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Sokratis Top, Mkhitaryan Flop: Reviewing Borussia Dortmund's 2013-14 Transfers

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2016

Sokratis Top, Mkhitaryan Flop: Reviewing Borussia Dortmund's 2013-14 Transfers

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    The summer of 2013 saw Borussia Dortmund invest in the transfer market like never before. A windfall in revenue from progress to the Champions League final and the sale of Mario Goetze to Bayern Munich left BVB with the means to address deficiencies in squad depth.

    Over the course of the summer, BVB invested €50 million.

    Sokratis Papastathopoulos was first to sign, then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the third and final addition as BVB reported net spending (albeit only by a margin of less than €400 thousand) for the first time since the summer of 2010.

    Dortmund's new trio have experienced mixed performances in their first term at the Signal Iduna Park. Curiously, their utility has been inversely proportional to expectation and the price paid for them. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a breakdown of each player's performance.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos (€9.5 Million from Werder Bremen)

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    The transfer of Sokratis at first seemed like unfortunately poor business for BVB, which lost cult hero Felipe Santana to Schalke for the value of his €1 million buyout clause and were forced to spend 9.5 times his sales revenue on a suitable backup.

    First looks can certainly be very deceiving.

    Initially meant to be a substitute, Sokratis has benefited from consistent injuries in the BVB defense and played in all but a handful of matches. The Greek centre-back's consistency has made him a favorite among fans at the Signal Iduna Park; it's a real struggle to recall any game in which he played poorly. The 1-0 loss to Leverkusen in December, perhaps, but otherwise, Sokratis has been remarkably stablea very tall order indeed in a remarkably unstable BVB back line that has seen him play with different partners on a weekly basis.

    German magazine Kicker rates Sokratis' aggregate performance in the Bundesliga just below that of Jerome Boateng, Omer Toprak, Mats Hummels, Dante and Martin Stranzl among Bundesliga centre-backs, and the margin to first place in that ranking is slim. The ex-Bremen man nonetheless is in excellent company.

    Critically, Sokratis has had poise and composure in the games that have mattered most. He was unable to play against Bayern in the fall, but in the Champions League, he's yet to miss a step. The 25-year-old was brilliant, especially against Napoli in November, in a key head-to-head match that confirmed BVB would win their group with a victory on the final matchday of the group stage.

    Just nine months into his Dortmund career, Sokratis is loved by fans and very well settled. Although it was sad for many to see Santana go and at such a price, BVB's supporters have embraced the Greek, who has every chance of retaining his starting spot even when Neven Subotic returns from ACL surgery.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (€13 Million from Saint-Etienne)

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    Patrick Seeger/Associated Press

    Of Dortmund's three summer signings, Aubameyang was the only true addition of depth. Mkhitaryan replaced Goetze in the starting lineup, and although initially a substitute, Sokratis took a role that was left vacant by the departure of Santana. But Aubameyang was, at the time, an addition who replaced no one.

    Having participated in 25 of BVB's 27 games but averaging just under 70 minutes per game played, Aubameyang is in good favor at BVB yet certainly does not enjoy the untouchable status of a Robert Lewandowski or a Marco Reus. His attributes make him a tactical silver bullet for Jurgen Klopp that can either be lethal or rather benign.

    Aubameyang showed the range of his skill in his Bundesliga debut when he netted a hat-trick in a 4-0 rout of Augsburg. The 24-year-old was quiet for three games before scoring and assisting two goals each in a 6-2 hammering of Hamburg.

    Thus has been the story of his season: When he's on, he's on, and when he's off, he's off. For perspective, Aubameyang has directly contributed to a goal in eight Bundesliga games. In half of those games, he's contributed to two or more. In 17, he's failed to be involved in the scoring.

    "Brilliant" describes him at his best, but "inconsistent" would be the proper word to describe his season.

    It only takes the layman a few seconds of watching him in action to identify Aubameyang's greatest assets. He's impossibly quick, both in terms of acceleration and top speed, and he has excellent shooting technique to boot.

    But in the big games, Klopp preferred Jakub Blaszczykowski on the wing prior to the Pole's injury. Aubameyang doesn't offer the same tactical defensive quality of Kuba and cannot be as involved in the midfield game as Klopp prefers. If Kuba is a natural winger, Aubameyang plays on the wing more like Thierry Henry did in his early years.

    If Aubameyang wants to take the next step at Dortmund, something has to give. Either he will be used as a centre-forward or Klopp will change his tactical setup to a 4-3-3 and accept playing with three forwards. For now, though, Aubameyang is an excellent option in specific circumstances and a lethal weapon to use against slow or tactically lazy full-backs.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (€27.5 Million, from Shakhtar Donetsk)

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    Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

    Mkhitaryan came to Dortmund with the impossible task of replacing Goetze in the starting XI. BVB's record signing, the €27.5 million man came with enormous expectations. He hasn't lived up to them thus far.

    By the numbers, Mkhitaryan is having a decent first season at Dortmund; the Armenia international has scored and assisted nine goals each in 35 matches in all competitions.

    But rare is it that Mkhitaryan's influence has turned a game. Away to Arsenal in the Champions League is one example, but that match is sadly one of very few exceptions. Apart from the match at the Emirates and a recent fixture in St. Petersburg in which he scored one of four BVB goals, Mkhitaryan has been silent at the business end of the pitch in continental play.

    When Mkhitaryan has scored or assisted, it's often come in routs. Of the 15 Bundesliga goals with which he's been directly involved, 11 have come in wins by a margin of three or more goals and seven have come in four- or five-goal wins.

    When the going has been tougher, however, Mkhitaryan has not been able to make a difference—not in home losses to Bayern and Leverkusen, nor in the recent derby draw with Schalke. He did give two assists in Gelsenkirchen to lead BVB to derby glory in October, but much, much more is needed from Mkhitaryan for him to justify not only the transfer value spent to secure his signing but his place in Klopp's starting XI.

    Of Dortmund's three signings of the summer of 2013, Mkhitaryan is the underachiever by some margin. He is a very talented player and is celebrated for his great mentality, however. With any luck and plenty of hard work, he will turn over a new leaf in the coming months.

     

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