Dortmund somehow managed to squeeze a lifetime of drama into just a few short weeks this season. After signing five new players in Ozcan, Adeyemi, Sule, Schlotterbeck and Haller, they had their eyes set on adding Hoffenheim’s exciting leftback David Raum, when things got weird.
First, they were continuing to try to sell Akjani to finance some or all of the deal, but Akjani’s contract is only for one more season and he was demanding 13 million euros per year to sign for any additional years. Several Premiership clubs purported dropped their interest based upon his demands. Dortmund was only offering him 8 million euros per year as an extension, and he has apparently lowered his demands to 10 million, which is still garnering little to no interest in the Premiership or Serie A.
Zagadou was released by Dortmund and still hasn’t signed with another club in any league, even though he is available for free. His history of injuries is just too much risk for teams to consider seriously. Similarly, Dortmund told Schulz that he was free to talk to other teams for the second consecutive summer, but once it came out that he was under investigation for purported domestic violence incidents, including claims he was kicking his girlfriend a couple of years ago in an attempt to terminate her pregnancy, there was little to no hope of any team signing him when criminal charges seem likely.
Of course, all of that was overshadowed by the headlines concerning Sebastian Haller’s testicular cancer diagnosis, surgery, malignant biopsy, and chemotherapy. Extremely unfortunate circumstances where he will now miss at least the first half of the season, and that is the best case scenario and probably can’t realistically be expected to be fit to play this season. Obviously, the club is more worried about his health and hopeful of a recovery and being able to play someday, more than concerned about whether he can return this season.
Forgotten in all of the drama playing out with Haller, Akjani and Schulz, were several articles detailing the acrimonious relationship between Emre Can and basically every Dortmund coach since he arrived. Notorious for lecturing other players, Can is considered just as irritating for coaches where he loves to interrupt meetings and offer coaches his strong opinions and advise. Similarly, new sporting director Sebastian Kehl is not a fan. Unfortunately, Can still has a role at BVB because he is a utility player that can play in central midfield, rightback and centerback. Granted, he isn’t known as being exceptionally good at any of those positions, but as a utility player he can be fairly reliable on occasion.
Of course, Can is also notorious for become distracted during games and, then, reacting unpredictably when he hasn’t followed what immediately preceding his becoming involved in the play. Even the announcers pointed it out last season, when he errantly just launched a ball back behind the touchline for no reason. The announcers pointed out that this is what he does when he hasn’t been paying attention and suddenly is the recipient of a pass. But, he is highly compensated at 8.5 million euros per season, and Dortmund appears stuck with him until his contract expires in June, 2024, as no other team has any interest in touching that contract.
So saddled for another season with several contracts BVB needed to cut loose, and unable to generate more cash after having acquired five new players plus the Dutch youth player Braf, Dortmund needed to look at more affordable forward options. Of course, this is what made the Cristano Ronaldo stories fairly laughable. Dortmund were hoping to get a young player with some huge upside potential that could grow into the star striker role at Dortmund, but everyone else was looking as well and demands for players like Sesko and Kaldjzic were just out of their price range, and the Raum deal just wasn’t going to happen when they would have to sign a forward. The Modeste deal conveniently fell on their lap. Modeste had 23 goals for Koln last season, so signing him was far from the most ridiculous gamble. Of course, his old club were willing to see him go and replace him with an unknown 20 year old, which of course raises many red flags concerning his age and fitness. But Dortmund is only looking for a temporary solution for a season at most. Unfortunately, the deal came far too late for Modeste to be prepared for the start of the season.
Adding to all of the strange summer, were preseason injuries to Ozcan and Sule that would make them unavailable for the start of the season. These were compounded by Adeyemi getting injured and having to be taken off in the first 20 minutes of the first league game. Despite all of the drama, though, there were plenty of positives in the first four games of the season. As the title implies, somehow BVB managed 3 wins in 4 games, and are only 1 point behind Bayern (thanks to Yann Sommer’s ridiculous 19 save performance Saturday and the fact that Mane is struggling badly with the offside rule).
Schlotterbeck stepped up with fantastic performances where he is everywhere and the best Dortmund defender to play back there in several seasons. Young with plenty to learn, but so fast, athletic and smart that he is everywhere. In most games, Dortmund has gotten away with playing the veteran Hummels next to Schlotterbeck, as Schlotterbeck’s size and speed has more than compensated for Hummels diminishing skills. And improved centerback plays seems to have inspired Kobel, who has stepped up in goal with some impressive performances, especially against Hertha.
When Ozcan, finally, did appear this weekend, he was one of the top three players on the field. Koln’s selling Ozcan for a mere 5 million euros still makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, except that they were simply overloaded in central midfield and felt he was expendable and they were going to lose him anyway as they wouldn’t be able to resign him for the kind of money bigger teams were willing to pay. He is solid in central midfield and fit very well with Bellingham in the Hertha game.
The Hertha game was, of course, over once Dortmund scored. Hertha is simply a train wreck that will have to have a major change for fortune to survive this season. Dortmund had a number of opportunities to score, but it was a strange game where Dortmund hit the bar twice and Berlin’s Oliver Kempf was having the game of his life. Somehow, he managed to get a foot on nearly everything Reus tried to do in the box. This was compounded by the fact that the young midfielder, Bellingham, has incredible power in the box but just doesn’t settle down and target his shots. He fires wildly to say the least. Bellingham is going to be a great player someday and 90% of his play is so impressive, especially for a 19 year old. Newsflash for Liverpool fans, though, his 2 turnovers against Bremen and 3 errant shots at Hertha are perhaps a sign that while he can be a physician presence in midfield, press, and push the ball forward with speed and power, there are still parts of his game that are a work in progress. He may be the best midfielder in the world at 24 or 25, but that is years down the road.
Impressive, though, was Modeste’s goal against Hertha. He hit a header with authority, which is his trademark. Wolf had fed Ozcan, who put a nice cross in for Modeste to bury. Modeste needs that confidence to make it happen. Dortmund should have been up 2-3 goals by that point, but one was enough as Hertha rarely threatened anything and Kobel made some great saves.
Of course, the games this season seem hectic and disorganized, and there is the nearly inexplicable loss to recently promoted Bremen in Dortmund. If Dortmund have any hope of getting out of their Champion’s League group (Man City and Sevilla) and staying close enough to Bayern to threaten for a title, they have to get the central midfield sorted out, get healthy, and keep feeding Modeste the ball. Dortmund never looked particularly organized against Bremen, which was badly exposed when they backed off after getting a 2-0 lead. In fact, they held the 2-0 lead through the 89th minute and, then, the wheels fell off. The biggest problem was Dahoud leaving due to injury and Emre Can taking over in defensive midfield. He was bad, very bad, and was trailing the Bremen players unable to have any impact on Bremen controlling possession and pressuring Dortmund. And, of course, the addition of Sule for his first appearance with only minutes left seemed safe, but he wasn’t ready to play and Schlotterbeck got banged up. This just made it too easy for Bremen to pull off the flukish and historic win of scoring 3 goals after the 89th minute. Shambolic and humiliating, there is no excuse for Dortmund not to have won 2-0 or 2-1, as conceding 3 with 2 coming in injury time is unheard of.
Unfortunately, for many Dortmund fans, this game may have the opposite effect of what they always beg for. In this game, Terzic didn’t try to slow it down and run out the game as he probably should have. Dortmund was still dangerous and the loud Dortmund crowd was pushing and pushing for number 3 to put this game away for good. It didn’t come, and Terzic is far more likely in the future to go with far more compact lines in his own end in the final minutes with a 2-0 lead. Where this leaves Dortmund for the season, I have no idea. I love what I see from Adeyemi, though quiet against Bremen he looked extremely dangerous against Leverkusen blowing past their defense at will, and Schlotterbeck is the best acquisition since Haaland. Hopefully, Terzic has a vision, as he once again continues to prove that he is a coach that loves the high press and can win at Dortmund.