Borussia Dortmund are in the land of the rising sun on the Bundesliga World Tour under the watchful eye of new coach Peter Bosz. As the sun sets on the Thomas Tuchel era, what better time to take a closer look at how Die Schwarzgelben might set their stall out next season?
Let’s start with the players that starred last term – those who helped defend a two-year-plus undefeated record at the Signal Iduna Park before winning the DFB Cup with a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in May.
Dortmund lost Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gündogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the start of the campaign, but that represented a chance for young academy graduates and new signings to shine, and Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele were perhaps the two who seized their opportunities most convincingly. Pulisic ended the season as the youngest American to score in a World Cup qualifier, whilst plundering five goals and nine assists in all competitions for BVB.
The USMNT prodigy took some outshining, but Dembele’s rise has been so meteoric that his asteroid cast a shadow over even the glistening American star. The France winger scored 10 and assisted 20 across the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ended the campaign as the league's leading scorer with 31; Dembele assisted nearly 40 per cent of the Gabon captain's goals.
Watch: Dortmund’s Top 10 goals in 2016/17!
Dortmund have gone shopping since, with Mahmoud Dahoud, Ömer Toprak, Maximilian Philipp and Dan-Axel Zagadou arriving from Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, Freiburg and Paris Saint-Germain respectively. Meanwhile, Matthias Ginter - who featured as part of a back three in 19 of his 29 outings – has moved in the opposite direction to Dahoud to plug a hole in the Gladbach defence.
Before circling back to Dortmund's transfer merry-go-round it’s helpful to look at how Bosz's Ajax lined up last term. The 53-year-old took the Dutch record champions to within a game of a 34th Eredivisie title, before losing in the Europa League final to Mkhitaryan's current employers, Manchester United. Where Tuchel flitted between three and four at the back with Dortmund, Bosz played every single game of the two campaigns in question with a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Perhaps something that piqued Dortmund's interest in the first place given the club's incredible collection of youthful talent, Bosz also showed a willingness to blood his youngsters, with no fewer than six players from Ajax’s average line-up in 2016/17 eligible to play Under-21 football at the start of the campaign. How then, will Bosz plug those at his disposal at the Signal Iduna Park into his preferred formation?
In Nick Viergever and in particular Davinson Sanchez, Ajax had two pacy centre-backs in their squad. This allowed them to play a high defensive line, knowing that a ball over the top on the counter-attack would likely be hoovered up before an opposition forward could get to it. Bosz can only play two from Marc Bartra, Toprak and Sokratis, and whilst Bartra is undoubtedly the best of the trio with the ball, the other two outstrip him when it comes to winning it back…
Further forward, Marco Reus will line up on the left touchline when fit. Last term was the first in the FIFA 17 cover star’s career in which he appeared in less than 20 Bundesliga games, but he still had a hand in a goal every 108 minutes he played. Pulisic – increasingly used in the Number 10 position by the USA – is likely to shift to the centre, with Shinji Kagawa and a Mario Götze on the comeback from a metabolic disorder providing ample cover.
Regardless of who plays the final ball, Dortmund will expect it to be Aubameyang getting on the end of it. Usain Bolt may be training with the club over the summer, but if the Jamaican 100 and 200 metre world record holder was to be given his debut in professional football at 30, that really would be a bolt from the blue.