Until now, Borussia Dortmund’s season has not unfolded according to their plan, for different reasons, but with a win against Bayern they would be back in the top group. We spoke with ESPN writer Stephan Uersfeld about the current situation at Bayern’s fiercest rival over the last years.
First of all, please tell us something about yourself. What do you do and what ties do you have with BVB?
Hello. Most of the time, I’m a Germany Correspondent at ESPN FC. I report about the odd stuff in the Bundesliga and about Bierhoff’s visions. If I’m having a very rough day, I take over the role of the drunken investigator Dietfried Dembowski, the almighty lord at DID. Coming from Dortmund, I didn’t have a choice. Everyone was born at the Borsigplatz, me too. There’s just no alternative. Until I turned five I supported Bayern and Schalke, wearing Iveco Magirus and Paddock’s. That changes quickly.
Dortmund had a very consistent and solid run last season. What was their key to success?
The excellent preseason. The squad got together very early, formed a team on their tour in Asia, and found their rhythm in the Europa League qualification matches. The opening matches were rather easy. The new serenity was especially visible in the 4-0 win against a catastrophic Gladbach team. Long stretches of possession, followed by break-neck speed transitions, and a pass between the lines. One quick movement. That’s how the system worked and the possession style was quickly adopted by the players. They learned to be patient. They gained confidence and stayed on point in the Bundesliga – for an amazingly long period of time.
This season started differently. One reason are the injuries and another reason are the transfers of three very important players, who left the club: Hummels, Gündogan and Mkhitaryan. Which player is missed the most and why?
Ilkay Gündogan. He had a strong first half of the season, being the connection between Weigl and the offensive players. He is a unique player. When he was side-lined after the Bayern game and his transfer was agreed upon, Dortmund’s season went downhill. Getting kicked out of the Europa League by Liverpool. Losing the DFB Pokal final. Missed a new total points record in the league. Of course, Mkhitaryan in last season’s form is also almost impossible to replace. Hummels’ build-up play was something, but despite him being captain he wasn’t undisputed.
Mario Götze and Sebastian Rode moved from Munich to Dortmund in the summer. How are they doing and what are their roles in BVB’s squad?
Götze found his place quickly. He is no longer the star, the stand-out player, but someone who creates and finds space on the pitch with his movements and short passes. His homecoming is not a topic for discussions anymore. Götze has to find back to himself a little bit more, just like the rest of the team. The central role in the 4-1-4-1 suits him very well. That’s where we’ll see him on Saturday, with Guerreiro next to him. Sebastian Rode is doing Rode things. He is not a bad player, but also not one that can inspire his team. In terms of defense, Weigl is leagues ahead of him. At the offensive positions Castro, Götze, Guerreiro and Kagawa bring other, bigger qualities on the pitch. It will be tough for him. The question remains whether he wasn’t just part of a trade deal.
Besides some more seasoned players, many talents were brought in. Dembélé, Mor and Guerreiro for example, plus further talents from their youth teams, like Passlack or Pulisic. Are you optimistic that Dortmund will be able to be a bigger threat for the league in the upcoming seasons?
Borussia will again lose players in the next summers. Especially Christian Pulisic won’t end his career in Dortmund. He has the hopes of a whole nation on his shoulders. Of course, a player like Guerreiro is extremely talented. And the BVB will be among the top four in Germany. That’s what counts. Everything else cannot be influenced. In the Champions League, and later in the Superleague, Borussia will be a permanent member and win something every once in a while. Probably rather an international title than the Bundesliga.
Has the style of play changed due to the transfers? What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the BVB?
It’s not even the transfers that caused the changes on the pitch. Tuchel almost exclusively fields a 4-1-4-1 now and, due to the long injuries of Reus and Schürrle, put his trust in the very young and fast players. Especially in his first games Dembélé tore apart oppositional defences, bypassing his opponent with his sheer speed. Pulisic has a stronger drive towards the goal.
The offence has performed excellently, whenever everything came together. But it’s extremely dependent on Julian Weigl, who, just like Hummels a couple of season ago, was identified as the key to success against Borussia. When he is marked out of the game, the offence has a very bad day at the office. Especially since Sokratis and Ginter hardly took over any build-up responsibility and Bartra was side-lined for a long time.
The Spaniard has an excellent packing rate. His pass in the build-up for the 1-0 in Wolfsburg was a beauty. Battered by injuries, the defence sometimes reminds of the Doll years. A new formation every week. No stability. A merry-go-round and everyone brings his weaknesses to the table. Piszczek has gotten old; Bartra’s positioning is far from perfect. Against Ingolstadt they conceded two headers after dead balls in the half spaces. What more can I say? That’s just bad.
Bayern has become more beatable. How do you rate the reappearance of Bayern’s mortality and do you see a possibility to have a different Bundesliga champion at the end of the season?
Let me check the standings. Bayern haven’t lost after 10 games. End of the discussion. Titles will end up at the Säbener Straße. That’s clear. No, I don’t see a possibility. Leipzig will ride the wave of the Dortmund game a little bit longer. That was to be expected, but they won’t sustain that level. Hasenhüttl is already complaining. Hoffenheim, Berlin are also out of the equation. BVB is not stable enough, Leverkusen has Schmidt. Blessing and curse. The contenders are at their maximum, the record champion gets into the groove for the second part of the season.
What kind of tactical set-up do you expect from both teams this weekend?
Dortmund will use their experience. This time they won’t adjust to Bayern. Reus, Guerreiro, Götze and Schürrle behind Aubameyang. That’s what we have been waiting for a long time. Plus Weigl. The back four with Bartra and Sokratis, Piszczek and Schmelzer. Vintage. Hoping to get some possession and to move the ball into Bayern’s half.
But who is fit at Bayern? Lahm and Alonso. That’s a given. 4-3-3 as well. What about Robbery? Müller? Costa? Kimmich? I don’t know. It feels like Ancelotti has already made some wrong decisions. He’s welcome to make some more. Start Ribery and have him sent off after a couple of minutes. Everyone will be happy. Vidal is the key. BVB’s hopes lie in him getting back banged up from the international break.
A draw. 1-1.
If you could transfer one player from Munich to Dortmund, who would you pick and why?
Kimmich. Without a doubt. If only to destroy Miasanrot. And he can kick the ball.