3. Dortmund: It’s a Rollcercoaster!
After Dortmund just finished second in Tuchel’s first season they had to sell three of their Key Players with Gündogan, Mkhitaryan and Mats Hummels. Instead of doing what a lot of big clubs would try to do – replace these players like for like with other players approaching their prime – Dortmund went for a different approach. They mainly signed young players like Ousmane Dembele or Emre Mor. The only real exception was Marc Bartra. Having gone through La Masia, the Spaniard is obviously quite comfortable with the ball at his feet, just like the departed Hummels.
Despite this being a year of change, Dortmund were still expected to be the one team that could challenge Bayern for the title. That didn’t really happen and it was Leipzig who challenged Bayern – at least for one half of the season. That being said, a 3rd place is exactly what they want and what they realistically could have expected after losing these three players. It ensures another year in the Champions League, a competition that Dortmund fans have come to love in the last 6-7 years.
This year’s Champions League saw Dortmund win at the Bernabeu and play out a frantic 8-4 at home against Legia Warsaw, eventually winning the group that contained last years’ winners Real Madrid. When they lost 1-0 at Benfica, a big issue this season got obvious: The Finishing. It was a game they shouldn’t have lost but they managed to turn it around in the Return Leg, beating the Portuguese side 4-0.
What happened before the Quarter Final against Monaco was unprecedented. The Dortmund bus got attacked – apparently by someone who speculated on a falling stock market price of Borussia Dortmund. This all meant that the game was moved back one day. However, Thomas Tuchel wasn’t happy with that because the attack was obviously still in everyone’s heads. Considering that, Dortmund played really well at home against the French Champions and were unlucky to lose 2-3. A 1-3 in the return leg meant their elimination from the competition.
No one knows how everything would have gone under normal circumstances and it’s no use speculating about it but it seems to have aggravated the issues between Tuchel and the club even further. There were a lot of reports about the CEO Watzke not understanding why Tuchel wasn’t ok with playing on the next day and about players falling out with the Manager. In the upcoming weeks, they won their biggest two games, beating Bayern in the Semi Final of the DFB-Pokal and Hoffenheim in the final for third place. But even despite that and even after winning the DFB-Pokal, Tuchel will not stay at Dortmund until the end of the contract in 2018 having just been removed from his position.
One name that has been circulated a lot when it comes to his successor is Lucien Favre. The Swiss Manager has lead Nice to a Champions League finish and he has obviously managed in the Bundesliga before. In that regard he is a perfect fit but the club probably doesn’t want another summer of big change so it would make sense to stick with Tuchel and just make some incremental changes to the squad and let players like Ousmane Dembele develop further. But this couldn’thappen considering the bridges between Watzke and Tuchel have long burned down – from both sides of the river.
4. 1899 Hoffenheim – Nagelsmann to the top
When Nagelsmann took over from Huub Stevens during the 2015/16 campaign, not many people would have put money on Hoffenheim surviving but Nagelsmann managed to keep them up. With how good he did, the “Nagelsmann-Tabelle”, the Nagelsmann table, including just the games since he took over and Hoffenheim ranked third in that, just behind Bayern and Dortmund.
Prior to the 2016/17 season, Hoffe lost their biggest star with Kevin Volland. However, with that money they made some shrewd signings, including bargains like Kerem Demirbay and Kevin Vogt. Everything looked like Hoffenheim were building something again after they had a bad few years including a Relegation Playoff. What no one thought is, that Hoffenheim would not only sneak into European places – no they managed to get into the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. This remarkable run included an unbeaten Hinrunde and only four losses in the whole season.
Especially at home, Nagelsmann’s men were unstoppable and collected 39 from a possible 51 points including a historical win over Bayern München. If there is anything negative about their season, it is probably the very high number of draws with 14. Obviously, in some of these games, a draw was a very good result but in the end it was one of the reasons why they had to settle for fourth instead of third. They now have to go into the Champions League playoff and considering the fact that they will be unseeded it is going to be a hell of a challenge to make it to the Group Stages.
Tactically, Nagelsmann is one of the few Managers this season who more or less stuck with the same system during the course of the whole season. One reason he was able to that is the flexibility of his 3-1-4-2. Rudy, the one right in front of the defensive three, was covering insane amounts of ground and was given a lot of freedom and with both of the Central Midfielders drifting wide at times, it was hard to predict where Hoffenheim would attack next making Hoffenheim a hard team to defend again. With Kevin Vogt, who used to play in Defensive Midfield they also had the option of changing to a back four during the game without needing any substitutions. Nagelsmann could also always choose from an abundance of different striker types including Andrej Kramaric, Sandro Wagner and Adam Szalai who found back to his old Mainz form again.
Both Rudy and Süle are leaving Hoffenheim for Bayern München and especially the loss of Sebastian Rudy is a huge blow to Hoffenheim and it’s going to be very interesting to see how they’ll go about replacing a player like him or if Nagelsmann goes for a change of approach. If the Kraichgauer can hold on to other Key Players like Demirbay and Baumann and add some depth for European Competition, I can very much see them compete for spots in Europe for years to come.