It is still early in the season, but it is easy to say that Thomas Tuchel is working some magic in Dortmund.
The former Mainz manager arrived at the Signal Iduna Park with the difficult task of filling in the shoes of a legend like Jurgen Klopp. Yet, with an entertaining and involving approach, Tuchel has managed to lead Dortmund to a better start in the Bundesliga than Klopp did in 2011-12 when they were crowned Bundesliga champions.
So far in 2015 Tuchel’s squad is undefeated, tallying five victories and a pair of draws in league play. Back in 2011, Klopp’s team finished their first seven games with three wins, a tie, and three losses. While on the subject, the core of Tuchel’s roster is roughly the same Dortmund roster that started last season with four losses, a draw, and only two wins.
Now, how has the young manager managed to change things so much in such a short amount of time?
The answer is the playing style Tuchel dictates to his players.
Fans familiar with the Klopp-era Dortmund may have gotten used to the fast paced, long ball style of the former manager. Tuchel has a slightly different approach. Don’t get the wrong idea, Dortmund is still an offensive-minded club. Today, however, Tuchel’s team has a possession-first mentality.
Instead of going gung-ho every time they have the ball, Tuchel’s team takes its time finding the right opportunity for a score. That opportunity may still come out of long balls more often than not. But that is just a perk of having a speedster like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spearheading your offense. Nonetheless, today’s Dortmund is an imposing, possession-hungry, attacking team.
The change of mentality is very clear when we take a look at Dortmund’s stats this season and compare them to previous years.
So far under Tuchel, Der BVB average 59 percent of ball possession through seven Bundesliga matches according to Squawka. In Klopp’s last season with the club, they averaged 55 percent in the same span of matches.
Another impressive statistic contrasting the Klopp-era Dortmund and the early Tuchel-era Dortmund is the average passing accuracy of the squads.
Tuchel’s team has an impressive 84 percent pass accuracy rating to go along with their ability to maintain possession of the ball almost 60 percent of the time. Klopp’s 2014-15 squad started off with a 78 percent pass accuracy average.
This improvement can be credited to the Tuchel brand of soccer, but the backbones of his system deserve as much if not more credit in this success than the manager.
Midfielders Ilkay Gundogan and Julian Weigl are the keys for the success of Tuchel’s system. It is their task to architect Dortmund’s attacking moves from behind, and they have yet to let their manager down.
Gundogan has established himself as a world-class central midfielder over the past years. Through club and national team play, the German made a name for himself by playing smart and excelling at creating chances for his teammates time and time again. So, when Tuchel arrived in Dortmund, it was a given that Gundogan would be a key for the manager’s success. And yet, despite playing a key role, Gundogan has been playing in a youngster’s shadow so far this season.
Dortmund’s sport manager, Michael Zorc, made several moves during the off-season. The most expensive was the arrival of Gonzalo Castro from Bayern Leverkusen to aid the midfield. Nonetheless, Castro got stuck in the bench because of the rise of Julian Weigl.
Arguably the most productive transfer of the season in Germany (next to the arrival of Douglas Costa at Bayern Munich) Weigl cost less than 25 percent of the fee Dortmund paid in Castro’s transfer.
Arriving for just €2.5 million, Weigl is proving to be the bargain of the year. The 20-year-old midfielder quickly earned a spot in Tuchel’s starting XI over Castro. Starting all of Dortmund’s seven Bundesliga matches, Weigl has arguably been the team’s best player so far this year.
Weigl leads the team with a 91 percent passing accuracy rating, three percent better than Gundogan. The young midfielder also leads the Bundesliga in successful passes, with a total of 534. The second place in that category is Bayern’s David Alaba with 519 successful passes. Alaba is also the only player in the Bundesliga with a higher passing accuracy than Weigl, with 92 percent.
Weigl’s remarkable start serves to prove how unpredictable soccer can be. He went from playing on a relegation-threatened 2 Bundesliga team to playing a lead role in a high-profile club like Dortmund in less than a year. If he keeps up the good work, don’t be surprised if other European giants start offering Dortmund hefty fees for Weigl’s services.
As for Tuchel’s system, it seems like it will be a tough challenge to figure out how to stop them. But their biggest challenge is right around the corner, as Tuchel and his players will clash against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Sunday. If they manage to overpower the deadly Lewandowski-led offense, the sky is the limit for this Dortmund squad.