SeasonOne.EpisodeSix | Rückrunde
Welcome to the latest instalment of my journey with Borussia Dortmund. Last time out, we had just finished the first half of the season, having taken temporary charge of the club.
As always, you can get in touch with me in the comments below, via twitter @fmfutbolmanager, or my slack channel #fmFutbolManager — if you’re not a part of the Football Manager Slack community, then you can join here!
Now, onto the update.
The second half of the season was a mixed bag. We played some excellent football at times, but at others, we were so poor I didn’t even recognise us. I didn’t want to start out too expansive at the risk of the opposition tearing us apart, and the aim is top four this season, but this wasn’t good enough for the fans nor the board.
So where we could we started to shift to a more attacking brand of football. It’s a tough act to balance.
JANUARY TRANSFER WINDOW
We managed to get a couple of signings done over January. I didn’t want to do too much business as I wanted to see how the squad performed before making changes, however, sometimes you have to act fast to secure the players you want.
IN | Matthijs de Ligt | €50M from Ajax
Something exciting happened over the January transfer window, but I’m not sure what. When I originally asked Michael Zorc if we could get a deal done for Matthijs de Ligt, he went to Ajax with an offer close to €100M, despite the other clubs competing for his signature offering around half of this, however, he had turned us down and went to Liverpool
A few weeks later, when scouting Gravenberch, I noticed that de Ligt was still at Ajax. So we went back in for another offer, confused around the circumstances of his failed Liverpool move. This time a bid of €50M+ was accepted and he became a Dortmund player.
IN | Pregrag Rajkovic | €7.5M from Maccabi Tel Aviv
I don’t usually make impulse signings, but I was alerted to Roma making a move for Rajkovic so we moved fast without too much scouting. Having some good knowledge of him already, and given the relatively low fee, we figured this transfer had little risk.
My coaches believe he can develop in the future so we will see how he progresses.
IN | Julian von Moos | €1.8M (€4.3M) from Basel
For those who have read earlier posts, you will know that my Director of Football, Michael Zorc, is set to find and make offers for young players for the future. Julian is the first player that he has signed.
Looking at him, he has excellent attributes already for such a young striker, with great agility and first touch. He can very much become a technical striker for us if he progresses as well as the team believe he can.
Overall, we’ve spent a lot of money, more than I would have perhaps liked. But I really wanted to move for de Ligt as I believe he has a huge future and could become a key player for us.
We’re still keeping our wages under control, but in terms of the league, we’re second in total spend, so this really is where we need to be finishing in the league, too.
Bayern Munich have spent four-times what we have in the transfer window, and their wage budget is also double what ours is so you can see what task we have ahead of us to topple them. It won’t be easy. They were also the top spenders’ worldwide, with a transfer outlay of €196M this window, adding Federico Chiesa (€73M rising to €116M), Emil Forsberg (€57M rising to €84M), Jonas Hector (€23M), and Emanuel Mammana (€32M rising to €50M).
You know when you’re winning, but you’re not playing particularly well? That’s how the second half of the season started for us.
After defeating Rhede (7-0) and Lotte (2-0) in friendly matches during the winter break, the business end of the season started. We then travelled to the Red Bull Arena where two stoppage-time goals in the first half were enough to secure a 2-1 victory, helped by Diego Demme being sent off on 37 minutes.
Freiburg 2-0) and Hannover (1-0) were beaten afterwards to take our impressive run of undefeated games in the league to seven. While neither team posed much of a threat, we still weren’t working well together and seemingly grinding out results on the pitch rather than playing with any real attacking intent and swagger.
I ordered more work on our attacking movement to see if it would help with our blunt attack. Come February, Steffen Freund mentioned that 17-year-old Manuel Pherai, who had been promoted to train with the first team, had been outshining everyone for the past few weeks in training. His consistent performances earned him a start in our next match against Eintracht Frankfurt. I needed to shake things up because as it stands we just weren’t clicking.
It backfired terribly. A 6.4 rating by halftime and he was hauled off as we went in 1-0 down to the side 16th in the league. A corner goal just after the break put us two behind. With hindsight, it wasn’t his fault, but this wasn’t a team out there. This sort of performance had been coming after the lucky start to the season we had. On the hour mark, it was 3-0 to Frankfurt. We were falling to pieces! Not a single rating over 6.5 for anyone.
A reality check that this wasn’t going to be a walk to a second place finish. We had to buck our ideas up. Time for some attacking football.
Sandhausen were first, who were itching to get one over us. It took until the 72nd minute before Alexander Isak, making his first appearance for me, ran through the defence to slot home. A Marius Wolf penalty on 81 minutes sealed the victory.
Hoffenheim (2-0) and Nuremberg (3-1) were next in line and things were looking better. We should have also beaten Bayer Leverkusen, we dominated play but couldn’t get the victory and had to settle for a 1-1 draw. By the time we left the WWK Arena with a 2-0 victory over Augsburg, I was feeling pretty confident ahead of the rest of the season.
Despite the constant wins, the football wasn’t great. Switching between a 4-1-4-1, a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 probably didn’t help things, but I wanted a particular style of football at Dortmund and nothing we were producing was coming close to how I wanted us to play.
Paderborn exposed the weaknesses of the 4-2-3-1 in the cup, managing to score two very easy and simple goals against us, and despite the four in reply, I couldn’t help thinking that I needed more protection at the back, especially as I like my wing-backs involved with the attacking phase.
Against Stuttgart, we used a defensive midfielder and we looked a lot stronger for it after coming away with a 2-0 victory and limiting them to just a single shot on goal. It was a similar story against Hertha Berlin, another 2-0 victory and just three shots on target against us, but our attacking play still seems to lack any real drive. Moreover, Hertha came away with 62% of the possession, which the press seemed to indicate was a sign of their dominance, conveniently forgetting the scoreline.
The real acid test would come after the international break when we travel to the Allianz Arena to face Bayern Munich in Der Klassiker.
We finished up March sitting in third place. A meteoric rise in just a couple of months. However, with things still so tight at the top, we have to guard against complacency.
The press were quick to remind me that it had been twenty-one days since our last fixture. I think they see it as an issue, forgetting that Bayern have also had this time off. It has given us time to work on out set pieces, as we’re going to need all the help we can get.
Ahead of the match, Michael Zorc approached me about a new contract. The board clearly believed in the philosophy I was trying to instal and the results were positive. It was a bit of a relief, to be honest. The terms of the deal were for a three-year contract until June 2022.
Matchday. Bayern, armed with €197M worth of January transfers, I’d be lying if I said there were not a few nerves. We have trained well, and are relatively free from injury. I was able to pick my strongest 11 so we had no excuses.
We came out the blocks firing, hitting three shots early, with two of them being clear-cut chances. Bayern came into the game a bit more, but we persisted with the attacking football. Then on 40 minutes, Axel Witsel got sent off for his second bookable offence. We swapped from the 4-3-3 to a 4-4-1 and despite a few scares, rode the game out for a 0-0 draw. Pretty respectable given the circumstances.
Following a convincing 2-0 victory over Mainz, Freiburg then did to us what we did to Bayern and held on for their lives for a 0-0 result against it. We battered them, we huffed and puffed and missed some clear chances but just couldn’t get through them. Hardly great preparation for our Semi-final cup match against Mainz.
We got a much tougher match against Mainz this time around, an own goal by right-back Hakimi game Mainz the lead on 9 minutes. After a Pulisic equaliser, Hakimi then assisted Ujah for a Mainz goal with a weak backpass. I’d had enough and dragged him off. We managed to pull a goal back on 66 minutes through top scorer Reus. Pulisic scored in dramatic fashion, getting the winner on 90+1 minutes. It was tough, but Mainz only had three shots on target, so I’m justified in thinking we deserved to go through.
The Revier derby against Schalke ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw, but to follow that up with a 2-0 against Wolfsburg pushed us up into second place in the league.
The final month in the season had just three league games and the cup final. Werder Bremen were lucky to just lose 1-0 against us after we pummeled their goal, but Alcácer just failed to score yet again. His goal drought now confirming to me that he will not be a permanent signing in the summer. The final two games of the season should have been fairly routine, however, against Fortuna Düsseldorf we were down to 10-men after just 21 minutes, but the lads on the pitch did me proud to come away with a 3-0 victory.
We then went into the final game of the season, and this happened.
Of all the games for Alcácer to break his drought, he picks this one. As it happens we didn’t need the result to finish second, as Leverkusen drew 1-1 with Hertha Berlin.
After picking up Dortmund in 14th place, we’ve managed to come out just four points behind Bayern. I never envisaged this happening at all, as the top four was the objective. It has been a fantastic challenge!
The rest of the week was all about preparations for the DFB-Pokal against RB Leipzig. We were undefeated against them this season so far, a 1-1 draw at home earlier in the season and a 2-1 victory away in the league in January.
Ralf Rangnick is the interim manager at Leipzig, and with no manager profile, it’s hard to know how they’re likely to play. They set up with a 4-4-2 formation, with Werner (who is a top target for us this summer), Ajeti up top. They have two quick wingers in Bruma and Sabitzer and the tough tackling Demme in the middle.
I was pretty comfortable going into the match with the 4-3-3 system that we had been using recently, and was quietly confident that we’d done the right training leading up to the match, where I scheduled in some extra sessions for attacking set pieces.
As far as I was concerned we had the stronger team and we were in better form.
The match started with Leipzig on top, creating a few early chances and show that this wasn’t going to be an easy tie. Ajeti coming close on 15 minutes, heading narrowly over the bar from a Bruma cross.
The game ebbed and flowed with both teams huffing and puffing with little in the way of clear chances, until the 30th minute when Guerreiro crossed, Delaney rised imperiously to get the ball ahead of Halstenberg to nod it into the path of Pulisic who slotted it home!
Borussia Dortmund 1 – 0 RB Leipzig
Eight minutes later, a Pulisic shot from an angle was parried by Gulácsi into the path of Guerreiro to slot home to double our lead. Dreamland.
Borussia Dortmund 2 – 0 RB Leipzig
At half-time I didn’t really need to say much to the lads, just to remind them not to get complacent, and that we were very nearly there with the trophy.
The second half was much better for us, we were playing with a higher tempo and causing Leipzig some real problems. However, in the 58th Minute Witsel committed a foul outside the area. Bruma crossed it and Werner beat everyone to the ball to get one back for RBL.
Borussia Dortmund 2 – 1 RB Leipzig
It was a great header, but we really should have been able to deal with that.
I feared the worse, but Leipzig never pushed on from there, and on the hour mark Upamecano appeared to push Delaney in the box. The referee consulted VAR and awarded a penalty to us. Witsel doesn’t miss from the spot.
Borussia Dortmund 3 – 1 RB Leipzig
The final 30 minutes were routine for us, with Leipzig never really troubling Burki in goal. I brought on Lukasz Piszczek for the final 10 minutes to give him the send off he deserves. He is retiring after this season.
The game finishes 3-1 to us. A DFB-Pokal win in my first season, from the position we were in. Well above current expectations for the season.
And that a wrap.
Statistically, there have been some players who have outperformed my expectations, and some who have let me down [notwithstanding the current issues with the match engine].
I have a highly talented squad at my disposal. It really shouldn’t be too far until we’re challenging for the title and a couple of astute signings over the summer should really give us that extra bit we’ve needed.
Our top scorer was inside forward, Marco Reus. Followed by Liverpool all season, it might be hard to hold onto him. Given his injury record, and Bruun Larsen coming back from loan, it might not be too bad letting him go for the €87M they’re prepared to pay.
Alexander Isak has had the most shots and shots on target p/90, which leads me to believe he’s getting into better positions than Alcácer has all season, who finished on a disappointing 7 goals for us in 41 appearances.
Kagawa and Reus created more chances than anyone p/90 with around 1.15 each. Despite his lack of games, Kagawa actually had an excellent season statistically. However, not playing with an AMC for most of the season saw his game time reduce.
Defensively, de Ligt has proved all the doubters wrong. His €50M price tag was questioned by some, but his 100% tackle completion rate showed how vital he has been at the back.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to remark on the excellent season for Roman Bürki. The Serbian ‘keeper finished the season with 17 clean sheets. Conceding just 18 in the league which was four less than Manuel Neuer. However, his two mistakes leading to goal were the highest in the squad.
Each season I will award my best and most disappointing player of the year. So for my inaugural awards…
Oliver Jensen’s golden spoon award
Awarded to my stand out player of the season.
- Raphaël Guerreiro
For me, my player of the season is, without doubt, Raphaël Guerreiro. A strange choice, perhaps, given that he is a left back, but Guerreiro has eight assists and a goal this season, including one in the cup final. He has carried a solid 7.31 rating through the season and he has been a key part of the system out wide on the left, supporting Reus down there.
Oliver Jensen’s wooden spoon award
Awarded to my stand out player, for all the wrong reasons.
- Mario Götze
Now for the wooden spoon. It’s a tough one, but it probably has to go to Mario Götze. Granted, he has been asked to play in central midfield this season, when he’s better suited to attacking midfield, but just two assists and no goals, a 6.71 rating, I really did expect a lot more.
I will try to fit him in better next season, but he has to work hard to fit into the system I want us to play. He just didn’t do that this season.
Oliver Jensen’s silver spoon award
Awarded to the best youth player (under 23) to break into the squad, either new signing or from the youth teams.
- Matthijs de Ligt
There have not been too many players break into the first team this season. However, the stand out for me is Matthijs de Ligt. At just 19 years old he took the first chance I game him with both hands and made that DC (R) spot his own. A 7.03 rating, 100% of tackles completed. Incredible.
Fans player of the season
- Raphaël Guerreiro (57%)
- Thomas Delaney (17%)
- Marco Reus (15%)
Young player of the season
- Achraf Hakimi
It has been an excellent season, capped with a trophy. I hope this eleven will be the same as when we line up next season, with perhaps a new striker leading the line.
We’ve had a fantastic set of financial results in my first year, all while being destroyed in the Champions League. I expect I’ll be spending some money in the summer to add reinforcements and some younger players for the academy if we can.
Here are a basic set of results, as there’s nothing to compare with.
Nothing to compare with, but on the face of it these are a strong set of results.
A very healthy season saw income at €323M, 45% of which is a combination or price money and TV income.
Match day income is around 15% which is to be expected in Germany with low ticket prices. Marketing income of 36% at €117M was the second largest stream for us, with €93M of that sponsorship money.
This gives us a good base reading going into the second season and some goals here to aim at beating.
As with the income, nothing to compare with, but this is our expenditure for the season.
It is to be expected that player wages take the largest slice of the pie, at €80M for the season. This doesn’t come close to Bayern, but this is about us, not them.
I will expect to see an increase in player wages and transfer expenditure next season as we look to push Bayern for the title, but that has to be offset by a better set of financial results.
Overall then, things look healthy going into next season.
PLANS FOR NEXT SEASON
With Borussia Dortmund II winning the German Regional Division West and gaining promotion to the third division, and the youth team finishing third in the German U19 Division West, winning the U19 Champions League and the Youth cup, things are looking good for the future.
I need to sift through hundreds of scout reports and statistical analysis of players who my team have highlighted as potential transfer targets. I need to try to get a deal done with Real Madrid for Hakimi although he is here for another season at least. I need to make a decision on Alcácer, too. I need a main striker and not sure if he is the one we should be looking to lead our line. Other than that, I’m actually pretty happy with the squad, so the €119M I’ve been given for transfers may actually not be used.
There’s a lot of interest in our players from other clubs with Guerreiro and Reus being watched so we’ll have to try our best to keep hold of them over the summer if we can.
Until next time, tschüss.