Sunday’s German Cup Final marked the end of Jürgen Klopp’s decorated tenure as Manager of Borussia Dortmund. Klopp won two Bundesliga titles, two German Super Cups and one German Cup as manager of Dortmund, he also won the German Manager of the Year honors twice during that run. A career this accomplished deserved a fitting end, however the end was anything but that.
Despite taking the lead in the 5th minute, Dortmund limped to a fitting 3-1 defeat at the hands of VFL Wolfsburg to cap off what has truly been a miserable season for the Schwarz und Gelben. Dortmund saw this German Cup final as a last chance to earn a trophy in a campaign in which they finished a humbling 7th, with as many losses as relegated Freiburg and 33 points behind leaders Bayern Munich.
In the Champions League, Dortmund fell in the first knockout round to finalists Juventus, not a shameful showing, but it lacked the fire and attacking play they had become known for in Europe. While Dortmund’s time as an elite European power appears to be over, and their status in German football is in doubt, another club has emerged to fill the void. This club, perhaps fittingly, was the side that defeated them Sunday.
Wolfsburg’s campaign has been anything but the disappointment suffered by their vanquished German foes. Finishing 2nd for the first time in their history, Die Wölfe utilized several scintillating tactics that Dortmund had displayed in past years during their emergence. The emphasis was placed on attacking prowess and swift counter attacks as Wolfsburg finished with the 2nd highest goals tally in the league and the 4th best defensive record. Five players in particular can be highlighted for having fantastic seasons, defenders Naldo and Ricardo Rodriguez, midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Luiz Gustavo, and forward Bas Dost. Naldo scored 7 goals from center back and recorded close to 4 interceptions a game, Rodriguez chipped in 6 goals and 4 assists as he continues his progression to being one of the world’s premier left backs.
In particular though Bas Dost’s 16 league goals and Luiz Guztavo’s 3 tackles and 3 interceptions per game were crucial. The real hero of the season was Kevin De Bruyne. De Bruyne recorded 10 goals and a league leading 20 assists for Wolfsburg this season, and his performances have made him the favorite for German Player of the Year. Wolfsburg League and Cup successes were complemented by a strong Europa League run, despite their rather shocking capitulation in the Quarter Finals against an inferior Napoli side.
Dortmund’s struggles this campaign can be partially blamed due to some truly bad signings. Die Schwarzundgelben had lost world class striker Robert Lewandowski last summer on a free transfer to Bayern Munich and failed to replace his goals. Two men were brought in specifically to do that job and both disappointed. Colombian Adrian Ramos was thought to be a proven Bundesliga quality after netting 16 goals for Hertha Berlin in the previous campaign. Ramos was signed for around 9 million euros and scored just 2 league goals in 18 appearances, albeit just 6 starts, not nearly good enough for this level. Ramos’ failure though pales to that of his teammate Ciro Immobile.
Immobile was seen to be Lewandowski’s direct replacement and Dortmund shelled out over 20 million euros for his services from the Italian side Tornio, a side he had scored 22 goals for the previous season. Immobile scored just 3 league goals for Dortmund in 24 appearances. Both transfers represented huge wastes of money, although with Immobile being just 25 years old and looking promising during Dortmund’s Champions League run, there might still be hope for him. Ramos will be 30 next season and will need to prove the doubters who claim he is a small club player wrong, but time may already be up for him. Other signings Shinji Kagawa and Kevin Kampl were moderate successes, although for Kagawa 5 goals and 5 assists is not up to scratch, especially for someone who scored 13 and assisted 8 three years ago for Borussia Dortmund.
Kampl joined during the January window when Dortmund sat 18th and were in full on crisis, he can be given the benefit of the doubt based on the situation he was thrown into, but next year will be very telling for his future in the west of Germany.
Next season is very important for both clubs. Dortmund will look to rebound from this season under new manager Thomas Tüchel and try to reclaim a Champions League spot. For Wolfsburg, they must prepare themselves for a Champions League campaign, and be prepared to fight every week in the Bundesliga as they look to show that this year was not a fluke. Neither club will be able to achieve these goals if they are not able to hold onto their star players, and in both cases, recruit quality more effectively. Wolfsburg did not buy terribly this year, but 30 million euros is a lot to pay for Andre Schürrle only to watch him only score 1 goal in 14 games.
Both of these sides’ transfer strategies will depend heavily on whether they are able to hold onto their respective stars. De Bruyne has been linked to several top clubs, with PSG and Bayern Munich being the headliners. For Dortmund, Mats Hummels and Marco Reus must stay for them to have any hope of the Champions League next year, despite both stars having off seasons. This is especially important for Dortmund due to the fact that Ilkay Gundogan will be allowed to leave the club this summer.
If Wolfsburg lose Kevin de Bruyne and/or Ricardo Rodriguez this summer their first step must be to replace them. They have already taken an impressive first step, if De Bruyne does leave, by signing German forward Max Kruse. Kruse has produced goals and assists at every level he’s played at and he will take the scoring and creative pressure off of de Bruyne and Dost respectively. Adding depth to the center of their midfield and out on the wings would not be a bad idea but is not necessarily a must. Naldo’s advancing age might convince Die Wölfe that another body at center back would be helpful. Also providing goalkeeper Diego Benaglio with true competition would be a good idea. None of these buys are a must, but strengthening their bench and replacing any lost stars should be the policy.
For Dortmund their strategy is a little bit trickier. They can hope that players that had disappointing campaigns can bounce back and find their old form, or they can cut to the chase and try and replace them now. For players like Immobile and Ramos this might be the best course of action, as they need to find a secondary source of scoring, but for Kagawa, Reus, and Hummels they must have faith in the players and performances they have displayed in the past. Replacing Gundogan is imperative and there are rumors that he is going to Bayern for 25 million euros plus midfielder Pierre Emile Hoijberg, which would not only replace him but also be a fantastic deal.
The alternative is Mainz midfielder Johannes Geis, who had a breakout season at Tüchel’s old club, and could slot directly in where Gundogan left. A goalkeeper is also a must buy as Roman Weindenfeller seriously regressed last season and Mitchell Langerak doesn’t have the quality to be a true #1. Raiding Mainz for young standout keeper Loris Karius might be a wise course of action, and reliable Frankfurt shot stopper Kevin Trapp is an idea as well. Other than that faith should be shown in their players, faith that they will be better next season.
Wolfsburg’s aim for next season should be very simple, retain their top 3 status and make it to the knockout rounds of the Champions League. This is a very achievable goal and while it may not seem supremely ambitious, the title may be out of reach and Wolfsburg have work to do before they can be considered an elite European club.
Dortmund’s aim is much more shady as Tüchel is an unknown quality at managing a big club. Their minimum expectation should be a top 7 seven finish and a quality run in the Europa League, but if they can buy correctly and Tüchel discovers a winning formula then the top 3 is not out of reach. For that to happen though Dortmund will need to see their old guard return to their strong form and any signings they make have any immediate impact.
Written by Neil McCann
Latest posts by Neil McCann (see all)
- Wolfsburg and Dortmund: Priorities for the next season - June 3, 2015
- Robben, Ribery and The Next Phase of Bayern Munich - October 4, 2014
- The role Kevin De Bruyne plays in Belgium’s World Cup campaign - June 22, 2014