Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang fuel excitement for Dortmund's new season

They were every football fan's second team last season, exciting viewers with their flair, panache and their boundless amount of energy in the Champions League. After topping a group featuring Real Madrid and Manchester City, and then beating Los Blancos in a tremendous semifinal, Borussia Dortmund's cinderella story came to an end at Wembley when they lost to rivals Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League final. They came incredibly close to an amazing achievement, before falling just short courtesy of Arjen Robben's late winner.

Barely 15 minutes after the end of the match, people already started to dismiss Dortmund, writing obituaries for a team supposedly destined to be dismantled and highly unlikely to repeat their amazing run. There are too many vagaries and intangibles generally associated with the Champions League to confidently predict consistent success even for the very best teams. Nonetheless, those who are familiar with the Bundesliga will know that Borussia Dortmund are not a club who strive to have one-off successes.

engl: Coach of german Bundesliga-football-club...
 Jürgen Klopp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is a club that has a proud winning tradition, and under some astute upper management, Die Schwarzgelben have recovered from the brink to become a sensibly run club that can constantly challenge for honours. In Jurgen Klopp, they possess one of the most charismatic managers in the modern game. Klopp has the ability to get his players to perform over one hundred per cent every time they are on the pitch, a factor that is appreciated and loved by over 80,000 fans who consistently fill the Westfalenstadion, making it one of the atmospheric stadiums in Europe.

For those following the summer headlines about Dortmund, you might be propelled to believe they are club in crisis. After the gut-wrenching transfer of German starlet Mario Gotze to Bayern Munich, and the subsequent tug of war between the clubs in regards to Robert Lewandowski, all the talk has been about who is leaving the club.

However, Klopp and the management team have done some brilliant business under the radar. Dortmund have gone about their business quietly and efficiently. While the signing of defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was a solid addition of a player who has experience in the Bundesliga, it is the addition of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the squad that gets the creative juices flowing.

Aubameyang was by far the best player at Saint-Etienne last season, propelling Les Verts to their best Ligue 1 season in a long time, almost qualifying for the Champions League but still ending up in Europe. The Gabonese contributed 19 goals and 9 assists in a breakthrough campaign, alerting him to suitors across Europe. Linked with Arsenal, and heavily coveted by Newcastle, Aubameyang signed with Dortmund on the 4th of July for 13 million Euros.

Aubameyang's most obvious asset is his pace. Equally lethal with his left or right foot, the Gabonese is extremely adept at hanging on to the shoulder of the last defender, and running on to through balls to score goals. He also has great instincts in the box, often finding himself in the right position to finish crosses with the simplest of tap-ins. He is also extremely comfortable on the ball, and his trickery and speed allows him to get out of tight corners on either wing, constantly dragging defenders out of position.

Just four days after Aubameyang arrived, Dortmund signed Henrikh Mkhitaryan for a club record 27.5 million Euros. Mkhitaryan came to prominence with his brilliant form last season for Shakhtar Donetsk, scoring 25 goals in 28 appearances. More seasoned observers will have also watched his inspiring displays for the Armenian national team, single-handedly dragging the team to the playoffs for Euro 2012, and still in with a shout of making it to the playoffs for the 2014 World Cup.

English: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan is also two-footed. The Armenian is an elegant attacking midfielder who is a joy to watch when on song. Mkhitaryan is extremely comfortable in possession, and he marries that with deftness in touch that can often open up spaces that the opposition can't see. He also possesses the rare ability of hitting precise through balls on the run, and is an extremely good finisher either through late runs into the box, quick interchanges with other forwards or fantastic volleys in and outside the penalty area.

The versatility that both Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan possess, provides Klopp with some exciting tactical variety. Klopp has always been a fan of the 4-2-3-1, featuring two central midfielders in front of the defence, three attacking midfielders and one forward. He prefers his central midfield pair to divide responsibilities, with Sven Bender shielding the defence, and the impressive Ilkay Gundogan using his creativity and dynamism to initiate most of BVB's attackig moves.

Up front, he can easily accommodate his two new additions. Mkhitaryan can grab the central attacking role in the hole, with Marco Reus and Aubameyang filling the wings. All three can dovetail with Lewandowski effectively, resulting in one of the most lethal and varied attacking quartets on the continent.

If Klopp likes, he can also vary his formation when the situation demands. Mkhitaryan can play deeper when necessary, and if solidity in midfield and extra possession is required, Klopp can integrate Nuri Sahin in a flat midfield three at the expense of Aubameyang, whose ability to press might be his biggest challenge into integrating immediately at Dortmund.

Finally, Klopp might actually be able to get better performances from Jakub Blaszczykowski and Kevin  Grosskreutz. The wingers are both whole-hearted individuals, but one gets the feeling that Klopp manages to get more out of them in relation to the talent that they possess. However, against opponents of real quality, they can be too predictable. Blaszczykowski and Grosskreutz might end serving Dortmund even better as options from the bench, ensuring that the team has a complete variety of styles in attack to cope with different defences and match situations.

It says a lot about what Borussia Dortmund and Jurgen Klopp stand for, that Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan both signed for the Champions League runners-up in stead of getting more money at Newcastle and Liverpool. Even more significant however, is the fact that Dortmund paid 40 million Euros for the duo, thus proving that when the situation demands BVB's smart financial management does not necessarily result in the curtailing of ambition. With the additions of Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang and possibly more, Borussia Dortmund have signalled their intent to stay in the upper echelons of the domestic and continental game, and football fans all over the world can look forward to celebrating some more mesmerizing football from Die Schwarzgelben next season.
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