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The Transfer Review: Borussia Dortmund
With just a matter of days to go until the 2022/23 Bundesliga kicks off, it’s time to look at where Borussia Dortmund stand heading into their 10th consecutive season without a Bundesliga title to defend.
Though FC Bayern may have stolen headlines with an outlay centred around Sadio Mané and Matthijs De Ligt, BVB have not gone without in the summer off-season. Signing three German internationals, one of the top scorers in last season's Champions League, and a capable solution for one of their biggest problem areas, there's an optimistic outlook heading into the 2022/23 season at the Signal Iduna Park.
In this preseason special, Adam Khan and Alex Barker - The Euro Expert - take a look at each signing in BVB’s off-season, analysing their core strengths and weaknesses, providing a detailed assessment of where they fit into Edin Terzić’s plans, and grading their overall value as a summer arrival.
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When Borussia Dortmund announced the capture of Nklas Süle it came as a shock to most Bundesliga fans.
Yes, the 26-year-old was injured for 46 days last season and started just 19 league games, but when on the pitch, the titanic defender was far more reliable than star signing Dayot Upamecano.
Since he first joined the Bavarians in 2017, Süle has at times been clumsy and easy to beat for agile dribblers. However, under both Hansi Flick and Julian Nagelsmann, the German has played as a right back and a right centre back, forcing him to engage in one-on-one situations where one would assume a player of his physical profile would be exposed.
Süle coped though. His tackle success rate against dribblers shows he has not only been engaging in 1v1’s more often in the last two seasons, but last year he even boasted the best success rate of his career to date (78%).
Dortmund have another ex-Munich defender in Matts Hummels, and something he and Süle share in common is that both are great at building out from the back. The former Hoffenheim defender excels at lofting the ball across the pitch.
The experience as a right-back too has helped the 6ft 5 defender become more agile with the ball at his feet. Winning headers or powering opponents off the ball has always been easy for him (Amongst almost 3000 players in Europe’s top 5 leagues he sits 46th for aerial win rate) but in the past he could look a little immobile.
Now though, Süle is clearly at the peak of his sharpness.
The German international is completing more passes under pressure (per 90) than at any other point in his career - bar the 18/19 season - and last season he was getting dispossessed, on average, just once every four games.
The Team Fit
It’s a bold decision to leave the dictatorship for the chasing pack, but Niklas Süle is willing to swap the comfort of Bavaria for a more difficult pursuit of titles in Dortmund. Choosing a side where he feels “personally valued”, the German international is looking to take his game to the next level in Dortmund and catapult his reputation across Europe.
Though ex-Bayern boss K.H Rummenigge wrote off his departure as “a useful player who never really asserted himself in his position,” Alex is spot on with his glowing analysis regarding the strides Süle has made over the last 24 months.
Süle was definitively first choice this season at right centre back, and one could easily argue the 26-year old was even the Bavarian’s best defender throughout large stretches of the Hinrunde. Given that Dortmund conceded 52 goals last season - the most in the league since 2007/08 - adding elite talent to the backline is an upgrade which should help ease the burden on goalkeeper Gregor Köbel next season.
Süle's immobile frame was also immediately discussed as a negative that could be exposed in Dortmund’s aggressive defensive line, but once he gets out of the gates there is no denying he can hold his own in the Bundesliga. With a top speed last season of 33.66 KM/H, only Manuel Akanji and Dayot Upamecano were quicker amongst all BVB & Bayern centre backs. Despite his often gangly nature Süle has the tools to make the last ditch interventions which can change a season.
A potential worry is still the lack of leadership and personality which Süle carries onto the pitch.
At Bayern it was a major stumbling block following the departures of Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba, and at Dortmund they will be hoping for more when he comes into a relatively inexperienced backline which should faze an ageing Mats Hummels out of a spotlight role.
The former Hoffenheim defender has regularly stated that he prefers to lead with his actions, but if any side could use a strong vocal presence to hold people accountable, Dortmund is surely at the top of that list.
A few people I have spoken to have said they prefer the transfer of Nico Schlotterbeck to Dortmund, but personally I think Süle is the superior signing.
On the first glance, he may appear clumsy and prone to error, but this is an experienced Champions League winning defender who has played well at right back and centre back.
To get him on a free is sensational, especially if he develops the leadership element Adam pointed out.
Amongst all of the free transfers you will see this summer, there won’t be many that involve both a player of Niklas Süle’s quality and a club dying for an individual with his precise skill set.
If the German international can step up to the mark and command a more proactive leadership role, this could be a signing that could alter the dynamic in German football.
One of the biggest surprises of the 2021/22 Bundesliga season was SC Freiburg. After finishing 10th the previous year Die Kraichgauer flew to 6th place last season, earning their joint-most points in topflight history in the process. The entire squad, fanbase, and backroom staff played a huge role in this remarkable achievement, but the biggest star was German centre-back Nico Schlotterbeck.
The 22-year-old started 32 league games last season, primarily playing on the left side of a back three. Coach Christian Streich was happy to give the former Karlsruher defender freedom to support the attack, and he repaid his faith with an impressive 4 goals and 1 assist.
As for Schlotterbeck's physical profile, the 3-time German international has above-average speed and strength for a defender. Standing at 6ft 3, he is quite the imposing centre-back-come-full-back when rampaging down the left, backed up in the statistics where he averaged more progressive carries (per 90) than all but two Freiburg players last season.
While he is comfortable lofting balls down the line or switching the point of attack, line-breaking passes against deeper defences are not present in his armoury. Instead, he relies primarily on his carrying to progress possession, completing over 58% of his dribbles in the 2021/22 campaign.
Defensively, Schlotterbeck was a cornerstone of a Freiburg side which conceded 6 fewer goals than BVB last season. The reigning U21 European Champion is front-footed and quick to engage in individual duels, and as the stats show, only 16 defenders in the Bundesliga attempted more tackles per 90 last season.
The German is thus ultra-aggressive, constantly pestering opposition players for the ball, and if they try to get past him he will throw everything he has in the way of play.
As he's largely able to determine 1-on-1's in his favour there aren't major defensive question marks, but when he's unable to take possession away he is prone to leaving major gaps for an opponent to exploit. Particularly given his role in the centre of defence, these lapses in judgement can be very costly against elite opposition.
The Team Fit
Like Niklas Süle, it’s hard to argue that Nico Schlotterbeck isn’t an elite level centerback who can immediately come into Dortmund’s backline and raise the level. He’s robust, confident in possession, has a good change of pace, and crucially, is a vocal leader.
With Süle largely looking to lead by example, the 22-year old Schlotterbeck will be the one barking orders and marshalling the defence at BVB.
As for his technical profile, Alex was right to point out the dangers in his aggressive defensive style, however it should suit this BVB backline where the likes of Niklas Süle, Mats Hummels, and even Manuel Akanji are more standoffish in their defensive poise.
With Dortmund struggling last season to control the spaces between midfield and defense, having a player willing to step out of his defined zone and into a higher line of commitment should only benefit their ability to defend with confidence next season.
If there are any worries in what is a very complete 22-year old defender, it would be his consistency. Though he ended the 2021/22 campaign as the best rated centerback in the German Bundesliga (via kicker.de), there were dips in form throughout the late run-in where all important matches for Champions League qualification were lost.
After a standout year, it's not a surprise that Dortmund pulled the trigger on this transfer.
How he will cope in a more established side and against teams in the Champions League is an unanswered question, but Schlotterbeck has shown no signs of being unable to step up to that level so far.
Whilst Hasan Salihamidžić is rightfully being applauded for FC Bayern's summer window, it’s easy to forget that the Bavarian’s starting centerback partnership cost over €150m (Lucas Hernandez & Matthijs de Ligt) whilst BVB have arguably inherited a better one for less than a seventh of the price.
With Niklas Süle and Nico Schlotterbeck, Dortmund now have a youthful pairing capable of forming the core of a competitive outfit for the next decade, and in the short-term, both players have enough quality to compete for the Meisterschale for the first time since 2011/12.
In all of the hype surrounding Dortmund's summer business Salih Özcan has gotten the smallest share in the limelight. Despite arriving for just €5.3m, he could still end up being a crucial player over the next nine months.
The 24-year old Turkish defensive midfielder has played for FC Köln since he was nine years old, but only last season did he finally break through as a full-fledged starter under the talismanic coach Steffen Baumgart and his high-octane pressing system.
Özcan carries a passion in his defensive work, as he patrols the midfield zone like a terrier. That’s not to say he’s a rash player, although he does make 1.6 fouls per 90, but it’s a good description of how he sniffs out opportunities to intercept the ball and chases down opposition attackers.
He came third in the Köln squad last season for tackles and interceptions per 90 - beaten out only by two defenders - and over half of that output is made up of his interceptions. The Turk is good at seeing a pass before it happens, and his quick acceleration helps him get into position quickly.
Right now, he is perhaps a little more advanced than a traditional DM, averaging over a shot per game and often getting caught chasing back when possession is turned over. That’s where the tactical fouls come in, as Özcan harasses opposition forwards into losing the ball or at least slowing down play.
The place where he can definitely improve is with the ball in possession. Even his short pass accuracy of 85.8% leaves room for improvement, and when Özcan attempts braver progressive passes he tends to misplace or over hit them.
The Team Fit
One can look at the Salih Özcan transfer in one of two ways.
Either it's fantastic value for money - signing a former German youth captain, undisputed Bundesliga starter, and a Turkish international for just €5m - or it isn’t the big name required to fill the most important squad gap Dortmund had ahead of the window.
Whereas I will take the very journalistic stance of hanging on the fence, there really are good arguments to be made for both.
Having featured in 31 of 34 Bundesliga matches last season with extraordinary consistency, Özcan’s fierce defensive vigour provides the makings of a midfield engine that fits into Terzić’s more aggressive pressing style.
On the other hand, this is still a player who needed the right circumstances and management to finally establish himself in the Köln setup. And, he is still yet to play a match in the Champions League against the level of competition Dortmund aim to set their standards against.
Adam appears to be more apprehensive than me towards this transfer, as I think Özcan shows good ingredients to adapt to this Dortmund side and is still relatively young enough to keep improving.
Replacing Axel Witsel at the base of midfield would put a lot of pressure on the young Turk, however with a strong Bundesliga season under his belt, I tend to feel positive about his career trajectory from here on out.
At 1. FC Köln since he was 9-years old, the now 24-year old Salih Özcan is taking a massive step out of his comfort zone by joining Borussia Dortmund in a season where they could potentially be on the precipice of altering the power dynamic in German football.
At just €5m Özcan is an astute signing. His versatility and profile fit well into the football philosophy which BVB, and Edin Terzić, stand for.
Whether he can immediately provide the elite defensive corver that Die Schwarz-Gelben so desperately yearn for is still a reservation of mine, but in the long-term, I see the Signal Iduna Park enjoying a lot of great evenings off the back of the midfielder’s efforts.
*At the time of writing, the team at The German Football Weekly were unaware of Sébastian Haller’s testicular cancer diagnosis. We all wish him a speedy recovery and strength during such tough times.
It’s easy to forget that it’s only been 18-months since Sébastian Haller left West Ham United as one of the most expensive flops in the Hammer’s history, with the 28-year-old’s time in East London now feeling like another lifetime ago.
After all, the French born Ivorian international has gone from being a striker panned by fans to one averaging a goal every 123 minutes in the Eredivisie. After earning the reputation as the €50m man who scored just 10 Premier League goals in 48 appearances, he is now the revitalised centre forward who scored more goals in the Champions League last year (11) than Robert Lewandowski managed in 9 of his own 11 UCL campaigns to date.
Much of that improvement is down to mentality. As Haller himself told The Guardian, he asked West Ham United manager David Moyes for a move as he wanted his “confidence back”. He also pointed to the poor stylistic fit at West Ham, something which has become all the more evident after moving to a ball-dominant Ajax.
Whereas Haller was regularly snatching at chances in England and taking dubious strikes from inopportune areas, in the Eredivisie last season he took 0.8 shots per 90 inside the six yard box alone. He has thrived on one-touch finishes, and is more aware of the positions he takes up inside the box than most forwards even at the elite level.
The former Frankfurt forward has shown a roundness to his finishing too, as in the Champions League where he scored four goals with his left, four goals with his right, and three with his head.
His weaknesses still lie in his mobility, as while he may average 3.05 recoveries per 90 - nearly double that of Erling Haaland at 1.86 - his slow speed makes his pressing feel pointless at times.
Also still a concern is that Haller, despite being 6ft 2, still hasn’t grown fully comfortable playing with his back to goal. He lost the ball over 15 times per game last season, and as time went on the Ivorian found himself dropping deeper and deeper in search of getting touches of the ball away from intense pressure.
The Team Fit
Sébastian Haller is a really interesting acquisition for BVB given their recent record when it comes to centre-forward signings.
Since Adrian Ramos’ acquisition in 2014, Dortmund haven’t brought in a striker over the age of 27, so Haller is a true statement that BVB may finally be foregoing resale value for a true title assault.
Unlike the aforementioned Colombian whose BVB spell was short-lived and defined by his substitute role, Haller is signed with much loftier expectations, joining Die Schwarz-Gelben for a club record base fee of €31m.
Such a monumental fee can burden even the best at times, but Haller has a lot of the tools to fit into this talented, creative, BVB outfit. Alex mentioned some of his remarkable numbers at Ajax, but it bears repeating just how impressive Haller’s goalscoring numbers have been outside of a barren stretch in East London.
In 66 matches for Ajax the French-Ivorian contributed 63 goals and assists, whilst his debut campaign in the UEFA Champions League saw him hit 11 - becoming the first player to reach double-digits in a single campaign for a club outside of one of Europe’s top 5 leagues.
Alex also rightfully alluded to the fact that Haller’s sub-optimal link-up play and unremarkable turn of pace may promote the image of a clunky and disconnected forward at times, but these are also weaknesses which can be counterbalanced by the strengths of other members in this BVB roster.
Brimming with creative heads and agile forwards, Haller is the traditional goal hungry number 9 who can compliment the beautiful, intricate, Dortmund football by applying the decisive final touch which ultimately decides where trophies land at the end of the season.
To keep it completely personal, with every disappointing export from the Eredivisie that goes by (see Donyell Malen, Myron Boadu, Calvin Stengs, Steven Bergwijn, Vincent Janssen, etc., etc.) the more critical I behave towards good form in the division. Of course, that is countered by Haller's recent history in the Bundesliga, but it's nevertheless something to be wary of.
Now, Haller is moving to a Dortmund side that will hopefully dominate possession in a manner that's extremely similar to the way Ajax play, and certainly more so than West Ham. But even so, I nevertheless find it difficult to believe the Ivorian will be as potent in Germany as he was in the Netherlands.
Haller is the precise profile of what Dortmund need following Haaland’s departure: experienced, a true goalscoring number 9, and well-versed in Bundesliga and European football. My only reservation… can he replicate the extraordinary 18 month spell at Ajax over a prolonged period in Black & yellow?
His 33 Bundesliga goals for Frankfurt lead me to lean towards a yes, but it's nevertheless the biggest club in the Ivorian’s career and a new environment which will put him to the test.
Karim Adeyemi, the one who got away from Bayern Munich, became BVB’s third signing of the summer before June had even kicked off.
Hailing from Munich with a Nigerian father and Romanian mother, the German spent two years at the FC Bayern campus from 2010 to 2012, before a dispute regarding his lack of attention to schooling forced him to leave the club aged 10.
Following a stint at SpVgg Unterhaching, the young forward moved to Red Bull Salzburg, spending his last four years at the Austrian upstarts before earning a €30m move back to the Bundesliga.
There may be concerns that the 20-year-old will not get much gametime after the signing of the more game-ready Sébastian Haller, but fortunately Adeyemi provides a completely different profile to the French-Ivorian with an adaptable skill-set for this BVB roster.
What Haller lacks in acceleration and agility, Adeyemi provides. Much like Kylian Mbappé or Raheem Sterling, Adeyemi gets up to top speed so devastatingly quick that even teams sitting deep won't be protected against his ability to break through defensive lines.
Once he is in the box however, the former SpVgg Unterhaching youngster does need to improve on his finishing. Even though Adeyemi outperformed his xG in the Austrian Bundesliga last season -scoring 19 from 14.7 xG - he was more wasteful against stronger opposition in the Champions League, underperforming by 1.24.
Haller then, should be the more trusted central goal threat, but what he lacks in hold-up and link-up play, Adeyemi once again provides. The German has thrived in Salzburg at flicking the ball around the corner into the path of advanced midfield runners, and he is no physical slouch despite his diminutive frame (5 ft 9). `
The Team Fit
Whilst Adeyemi was largely utilised as a central forward in his 3 seasons in Austria, the consensus is that the German international will occupy one of the wings in Terzić’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, “the Jadon Sancho replacement a season too late”.
And, whilst fans will be hopeful that the 20-year old can replicate Sancho's scintillating output from 4 years in Germany, a fair bit of patience is required in what is still a highly inexperienced talent.
As Alex rightfully touched on, Adeyemi’s performances in the Champions League offered a glimpse into his unique talents - such as the record 4 penalty kicks he drew during the groupstage - but it also highlighted his incomplete nature and wasteful finishing.
Allowing Adeyemi time to develop and refine his game this season - regardless of the steep transfer fee and the pressure that provides - should be key in allowing the best version of him to shine through in his subsequent seasons at the Signal Iduna Park.
For a squad fit though, it is an important player model which was missing through large stretches of Marco Rose's reign. Whilst the likes of Gio Reyna, Thorgan Hazard, Marco Reus, and Julian Brandt all provide value with their creative ability, none are willing to force play in behind with the aggressive pace and precision Adeyemi showed last season.
With a widely different skill-set to the alternatives at Terzić’s disposal, Adeyemi could provide a key ploy by coming off the bench and exploiting tiring defences, or by offering an aggressive threat needed to exploit a high defensive line.
I think this is a win-win for Borussia Dortmund.
Should Karim Adeyemi succeed for Die Schwarz-Gelben then they will likely turn that €30m into €80m or even €100m in a couple of years. The young German is simply packed with potential.
Should it not work out, then with the track record at Salzburg behind him Dortmund will be able to fetch buyers for the striker at a fee that may not be too embarrassing.
It’s also encouraging to see them get this signing over the line ahead of Bayern Munich.
Transfers for the likes of Sébastian Haller and Niklas Süle show that Dortmund are going all in for a title this season, but Die Schwarz-Gelben went back to their roots with Karim Adeyemi by signing another young talent who they can potentially flip for massive profits in a year or two’s time.
With a lively change of pace and a direct mentality, Adeyemi offers the key ingredients missing last season in Dortmund’s wide channels, but there are nevertheless question marks surrounding his signature.
Regardless of his talent and the global competition for his signature, €30m is a considerable fee for a player unproven in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
Whilst performances in the Champions League have helped his cause, there are still reasonable doubts that Adeyemi won’t be able to immediately deliver on a weekly basis in a league of far higher quality to the Austrian topflight.
Other Notable Summer Arrivals
Alexander Meyer & Marcel Lotka
Though neither Alexander Meyer or Marcel Lotka will likely feature in meaningful minutes this season, it's important to note their arrivals as we round up our transfer analysis.
Meyer, undoubtedly the more experienced in the pair, joins from Jahn Regensburg in the Zweite Bundesliga. The 31-year old shot-stopper was one of the stand-out keepers in the second tier last season, and he now completes a free move to Dortmund where he will be entrusted with the back-up role behind Gregor Köbel.
Another pair of safe hands joins in the form of Marel Lotka. The 21-year old entered last season as just the 5th choice keeper at Hertha BSC, but a turbulent campaign and numerous injuries saw him make 10 appearances in the Bundesliga. He also joins on a free, and will be expected to develop his talents in the U23 setup.
The Final Verdict
BVB have clearly had a strong transfer window. The transfers were swift, the scouting was pinpoint, and the fees were more than fair.
The most troubling aspect of Dortmund under Marco Rose and Lucien Favre was the calamitous defending, and the double signing at the back is their best attempt at fixing that. Both Süle and Schlotterbeck have the quality to revive the BVB backline, whilst Salih Ozcan is a sensible signing to replace Axel Witsel at the base of midfield.
Of course, the giant blonde-haired-rock-shaped elephant also known as Erling Braut Haaland must be discussed, but replacing his output with two strikers genuinely feels like solid business. Together, Haller and Adeyemi could provide what Haaland has, and even, potentially a bit more.
However, something still feels missing.
Adam has outlined the weak areas unaddressed at both full-back zones (below), but perhaps the bigger issue is that this squad still feels like it is part of the chasing pack rather than a front runner capable of going toe-to-toe with FC Bayern.
At the end of the day, they are heading into next season with two new strikers who excelled in divisions that don't always translate to success in the Bundesliga, and in midfield you'd only really entrust Jude Bellingham to challenge the Bayern Munich starting pair of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka.
Thus, the defensive transfers are probably my highlights of the window, but in attack, it’s been something of a gamble. Hopefully it all clicks under Edin Terzić next season, but I can’t quite bring myself to grade this an A.
It’s hard to argue that BVB haven’t had a fantastic summer window. They’ve bought talented players rife for the future, individuals who can immediately challenge for titles, and ones with qualities that fall into both camps.
Adeyemi’s price tag and Özcan’s elite level exposure slightly worry me, but really the only thing dampening my review is what Dortmund have failed to do!
A fullback was high on the club’s shopping list, but as of yet they haven’t made any transfers on either flank.
With Nico Schulz not even travelling to the training camp in Bad Ragaz, and Raphaël Guerreiro unable to match his offensive prowess with meaningful defensive effort, a top-level leftback should have been a prerequisite for a title charge.
The same goes on the right, where an already slow Thomas Meunier isn’t getting any younger, and as of yet, it’s impossible to tell how Mateu Morey will return from injury after more than a year on the sidelines.
With more than a month remaining, Dortmund still have time to address these weak areas, but unless a player like David Raum walks through the door, my grade remains a B+.