It’s early doors for Borussia Dortmund, but Saturday’s demolition of Borussia Mönchengladbach, a side who most see as BvB’s direct competition for a Champions League place come the end of the season, was ruthless to put it lightly. Power, pace, cohesion and an inspired showing at the Westfalenstadion was the opening salvo you would expect from a club looking to rebound from a season that could have ended far worse than it actually did. Andrew Thompson has a close look at debutant Julian Weigl’s performance on the night.
It may have been Thomas Tuchel’s first Bundesliga match at the helm, but Dortmund were…well…Dortmund, and it was a performance that should put to rest any notion that the young German manager is not the man for the job. The attacking trio of Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrik Mkhitaryan were absolutely sublime, the back four was self-assured and the midfield controlled proceedings with an amount of ease that no one expected. And it’s the midfield where I draw my focus, with an excellent debut performance from youngster Julian Weigl, worthy enough to make it to the Talent Radar Team of the Week.
After coming through the ranks at 1860 Munich (where he became their youngest ever captain last season at the age of 18), Weigl completed his move to the North Rhein-Westphalia club this past summer. With many good performances for the Germany U19’s and U20’s, Weigl’s future has looked bright, but few may have expected for him to hit the ground running in the manner of which he did against Gladbach.
Despite Sven Bender being fit, Tuchel put faith in the German youth international to occupy the hole between the center of the park and the back four, a massive responsibility against an opponent of Gladbach’s caliber- Weigl took his chance with both hands.
Weigl’s numbers against Gladbach
Note: TP = Total Passes, KP = Key Passes, CC= Chances Created, TS = Total Shots,
TW = Tackles Won, ADW = Aerial Duels Won, INT = Interceptions
Note: Red = Best on the team
Weigl’s positional breakdown against Gladbach
How Weigl fit in tactically
Despite being tasked with shielding the back four, Weigl’s movement during the match indicated something a little more. As indicated on his heatmap, most of his time was spent on either side of the center of midfield. Due to the forward movement of both Kagawa and Gündogan (but never during the same attacking thrust), Weigl would step up to fill in the hole left when either player surged forward to join in the attack.
Apart from acting as a stopgap, Weigl shuffled from left to right routinely when needed, helping the midfield sniff out any attacking build up that Gladbach tried to commit to. Even though he made just a single tackle and a single interception, Weigl was instrumental in keeping Dortmund’s off the ball pressing at the forefront of their strategy on the day, catching Gladbach in the neutral third of the field and then springing into action on the counter. Positionally very aware, never caught out and being rather sound in possession (he did not lose possession even once over the course of the match), Weigl put in a very mature performance for a player who still has quite a bit of development ahead of him.
Dortmund does have quite a few midfield options on the books, so while Weigl will not be called upon every weekend, he does afford Tuchel the ability to mix and match his lineup depending on their opposition. If Dortmund are to sit deeper and not press as much, then you’ll likely see Bender called upon, but the more mobile Weigl will surely be given the nod if the same high-pressing approach shown against Gladbach will be preferred. Rest assured, the young German has a very substantial role to play in his first season at Signal Iduna Park.
It’s a long season ahead that is still filled with a bit of uncertainly. Tuchel has hit the ground running, but with thirty three league fixtures to go, plus an expected good showing in the Europa League, there will be a considerable amount of pressure placed on Weigl as well…especially after a performance that showed so much promise.
One of the biggest questions over Dortmund remains the injury bug that struck them with such reckless abandon last season, especially in midfield. Sven Bender may be a very good holding midfielder but his career has been plagued with injuries, while the same can be said for fellow German international Ilkay Gündogan – the opportunities will be there for the youngster to continuously put himself in the back of Tuchel’s mind when it comes to squad selection.
If there was a performance to build confidence and use as a foundation to cement himself into the Dortmund first-team, then Weigl’s debut ended up being the stuff of dreams. He’ll never be a goal scorer of note or a box-to-box player in the mold of Toni Kroos, but the native of Bad Aibling certainly has a future ahead of him on this evidence. This time next season, we could very well be speaking of him in the same light as many have been discussing the futures of Geis, Goretzka and Rode.
Written by Andrew Thompson