Gotze Dortmund's lone bright spot in a scoreless draw vs. Wolfsburg
DORTMUND, Germany -- Borussia Dortmund's scoreless draw against VfL Wolfsburg on Sunday was not enough to claim second place in the table for the Ruhr side. Instead the Black and Yellows dropped down to fourth again after the first matchday of the Ruckrunde.
Yet, the race for the top four places saw little attention on Sunday in Dortmund as once again the mischief of star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stole the headlines. The 28-year-old had been suspended by the club after missing a team briefing on Saturday.
Due to Aubameyang's suspension and Christian Pulisic still recovering from a stomach bug, Peter Stoger trusted 18-year-old Alexander Isak and 17-year-old Jadon Sancho start from the beginning. Sancho became the first ever Englishman to start for the Ruhr side and managed to impress throughout 90 minutes, while relegating World Cup winner Andre Schurrle to the bench.
In the end, Dortmund can be peeved with their lacklustre finishing as they would have otherwise come away as deserved winners.
New year, new me? Not quite as far as Dortmund are concerned. The club is yearning for calmness and serenity after a turbulent 2017 but concerning headlines were dictating the narrative before the first game of 2018 had kicked off.
It was Aubameyang's third suspension in the past two seasons and in many other professions such misconduct would warrant a firing. He put his club and his team into a tough spot. As sporting director Michael Zorc alluded to after the match, the striker is involved in roughly half of Dortmund's goals and the fact that BVB dropped two points due to abysmal finishing against Wolfsburg underscored the dependence on Aubameyang's contribution.
But Zorc also told ESPN FC that he doesn't know what is going through the mind of his centre-forward. "I do not recognise him anymore," Zorc said. On the one hand, selling Aubameyang during the winter break would pose a threat to Dortmund's ambitions. But on the other hand, the Gabon international is poisoning the waters within the dressing room by his unprofessional behaviour. BVB will have to choose the lesser evil.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Dortmund just look different from the team of the past seasons. Their pressing is tame if existent at all and thus Stoger has removed one of the main characteristics for better or worse.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Roman Burki, 7 -- Came up with a fantastic save against Daniel Didavi in the first half and denied Wolfsburg twice in the second half to salvage a point.
DF Lukasz Piszczek, 6 -- Although not being flawless, the Polish international underscored just how much he had been missed.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 6 -- Was once again celebrated for rigorous tackling, though could have inflicted even more damage with crisper passes from the back.
DF Omer Toprak, 6 -- Took everyone by surprise with a solo to the edge of the opponent's box that nearly yielded a big scoring opportunity.
DF Jeremy Toljan, 6 -- It did not look like Dortmund were missing two left-backs due to injury with Toljan filling in formidably for the injured Marcel Schmelzer and Raphael Guerreiro.
MF Julian Weigl, 6 -- Looked solid as midfield metronome but overlooked a few enticing vertical passes.
MF Shinji Kagawa, 7 -- It seems as though the Japanese carried his good form into the new year as he created five chances for his teammates in 90 minutes.
MF Mario Gotze, 8 -- Once again Dortmund's best outfield player on his return from injury until his substitution. If it wasn't for inaccurate finishing, Gotze would have come away with two assists.
FW Andriy Yarmolenko, 5 -- Instead of MVP, Yarmolenko earned MFP: Most Frustrating Player. The Ukrainian squandered two excellent scoring chances and otherwise added more head-scratchers to overshadow a good performance. Looked mentally shaken in the end, as attempted shots yielded into throws.
FW Alexander Isak, 6 -- The young Swede was unlucky to hit the post in the 42nd minute after a pristine first touch set him up well for the shot. Isak could impress with a fine technique and was able to hold on to the ball with his back turned to goal but it also showed that he can't replace Aubameyang quite yet.
FW Jadon Sancho, 7 -- It was a promising full debut for the Englishman, who only got better as the match went on. The left post denied him his first Bundesliga goal in the 53rd minute but Sancho made clear that he can be relied upon -- which is remarkable for a 17-year-old.
MF Mahmoud Dahoud, 5 -- Was brought on for Gotze after 56 minutes and the drop in quality in midfield was palpable.
FW Andre Schurrle, 5 -- "Tja" is a German reaction to the apocalypse, dawn of the gods, nuclear war, an alien attack or no bread in the house -- and to Schurrle's performances.
MF Nuri Sahin, NR -- Was brought on once it became clear that Yarmolenko could not snap out of his funk but could not come up with the game changer either.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.