As Borussia Dortmund prepare for the 2018/19 Bundesliga campaign, it’s been known for some time that the 2012 champions have been short of experience in midfield for some time. With Nuri Şahin looking set to leave the Westfalenstadion outfit and Gonzalo Castro already gone, it will be up to summer arrival Axel Witsel to fill the void.
The Belgium international has a unique skillset that he’s yet to showcase in one of Europe’s top five leagues. Ten years of his professional career has been spent at Standard Liège, Benfica and Zenit St. Petersburg and following a move to Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian, it’s time for Witsel to showcase his ability’s in the Bundesliga after just one year in China.
At 29, Witsel arrives at Borussia Dortmund for €20 million, a relatively small fee for someone of his calibre in today’s market. With almost a century of caps for Belgium and a third-placed finish at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the central midfielder adds a wealth of experience to Borussia Dortmund’s midfield. Whether Witsel will start alongside fellow summer arrival Thomas Delaney remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a midfield double-pivot that could prove key for die Schwarzgelben this campaign, with potentially Mario Götze just head.
Borussia Dortmund’s signing of Witsel is fruitful and a genius move by sporting director Michael Zorc and it’s one that could potentially see BVB challenge Bayern Munich for the league title this campaign. The Bundesliga club also did well to sign the 29-year-old ahead of some of Europe’s biggest clubs after it became apparent that his advisor, Paul Stefani, advised against a move to Manchester United, where he’d be just another player, with Serie A club Napoli also interested.
“I did not have to think twice, because for me Borussia Dortmund is one of the best clubs on the continent. Honestly, I can not wait to run aground in front of 81,000 people. I talked with Michy Batshuayi about Borussia Dortmund. He told me: If I have a choice, I should go to Dortmund and don’t hesitate long,” said Witsel.
A move to Bundesliga football suits Witsel’s style of play and it’s a move that will no doubt benefit Borussia Dortmund. Whether Lucien Favre opts for a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3, Witsel can play multiple roles in this BVB team. A structed style of football may see the Belgian sit just in front of the defence, allowing Delaney and Götze freedom ahead of him, or perhaps the former will sit as the anchor in Dortmund’s midfield which will see Witsel sit further forward, arguably his preferred role.
In Favre’s system as opposed to Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez, Witsel may have to be more disciplined but he’ll still be given the freedom to press the opposition players, which is something Favre likes his players to do in a systematic approach. During the International Champions Cup, we’ve seen Borussia Dortmund sit high up the pitch with Abdou Diallo composing attacks from the back and so we could even see Witsel further up the pitch than many would have expected.
Wherever he plays, there’s no doubting that Borussia Dortmund have got themselves a bargain at €20 million and signing a four-year deal, it appears that Witsel will be in Dortmund for the long haul. He’s already been training at their pre-season training camp in Bad Ragaz and we could well see the 29-year-old start in their opening fixture against RB Leipzig on Sunday 26, who are themselves entering the season under a new head coach, Ralf Rangnick.
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