We are one week into the January transfer window now, and all those clubs with wads of cash burning holes in their pockets have been hard at work trying to spend as much of it as possible. Of course, it’s not just the super-rich that are desperately trying to get business done over the next month; it’s also everyone that has had a bad first half of the season and is in need of reinforcements to try and fix the mess they are in. This brings us to Borussia Dortmund.
BVB have been a massive disappointment so far this season, and it is in part due to a distinct lack of quality at multiple positions. As a consequence, Dortmund now sit in fifth place, six points off RB Leipzig in fourth, and at real risk of missing out on the Champions League next season. If they are going to rescue this season, BVB’s squad will need to improve.
I have put together a list of four areas that I think are of particular need for BVB, and identified players that I believe are (mostly) realistic targets for addressing those needs in this transfer window. These targets are inevitably drawn from the leagues I know best, and I would hope that the Dortmund scouts have a much more extensive knowledge of world football’s talents than I do. Nonetheless, here is a shortlist of areas that BVB need to improve, and targets to help them do so.
Full-Back (Priority: High)
Borussia Dortmund’s biggest weakness is at full-back. Not only are their full-backs probably the weakest position group in the team, but Julian Ryerson’s injury and Ramy Bensebaini heading to the African Cup of Nations means the position is also extremely light. I think you could easily make the case that BVB should be looking to buy two new full-backs in this transfer window, but I think they can get away with buying just one for now, as long as he is capable of playing on either flank.
BVB are reportedly close to signing Chelsea’s Ian Maatsen on loan, though it is unclear if there will be any option to make the deal permanent. Either way, I think that would be a solid move. The Dutch full-back is just 21 years old, and has come through the ranks at Chelsea, enjoying successful loan spells at Coventry and Burnley in the last two seasons. Although Maatsen is primarily a left-back, he has seen playing time on both flanks, and has often been deployed on the right wing for Chelsea this season. Maatsen is comfortable with the ball at his feet, and would provide some much-needed ball progression from the full-back position. Given his age and profile, I think he has the potential to develop in to the long-term successor to Rapha Guerreiro (if the move is made permanent).
If the Maatsen move falls through, they could do worse than looking to the Championship and going for Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters. Walker-Peters is a fantastic all-rounder that can play on either side, is a plus defender, and is able to either attack out wide or invert and provide support in midfield. Like Maatsen, KWP offers some much-needed ball progression from full-back, whether carrying the ball up the pitch or passing it, and he’s a solid creative threat once the ball is in the final third as well. I think he is better than Maatsen right now, because he is a better defender and a more complete player overall, but at 26 years old there is unlikely to be any room for growth.
As a Southampton fan, I’d very much like KWP to stay at St. Mary’s, but I was shocked we held on to him in the summer, and will be just as shocked if he’s still in red and white by the end of this month. Walker-Peters should be playing in the Champions League, not in the Championship, and Borussia Dortmund could do a lot worse than going and getting him for somewhere between €20-30 million.
Winger/Wide Forward (Priority: High)
Even though he has never been particularly highly thought of by the fans, losing Donyell Malen this month would leave BVB extremely light on shots, and without a decent chunk of ball progression from wide areas. The wide forwards are an area of need whether Malen leaves or not, thanks to Karim Adeyemi’s struggles this season, but losing Malen would only exacerbate the problem.
I think that some of Malen’s contributions can be picked up by Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, but he’s still pretty raw and I think it would be asking too much of him to produce week-in, week-out at this stage in his career.
However, Dortmund have already moved to bring Jadon Sancho back on loan from Manchester United, and it seems like that deal is likely to be completed in the next few days. Sancho would help replace Malen, and address some of what has been missing from BVB’s lackluster offense this season. Even if Sancho comes back looking more like the Manchester United Sancho, he will still offer a lot of ball progression from the wing, something which BVB have been lacking, and he can provide a creative threat that should take some of the load off Julian Brandt. If he looks anything like the Jadon Sancho we saw at BVB a few seasons, he will be an offensive force that would be a match for anyone else in the Bundesliga.
Unfortunately, it also seems like Sancho’s move may just be a temporary solution. I would really like to see a buy option included in the deal, because an in-form Sancho could make a world of difference to this lackluster BVB offense, but at a minimum I’d be pleased to take the short-term fix.
Central Midfielder (Priority: Medium)
While I don’t see midfield as a high priority like the previous two positions, there isn’t a great deal of quality in the middle of the park. I don’t have a ton of confidence in either Emre Can or Salih Özcan, and while I do rate Marcel Sabitzer, I don’t think he’s the right profile of player for all of Dortmund’s needs in the middle right now. If reports about Nuri Sahin’s preference for a defensive midfielder that drops in between the center-backs are accurate, I think this could potentially help get Emre Can back to his excellent form in the second half of last season. While this was something he was doing a lot last term, it has been less of a feature this season.
Given the uncertainty about the defensive midfield role, maybe Dortmund should take a look at Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. At 28, Højbjerg probably won’t be a long-term solution, but it has been reported that Spurs are looking to sell the Danish midfielder, and he is versatile enough that he could work in place of Emre Can or alongside him. Højbjerg can cover a lot of ground, is a solid physical presence in the middle of the park, and he contributes a good amount of ball progression when in possession. Having that kind of profile would give BVB options. When BVB need more defensive cover than Sabitzer can offer, Højbjerg would be a good option without creating a massive weakness in midfield in possession, and when BVB would benefit from a little more dynamism in possession without giving up tons of defensive effort, he’d work well in Can’s place alongside Sabitzer.
I have tried to be as realistic as possible with this list, but that becomes increasingly difficult when trying to find good, affordable midfielders that could improve this team right now. If Dortmund want to fix this team, they may have to spend the money, and if they’re willing to do that, they should look at Monaco’s Youssouf Fofana.
Fofana is a bit more offensively minded than Højbjerg. He is excellent at ball progression, and he has added a little more of a threat in the final third this season, which has really rounded out his game. He covers a ton of ground both in and out of possession, and while he tends to operate as the more offensive option in a double pivot, I think he has the skillset to be the defensive option if needed. While I recognize that Fofana is probably a bit of a fanciful target, he is just 24 years old and would immediately improve BVB’s midfield a lot. He’s valued at €28 million by Transfermarkt, but I’m sure Monaco would be asking for a lot more than that. I suspect there would also be lots of competition for Fofana’s signature, so Dortmund would have to make Monaco and Fofana a good offer. But maybe this team can’t be fixed on the cheap?
Center-Back (Priority: Low)
While I view center-back as less of a priority for Dortmund, I think they should be looking around to see if there are any deals to be made. While Hummels has been not only their standout defender but arguably their best player this season, they cannot rely on a 35-year-old to just keep being world class. BVB have also been relatively lucky with injuries this season, which has meant that Süle hasn’t been getting as much playing time as he would like. But I’m not sure how long that will last, especially with the aforementioned old man playing so often. A young center-back could help bolster the backline now, with an eye for the future too.
One option that I would like to see Dortmund enquire about is Lens’s Kevin Danso. Danso has been one of the best center-backs in Ligue 1 since joining Lens from Augsburg in 2021, and was a big part of Lens finishing 2nd in the league last season. The Austrian defender is an impressive athlete, is great with the ball at his feet, and his defensive timing is excellent. He tends to play in the middle of a back three for Lens, but I think he could slot in on either side in a two for BVB. At 25 years old, he’s not really a prospect, but he’s valued at €22 million by Transfermarkt, and I think he’d be good enough to compete with Dortmund’s other center-backs. The fact he’s comfortable in a back three would also give BVB some flexibility if they wanted to change things up.
Another center-back that would afford BVB a little more flexibility is Chelsea’s Trevoh Chalobah. Chalobah is looking to leave Chelsea this month, and he’d work as a good depth piece for Dortmund at both center-back and defensive midfield. Chalobah is a more aggressive defender than Danso, and he’s equally adept, if not more so, in possession. Like Danso, he’s likely to be relatively cheap (valued at €18 million by Transfermarkt and Chelsea are looking to get players off the books). The only problem for BVB would be convincing any center-back to come to Dortmund and compete with three other guys for a starting spot.
So, what do you think Dortmund should be looking to do in the January transfer window? And who do you have in mind?