Is Thomas Tuchel the right man for Borussia Dortmund long-term?
On Wednesday, Borussia Dortmund only need a draw from their trip to the Bernabeu to win Group F ahead of Champions League holders, Real Madrid. Yet, while BVB have impressed in the Champions League, the club have endured turbulence domestically -- most recently the 2-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt.
Coach Thomas Tuchel, who is under contract until 2018, came under fire, with parts of the media and fans questioning whether he has a long-term future at the Westfalenstadion. Although a 4-1 win against Borussia Monchengladbach calmed nerves in Dortmund, all is not well with last season's runners-up only sixth in the Bundesliga standings.
ESPN FC runs down five things that are not well.
The relationship with the fans
For a while now, some Borussia Dortmund supporters on the famous Sudtribune have felt alienated by the club's strategy of globalisation. It has seen BVB tour Asia in the past two summers, and also hold a much-criticised winter training camp in Dubai, which fanzine schwatzgelb.de summed up as a "superfluous advertising campaign for an undemocratic country."
When Dortmund finished second in the Bundesliga and losing finalists in the DFB Pokal last summer, and also were eliminated in the Europa League by Liverpool in the quarterfinals, fans again felt left behind. Some voiced their concerns that BVB were becoming just like Bayern Munich -- but not as successful -- as the club's attempts to become a worldwide brand.
In just his first season it became evident that coach Tuchel is the complete opposite of his predecessor Jurgen Klopp, who may have left for Liverpool a while ago but whose presence still towers over the Westfalenstadion. The fans argue: Tuchel plays cold and calculated football, and he does not talk to the fans. Tuchel is regarded as a travelling man, destined for other places bigger than Dortmund.
When schwatzgelb.de all but called for his head last Friday, and opened only a small door for him to win back its support, it became evident that parts of the most vocal Dortmund fans feel alienated from the game, and moreover are afraid to lose yet another cornerstone of the club.
Players have left BVB in recent years, but Klopp's departure in the summer of 2015 was a watershed moment. Now they have a coach focused on football and not on passion, and a hierarchy struggling to explain the importance of being a Champions League club in order to be successful in the long term.
Friction in the club
When Tuchel did show passion, calling his team's performance "deficient" and criticising their mentality, following a bad training week after wins against Bayern Munich and Legia Warsaw, the players kept largely quiet, and so did the usually chatty club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. That "deafening silence" led some in the media to speculate Tuchel will be gone once his contract expires in 2018.
"Tuchel is his own man," Watzke finally said not in the media but on the club's official website. He added that at Dortmund coaches "act completely on their own authority with regard to the sporting leadership of the team."
Earlier this term, a rift between Tuchel and chief scout Sven Mislintat was made public. Reports said the pair fell out over a possible winter transfer of Atletico Madrid midfielder Oliver Torres in 2016, and have not talked since. Dortmund, knowing about the importance of Mislintat -- he is responsible for identifying players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Shinji Kagawa, appeared to back the scout with those close to the club reporting that he could be offered a new position as head of professional football soon.
The public person
Tuchel loves football -- and being in control. What he does not love is having to explain himself and his methods. Much like his role model Pep Guardiola, the Dortmund coach has limited his appearances in the media to fulfilling his contractual obligations during news conferences and pre- and post-match interviews on TV.
He has failed to build a deeper relationship with reporters covering the club, and thus his football philosophy has not been successfully relayed to the vast majority of football fans. For instance, Tuchel has not explained why he rotates players week in and week out.
And while people can guess that he gives his key players a rest during three-match weeks, to both hand chances to youngsters such as United States international Christian Pulisic or Turkey's Emre Mor, and also to find a way to field the best possible starting formation on any given day against any given opponent, it remains only a guess. It also remains an open flank for criticism in difficult times.
It sometimes feels like Tuchel does not understand or does not care that coaching a club like Borussia Dortmund is more than just working with the team, and those reporting on the team do not appear to know anything about the person Thomas Tuchel.
Tuchel has played all kinds of formations and systems this term. He has tried three at the back, sometimes with two attackers, sometimes with only one, yet most of the time he has played a 4-1-4-1 with youngster Julian Weigl handed all responsibility in the build-up play. New signing Sebastian Rode has yet to prove his worth in any way, Nuri Sahin's playing time has been limited too, and Gonzalo Castro has failed to return to the form he showed before the injury he sustained in early October.
With Portugal international Raphael Guerreiro also sidelined for major parts of the season, and Mario Gotze still looking for form, Dortmund lack a player like Ilkay Gundogan, sold to Manchester City, who helped the team move the ball into the final third. BVB have looked particularly bad in games where Weigl was man-marked out of the match and have been unable to find solutions to relieve the burden on his shoulders.
While Weigl misses Gundogan ahead of him, he also enjoyed Mats Hummels' defensive cover. The former club captain, who left for Bayern Munich in the summer, also made crucial contributions to the build-up play, and essentially BVB have yet to find a way to replace the two Germany internationals; with their new idea being to play two No. 8s ahead of Weigl.
"Whenever a Borussia match is on TV, I will watch because with this team I have a goal guarantee. BVB always play spectacular football," Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann said only this week in an interview with German media. While the Frenchman was probably taken by Dortmund's ability to score goals, the opposition is always scoring too.
This term, in 20 matches over all competitions, Dortmund have managed to keep only six clean sheets. They have conceded in total 23 goals, with seven of them coming in their last three matches with veteran keeper Roman Weidenfeller in goal.
"To lose your first-choice keeper is the worst thing that can happen," Tuchel warned after Roman Burki suffered an injury against Bayern Munich. "It's a sensitive position. You don't usually make changes there."
And he was right. Dortmund have looked even less stable with Weidenfeller in goal.
It doesn't help that former Barcelona defender Marc Bartra has been thrilling in attack but less so in defence, where he has yet to click with his partners Sokratis Papastathopoulos or Matthias Ginter. The goal Dortmund conceded against Gladbach at the weekend was exemplary of Borussia's current defensive struggles. The Spain international cleared a ball into the middle, Sokratis did not try to block the shot and Weidenfeller, maybe seeing the ball too late, fell to the ground like the old man that he is.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.