Dortmund's post-Gotze era off and running

Posted by Stephan Uersfeld

Dennis Grombkowski/Getty ImagesBorussia Dortmund have no plans to sell Robert Lewandowski to rivals Bayern Munich, much to the Polish striker's dismay.

In 2004, the Austin, Texas, band, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, released what was their last great album, "Worlds Apart." The NME called the album "a suicide note of a band recognising their own irrelevance." Harsh but true. Over the next few years, the band indeed slumped into prog-rock obscurity.

The standout track was the brilliant "Will You Smile Again?" -- a song about someone unable to achieve greater things, stopping himself from doing so. Singer Conrad Keely asks: "Have you forgotten just who you are? If you don't want to then you could at least pretend that the paper's your soul and your blood's the pen."

It is the same question that more or less has also been asked by many Borussia Dortmund supporters throughout the summer transfer period -- with Dortmund being the paper and the ball the pen. Until now they did not get an answer from Robert Lewandowski, the player they have been asking this question over and over again.

But regardless of the ugly transfer saga that has unfolded over the past couple of months, it now appears that Lewandowski will remain at the Champions League runners-up for one more season, before -- if it shall be Pep Guardiola's wish -- joining FC Bayern. Both BVB boss Jurgen Klopp and the sometimes chatty Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have left no doubt about that over the past few days.

For the time being, Lewandowski, one of the best strikers in the game, will stay at the Westfalenstadion and if Klopp is to be believed, the striker will give it his all for the club that enabled him to reach for the stars. When Dortmund players gathered for the annual photo shoot at the Dortmund grounds on Tuesday, the Poland international sported the "blacknyellow" outfit, but was one of only two players not smiling. So "will you smile again, Robert?"

The question is not an easy one to answer but once the target man had a closer look at his new teammates he will have every right to smile. Instead of becoming pushovers for FC Bayern after the unexpected departure of the "German Messi," Mario Gotze, Borussia Dortmund have spent big but sophisticated during this transfer period.

With most of the transfer business done, it is time to take a look at the Borussia Dortmund squad for the upcoming season and what can be expected of it. With the Schwarzgelben only a couple of days into preseason it might still be early days, but the first test matches and interviews have already shown what can be expected of the new Borussia.

Let's however start with those who left. The Gotze transfer certainly has the biggest impact on Borussia's game. During last season Gotze played the central midfield role. He was the heartbeat of Dortmund's midfield, flanked by Marco Reus and Jakub Blazczykowski on the wings. What Gotze lacked, really, was the number of goals scored from big chances, with the most prominent example of that being the numerous chances he wasted during the first Champions League quarter-final against Malaga.

The second bigger departure of the summer has been the transfer of Brazilian defender Felipe Santana. Whereas the tall Brazilian played a good role for Dortmund, he was never able to fill the gap in the build-up play for the injured Mats Hummels and was also not on par in footballing terms with the other Dortmund centre-half, Neven Subotic.

Die Schwatzgelben also lost the two highly talented midfielders Leonardo Bittencourt and Moritz Leitner, who despite their talent failed to make an impact at the Westfalenstadion. Bittencourt was sold to Hannover 96, with a buy back clause for Borussia, and Leitner was sent down south to VfB Stuttgart on a two-year loan without a buy option.

In Julian Koch, Lasse Sobiech and David Ginczek, three loan players, did not return to Dortmund but instead were sold to the league rivals FSV Mainz, Hamburger SV and 1.FC Nuremberg. The seven transfers earned Dortmund a total of over 43 million euros.

With more than 60 million euros earned during Dortmund's surprising run to the Champions League final last season, the nearly debt-free Borussia had a lot of money to splash out during the summer. The week after the Champions League final they bought the Greece international Sokratis from Werder Bremen for just under 10 million euros. The versatile defender has vowed to fight for a place in the central defense, but is more likely to deputize for the injured Lukasz Piszczek. The Poland right back will not be back before the New Year after he underwent long-needed hip surgery in the first days of June.

Moving up the formation, two of the club's most expensive signings ever joined the Klopp gang after a monthlong transfer drought: last week, the fast Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined Borussia -- and became an instant hit with German tabloids for his extravaganza off the pitch. A few days later, the marquee signing was made: Henrikh Mkhitaryan left Shakhtar Donetsk to sign for Borussia. The Armenian international became BVB's most expensive transfer ever as Dortmund agreed a transfer fee of 27.5 million euros for the midfielder who had been owned by three different clubs. The renowned German paper SZ called it "the most difficult transfer ever done by a German club."

This all but ended Dortmund's summer business. "We have strengthened the squad not in numbers, but in quality," Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said. The Dortmund legend, who captained his club to two German championships, one German cup win and a Champions League trophy, added that an attacking player with perspective was all but signed as well.

With Aubemeyang and Mkhitaryan, the Dortmund squad has indeed been strengthened. The Gabon international will be able to play on both wings as well as taking Lewandowski's role in attack. Mkhitaryan has been hailed by his former coach Mircea Lucescu as someone "able to read the game" and "with a lot of speed, strength and technique." In the Ukraine League he has also been clinical, scoring 25 in 29 games.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty ImagesHenrik Mkhitaryan scored 25 goals in 29 matches last season for Shakhtar Donetsk.

Both the Gabon and the Armenia international will make Dortmund's game even more unpredictable and Lewandowski smile. The Polish goal scorer will eventually shake off his frustration of the failed transfer to Bayern and will continue to find the back of the net. In his first preseason friendly against Basel on Wednesday he may have only hit the woodwork but he worked hard defensively.

One should also not forget Nuri Sahin. The winter signing is enjoying his first full preparation after his 18 months hiatus from Dortmund; the Turkey international will also add strength to Dortmund's holding midfield. Sahin had struggled to get back in the team he led to the German championship in 2011, but finally seems back to his old form that earned him a Real Madrid contract in 2011. He has proven to be an outstanding feeder for Dortmund's attacking midfield, with his clinical passes opening gaps where there are none.

Youngster Jonas Hofmann, 21, has also been pulled up to the Dortmund team. The midfielder, who feels most comfortable on the wing, has been handed the prestigious number 7 jersey and seems like a good guess for games against bottom of the league teams during the first half of the season.

Hofmann will take the pressure of Poland skipper Jakub Blazczykowski, whose improvement in form has been one of the most remarkable stories of the past season and a half. Once hailed as Poland's Figo, it took Kuba years to fully arrive at Dortmund. One of the last men surviving from the long gone Thomas Doll years, he has formed an incredible partnership with his Polish teammate Piszczek.

Which leads to Dortmund's vulnerable spots at the back. At first glance, Dortmund have lost two players in Santana and the long-time absentee Piszczek and have only picked up one player in former Bremen defender Sokratis. The Greek is likely to deputize for Piszczek during the remainder of 2013. The only other real defenders with Bundesliga experience are Hummels, Subotic and Marcel Schmelzer. Three players for three positions. But despite having money left in the bank, Dortmund have decided not to add new players to the defense.

Instead, Klopp has decided to fall back to three youngsters: Jannik Bandowski, left back, 18-year old Marvin Sarr at the centre-back position and the former Dortmund reserve attacker Erik Durm, 21, who will be trained for the right back position.

The three youngsters and the versatile Dortmund fan favourite Kevin Grosskreutz, 24, add depth to Dortmund's defensive lineup. Since taking the goalkeeper position for Roman Weidenfeller, who had been sent off during Dortmund's horrible 2-1 defeat to Hoffenheim on the last match day of last season, Grosskreutz has played every position but striker for his hometown club. He will be Schmelzer's first back-up and can also play as right back and -- when needed -- both positions on the wing.

It might be a gamble, but Dortmund are only shooting with a bow and arrow, a rather expensive one, one might add. The summer signings should be enough to make Lewandowski smile for his final year at Dortmund and -- if things don't go horribly wrong -- secure Dortmund's fourth consecutive year of Champions League football. Everything else will come as a bonus for the Klopp squad and -- relieved of the burden of being the defending champions -- a league title is absolutely within reach, despite Bayern Munich.

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