On Sunday, one day after a 2-1 home defeat to Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund eventually sacked their first-year head coach Peter Bosz and replaced him with former Cologne manager Peter Stoger. The eighth consecutive Bundesliga match without a win proved to be the tipping point for the Dutch manager who was tasked to right the ship after Dortmund’s ugly divorce with his predecessor Thomas Tuchel.
Just six months later, the Black and Yellows see yet another change at the helm after their stellar league start of six wins and one draw took a turn for the worse. After seven matchdays, BVB were sporting a five-point lead at the top of the table over Bayern Munich but after Matchday 15, they see themselves in eighth place, 13 points behind the Bavarian powerhouse. Meanwhile, they somehow qualified for the Europa League despite only amassing two measly points during the Champions League group stage.
Under Bosz, Dortmund had failed to string together a good performance over 90 minutes since September. The talent of the squad only presented itself in brief glimpses — be it good first-half performances against Stuttgart and Schalke, a dominant second half against decimated Leverkusen or a intense 30 minutes at the Bernabeu in which game Dortmund temporarily wrestled back from a 2-0 deficit to make it 2-2.
Players such as Nuri Sahin and Neven Subotic tried to prove the team were taking steps in the right direction, backing their thesis with promising periods over the past three games.
The 2-1 home loss to 17th-placed Bremen, however, showed anything but a Dortmund team moving in the right direction. On the contrary, the match made clear that Bosz had run out of options to help his team. Team captain Marcel Schmelzer described Dortmund’s dullness as an “absolute impudence” toward the fans and it became clear in his rant that there are problems within the team on a personal level as well.
Schmelzer was quick to laud Bremen’s team spirit, where “everyone is trying to help his teammates,” and praised the movement of their strikers. In the first half on Saturday, the Black and Yellows did not register a chance for themselves as they could not escape Werder’s man-oriented pressing — despite Bosz changing his formation three times. For Schmelzer, the team was at fault for the timid first half rather than the coach.
So what should Stoger fix first?
He needs to reunite the team. In case it was not clear after Schmelzer’s statements on Saturday evening, sporting director Michael Zorc admitted at Sunday’s news conference that there are just as many problems off the pitch as there are on it. “Peter Stoger can unite a team again if there are any rifts or disharmonies,” he said, adding: “and I think that is a very important task.”
And when Stoger was asked what he could do with the team that will play three matches in the course of eight days — including a cup tie away to Bayern, he replied: “It’s now time to bring empathy into the team and to gain a feeling where the problems lie off the pitch. I think we can all agree that footballing quality is not it.”
Before work on the training ground can come to fruition, Dortmund has to become a cohesive unit on the pitch no matter the circumstances. The readiness to fight and go to the absolute limit in every match is the first virtue in football. Without it, any team would struggle.
Next, the Austrian has to reinstall defensive stability at the Westfalenstadion. BVB has conceded an average of 2.6 goals per game in their last eight league matches, which is the main reason they have plummeted from first to eighth place. The scoring output did not drop-off significantly and is still on par with Bayern Munich after 15 match days.
“A main feature of Cologne was defensive stability,” Watzke said on Sunday in explaining Stoger’s hire, adding: “that is what we are lacking the most right now and we hope he can reinstill that in the last three games and after the winter break.”
Bosz never had much of a chance to start a consistent backline during his short-lived tenure due to countless injuries. In 24 matches, the 54-year-old fielded 16 different combinations at the back. But if there was one consistency under Bosz (as well as under Tuchel), it was the unusual amount of individual tactical errors by Dortmund defenders and defensive midfielders.
There are countless examples when BVB players were too fixated on the ball and forgot to track their man. The positioning to prevent counterattacks was often far from ideal and Dortmund players have hardly covered themselves in glory when they have had to defend facing their own goal. None of their defenders are currently in top form and one could make the argument that BVB simply lack the individual quality in the defensive department in order to back their claim as a top European team.
In comparison to Bosz, Stoger is a far more pragmatic coach, who is expected to adjust his tactical approach more to cover Dortmund’s flaws. The Black and Yellows will hope that Stoger’s in-game adjustments will bear more fruit than the ones of his Dutch predecessor. Stoger’s appointment should eventually answer the question of whether this Dortmund side was just desperate for a new approach or if a significant overhaul in the summer is needed. If BVB miss out on the Champions League next season, an overhaul will be inevitable.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.