Raum is no guarantee of success, and it could be short-sighted of BVB to boot one of their most loyal players in favor of something shiny and new when that could prove another costly, high-profile mistake. A move for Raum hinges on major departures to free up funds. Just this week, it was reported that a new slew of players has been offered a look at the exit sign.
If Dortmund can muster up the funds, Raum may well arrive this summer and shake up the defense.
It is yet to be seen whether the arrival of David Raum will spell the end for Guerreiro, or when his arrival may occur. The price tag of €35+ million is hefty for this year and would see the club break their transfer record twice in one summer. It is possible the club holds off until next year. Still, it is clear that in his current form, David Raum would elevate the level of play at Dortmund, and be a tremendous match for the style Edin Terzic is planning for a new-look BVB.
Dispatching with Guerreiro may not be the right move for BVB either, however. Maybe Raum’s arrival could lead to what we have all been hoping for, a chance for the Portuguese to play in the midfield. Whatever direction the board chooses to go, Raphael Guerreiro should not be disrespected after his years of service to the team, and dispatching him like a routine transfer after a poor season does no justice to what he has contributed during his tenure at BVB.