Match 64
Game Details
Match 63
Game Details

What is wrong at Dortmund? Unstable defence, injuries and lack of goals

In the space of a few weeks, Borussia Dortmund not only collapsed in the Bundesliga to turn a five-point lead at the top into a six-point deficit after losing 3-1 to Bayern this weekend, but have also all but crashed out of their Champions League group too.

What is wrong at the Westfalenstadion? And can the club turn the situation around?

Dortmund have not adjusted their system, they have continued to press high and allowed opponents to get behind the defence. Does coach Peter Bosz realise this will not end well?

Joining Dortmund after Thomas Tuchel's inevitable departure this summer, the Dutchman had not been the club's first-choice on a list which reportedly contained Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann and Lucien Favre of Nice.

But an excellent start in the Bundesliga saw the club go seven games without defeat and the signs were positive before a 3-2 loss to Leipzig on Oct. 14. Since then they've drawn with Frankfurt, lost to Hannover and Bayern, while also slumping to two Champions League draws against Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia that have killed their chances of qualifying.

Bosz has looked incredibly calm as the crisis unfolded in recent weeks, possibly because the former Ajax manager believes it's better to have one plan than to work on several and adjust formations, yet he doesn't seem to know how to fix the issues.

He has tried changing formations: against Bayern Munich he implemented a more defensive 4-2-3-1 formation, turning into a 4-4-2 with the ball as Shinji Kagawa joined Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front, yet it did not help.

For all the willingness to adapt against Bayern, Dortmund have also looked bad when sticking to their 4-3-3 formation. Holding midfielder Julian Weigl is forced to play in an uncomfortable role higher up the pitch and Aubameyang is robbed of his main weapon, his speed, with not much pitch left to exploit between him and the goal.

You mentioned the defence. How can a team concede 12 goals in only four games after letting in just two in seven?

Dortmund have struggled with injuries, especially in defence.

Dan-Axel Zagadou, 18, has been played as a makeshift left-back with both Marcel Schmelzer and Rapahel Guerreiro out. And in central defence, Bosz has put together several pairings and left them to chase opponents on the counter which has resulted in red cards for Sokratis Papastathopoulos, against Leipzig, and Zagadou against Hannover.

Summer signing Omer Toprak has yet to show why he cost €12 million this summer, and Spain international Marc Bartra has been shifted to right-back to cover for veteran Lukasz Piszczek, who is out for the year with a knee injury.

Jeremy Toljan, another summer signing, has not given any indication he should be starting regularly while Neven Subotic, returned to the starting formation at Frankfurt, has barely had a chance as Bosz has put no trust in his abilities. Without a stable back four, it's easy to see why goals are going in.

Omer Toprak
Dortmund have been on a poor run.

This might explain why BVB have conceded goals against the likes of Leipzig, Real, Tottenham and Bayern, but surely they must able to beat a side like APOEL? And anyway, what is wrong with Aubameyang?

Dortmund needed just over six shots per goal during their flying start to the season, but efficiency has dropped and they now average 8.6 shots per goal. They only convert 25 percent of their chances and Dortmund have struggled to create much in recent games, which they have also shown themselves to be over-reliant on Aubameyang's goal scoring.

The Gabon international has struggled for form since missing out on the 2018 World Cup with his country and, though he scored one goal in the 3-2 defeat to Leipzig, is now on a five-game drought. He was rested for the cup match against Magdeburg, where 18-year-old Alexander Isak made a case for himself when scoring one and assisting another, but Bosz has yet to hand the young Swede another chance on the pitch.

Behind the central attackers, only Christian Pulisic has demonstrated he is willing to go into one-on-one situations to tear open the defensive lines. Mario Gotze no longer looks for those situations and models his game after Barcelona star Andres Iniesta these days; Gonzalo Castro and Shinji Kagawa can help the team on a good day, but they are rare. New signing Andriy Yarmolenko is struggling after a good start; Maximilian Philipp too. So there's little creativity beyond the 19-year-old American.

So Dortmund lack quality?

That's right. Dortmund's transfer philosophy in recent years has not helped the club. While turning themselves into a go-to-club for young talents from all over Europe, things are not as rosy as they have been painted.

For every Ousmane Dembele, who landed Dortmund an initial €105m when he moved Barcelona this summer, there is a Sebastian Rode or Andre Schurrle: players with good contracts but limited impact on the pitch.

Dortmund have failed to address problems at centre-back, evident before Mats Hummels' return to Bayern Munich in 2016, and have not yet managed to find a back-up for 32-year-old right-back Piszczek.

Last summer, Dortmund also signed Emre Mor and Mikel Merino, only to move them out after one year. They are just two examples of youngsters struggling to break into the squad on a permanent basis, and with Isak, a €9m signing in January, the club could be running into a similar situation again. Something has to change.

Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.


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