Although Borussia Dortmund has consistently dazzled the Bundesliga with brilliant offensive football over the past decade, its backline and overall defensive record have not. Sebastian Kehl took some steps in the right direction this autumn by massively bolstering the club’s depth at center back, with a resurgent Mats Hummels and a spirited Nico Schlotterbeck providing some stability to the shaky backline.
As it turns out, center backs are not all you need for a strong backline. BVB’s lack of depth at full-back forced Edin Terzic to deputize Niklas Süle at right back, leaving center-back depth unnervingly thin. Playing one of your marquee signings out of position immediately is not necessarily ideal, and as we saw in Qatar, Süle is not a fullback at heart. So with Thomas Meunier’s lackluster form for Belgium matching what he produced for BVB and Raphael Guerreiro’s contract seemingly coming to a close, who is going to play fullback for BVB come February and the summer? Some names have been thrown out by fans and some by the media, and Dortmund certainly cannot continue as they have been in perpetuity. So let’s take a look at the options and their viability from an economic, statistical, and stylistic perspective.
We shall start on the left.
Ramy Bensebaini - Borussia Monchengladbach: 0-5 million (up front)
Borussia Monchengladbach’s Algerian left-back has long been linked with a move to BVB. Marco Rose made an effort to sign the defender during his term as BVB head coach, and despite his departure, that interest never died down. Dortmund have seemingly been keeping close tabs on players with expiring contracts around Europe, and Bensebaini would be available on a free in the summer of 2023. Remember this typically leads to increased contract demands, but the deal is still likely to save Dortmund at least a bit of cash.
Bensebaini’s profile as a fullback is much different from that of Guerreiro. The Algerian has played a similar number of games to Guerreiro during his career. Still, while the Portuguese has produced 38 assists in his professional career, Bensebaini has only created FIVE goals at the top level. This indicates a different style of player, and it is telling that Fbref prompts me to either compare Bensebaini to left-backs or center-backs. Moving into defensive statistics, Bensebaini has nearly double Guerreiro’s outputs over his career, and in fewer matches played.
So clearly Bensebaini is a more defensive-minded player. The question is, how will Bensebaini’s lack of production affect the Dortmund attack?
Milos Kerkez - AZ Alkamaar: 15-20 million
The young Hungarian fullback is somewhat new to the scene, quickly making a name for himself in the Eredivisie. A product of AC Milan’s academy, Kerkez moved to AZ Alkmaar in search of playing time a year ago and has since made 22 appearances for the Dutch club, cementing his role as starting left-back. Kerkez is quick, with a keen eye for a tackle and the ability to get forward and provide crosses for a powerful striker. At only eighteen years of age, his ceiling is high, and a further few months in the Eredivisie would give him time to round out the rougher edges of his development before making the jump to a UCL-caliber club. Given his quickly rising stock and the dearth of left-backs in world football, Kerkez will not come cheap, and will only become a hotter commodity as time goes on. The Hungarian also has three years left on his contract, giving his club plenty of negotiating power.
#Leeds, #Leicester and #Bournemouth monitoring situation around Milos Kerkez at #AZAlkmaar. Big clubs have been watching him including #Atletico and #Dortmund. Good prospect https://t.co/OzHTtF6aQx. More on #SSN #TransferShow pic.twitter.com/OiopikWySE— Lyall Thomas (@SkySportsLyall) January 5, 2023
Alejandro Grimaldo - SL Benfica - 0-10 million (up front)
Grimaldo’s contract is expiring, and for BVB, that will probably at least get his name tossed around in the boardroom. Grimaldo seems to be the type of player who never reached the heights that were projected for him, and at 27 years of age, he should be considered in his prime. The Spaniard has spent a staggering seven years in Portugal with Benfica, but as his contract comes to a close, a new opportunity may be on the horizon. On paper, Grimaldo would be an improvement on Guerreiro; his defensive numbers are better, and he has put up more assists in his career. Still, moving from Liga NOS to the Bundesliga at this stage could prove challenging, and Grimaldo does not feel like a very different profile to the man he would replace.
What We’re Gonna Get: Bensebaini and Tom Rothe
Because of course we are, this is BVB after all. Bensebaini is a player the board has followed for a while, he is a poach from a Bundesliga rival, and will require no transfer fee. It is a veritable slam dunk when considering Dortmund’s favorite type of transfer.
Lutsharel Geertruida - Feyenoord: 15-20 million
Feyenoord’s right-sided full-back has been with them since his youth team days, turning out for their U17 and U19 teams after coming up through the ranks. Geertruida, 22, is beginning to come onto the radar of top teams, as his strong defensive performances have helped the Dutchman make a name for himself. Interestingly though, the stats do not show a defensively stout player. Despite playing in the third-best defense in the Eredivisie and having sixteen appearances, Geertruida has only won... nine tackles? He also has zero assists. That’s cause for caution, but his team is leading the league, so he’s doing something right, and stats do not always tell the full story. He has in fairness been playing primarily at CDM this season.
Dortmund could potentially benefit from a player with this type of positional versatility, especially if Mateu Morey can finally recover from his long-term injury. RNBVB threw cold water on this rumor in December, but with only a year left on Geertruida’s contract, expect Kehl to be keeping an eye out come June.
Josip Juranovic - Celtic: 20-25 million
Celtic’s Croatian full-back made waves in Qatar for his resolute defending and competent ball progression. The hype seems to have died down with the tournament’s conclusion, which gives teams like BVB time to do some legitimate scouting. The 27-year-old full-back is in his prime and coming off a fine run of form for both club and country. Visibility is high for the Croatian because of the World Cup, which would likely drive up any transfer fee. Still, as I write this, it seems he has nearly put pen to paper for a 7 million deal to move to Monza in Italy. Seems a surprise to me, as he probably could have courted a more lucrative move while his stock was hot.
Jeremie Frimpong - 40-50 million
Despite fans regularly acting like this is realistic for some reason, this is never happening, so I’m not going to address it.
What We’re Gonna Get
No idea. Probably? More Meunier.
So there you have it. In this writer’s opinion, It’s likely to be Ramy Bensebaini and Thomas Meunier next season. Options for full-backs have always been difficult to find at a reasonable price; why do you think Achraf Hakimi, who is arguably a better attacker than a defender, has already played for four of the world’s top teams? The defensive future of BVB will come down to how Terzic chooses to shape the style of the team. Will BVB modernize its approach, using an additional center-back or deeper holding midfielder to allow the fullbacks to provide service to the attack? Or, will Terzic push his wingers forward, and look to fullbacks like Bensebaini and Geertruida to stabilize a defense-first four-man backline? Terzic may choose the in-house option, pushing Wolf into a RWB role and depending on Bensebaini to be the third center back when Wolf is caught attacking. Whatever the case, expect the solution to be economical, practical, and a bit too late. This is BVB after all, and despite needing fullbacks now, chances are they will not arrive until the summer.
What style of fullback is best for BVB’s future? What rising stars did I miss? Let us know in the comments.