Borussia Dortmund celebrated an important win in perhaps their biggest game of the first half of the 2016/17 season on Saturday, beating perennial Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich 1-0 in front of their own fans at the Westfalenstadion.
The victory came at a price, however, with the Black and Yellows announcing on their official website on Sunday evening that goalkeeper Roman Burki suffered a broken hand in the game.
The Switzerland international will have to undergo surgery and "will not be available for BVB for all the games up to the end of the year."
The 26-year-old played through the injury against the Bavarians—it is unclear when it occurred—keeping his fifth clean sheet of the season and a third in the last four meetings against Bayern across all competitions.
Burki has made a big step forward in his second season after an up-and-down maiden campaign in the Ruhr valley following his move from SC Freiburg in the summer of 2015.
In his first year at the club, he visibly struggled with the change from getting bombarded with shots for a team fighting for Bundesliga survival to only seeing action two or three times in many games. He developed into a more consistent 'keeper during that first season and made more strides at the start of the current campaign.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel noted those improvements in a press conference ahead of the meeting with Freiburg in September, per Dortmund-based writer Stefan Buczko:
Having grown as a personality, Burki proved an important anchor in a BVB side that suffered from near-constant changes to the defensive personnel because of an injury crisis earlier in the season.
He has not made a big mistake leading to a goal for the opposition all season and put together arguably the best performance of his career in a 5-1 win over VfL Wolfsburg, also in September. The scoreline notwithstanding, Burki was clearly the man of the match.
Whether it was his tightening of angles in one-on-ones, flying saves against shots from range or a magnificent double stop against Julian Draxler and Mario Gomez, Burki saved his team a number of times in a game that could have ended in an incredible 5-5 draw or even a Wolfsburg win.
In the post-match press conference, Tuchel lauded his development "as a person, as a character, as a goalkeeper and as a player."
Sebastian Wessling of local paper WAZ (link in German) identified the Swiss as one of the winners of the season so far in October, and it is hard to argue against that notion. Burki has not only cut out mistakes between the sticks, he also looks more assured with the ball at his feet.
That area of his game is what Dortmund may well miss the most until he returns after the winter break. Roman Weidenfeller is a capable back-up, but he is an old-fashioned goalkeeper, with strengths on the line and in one-on-ones, but not as a ball-player in the buildup phase.
The 36-year-old has not eclipsed a 70 per cent pass-completion rate in any of the last seven Bundesliga seasons, per WhoScored.com. Burki, on the other hand, completes about 73 per cent of his passes for the Black and Yellows.
He is simply more comfortable when defenders involve him in the team's buildup play than Weidenfeller, who tends to panic and smash the ball away as quickly as he can, often leading to the opponent winning a throw-in inside Dortmund's half.
The Black and Yellows have struggled initiating plays from their own defensive third with Burki this season, so it seems safe to say they will suffer even more with Weidenfeller between the sticks.
This injury could push Tuchel to stay with the back three he has used in the last two wins over Hamburger SV and Bayern, with Matthias Ginter and Marc Bartra capable passers from the centre-back position. Giving Weidenfeller more targets for short passes would be a solid strategy.
Other than on the ball, Dortmund should be fine with the veteran in goal. The 2014 FIFA World Cup winner has yet to start showing his age, as it seems reduced playing time over the last two seasons has kept him fresh.
He lost his regular starting spot to Australian Mitchell Langerak for parts of the 2014/15 season before becoming Burki's back-up when Tuchel took over from Jurgen Klopp in the summer of 2015.
|Borussia Dortmund's remaining fixtures in 2016|
|Nov. 22||Legia Warsaw||Home|
|Nov. 26||Eintracht Frankfurt||Away|
|Dec. 3||Borussia Monchengladbach||Home|
|Dec. 7||Real Madrid||Away|
Weidenfeller was the hero in the Ruhr side's dramatic penalty-shootout escape against 2. Bundesliga outfit Union Berlin in the DFB-Pokal in October, magnificently saving two attempts despite never being known for being much of a spot-kick stopper.
Some believed that would be his last big hurrah, given his age and contract status, with his deal coming up at the end of the season. The club has since announced they will hold talks with Weidenfeller over a possible extension and plan to keep him around after he hangs up his boots, per German sport magazine Kicker (h/t Stephan Uersfeld of ESPN FC).
Weidenfeller will now likely get the chance to hit a milestone in his club career. Already the player with the second-most Bundesliga matches in Dortmund history behind today's sporting director Michael Zorc, per Uersfeld, the 36-year-old will make his 450th appearance for the Black and Yellows in the cup against Hertha BSC in February 2017 if he plays in all seven games before the winter break.
His vast experience will come in handy in those seven matches, as they all are important for Dortmund.
UEFA Champions League meetings with Legia Warsaw and Real Madrid, away from home at the Santiago Bernabeu, will determine the winner of Group F. The Ruhr side hold a two-point advantage over Los Blancos and hope to avoid the most difficult draws in the round of 16.
In the Bundesliga, Dortmund will face no fewer than three sides that are level on points with them after 11 matchdays in Eintracht Frankfurt, Cologne and 1899 Hoffenheim.
Home games against struggling Borussia Monchengladbach and Augsburg have to be considered must-wins if Tuchel's men want to keep up with RB Leizpig and Bayern at the top of the table.
Dortmund fans can count themselves fortunate their team has such a capable, battle-tested back-up goalkeeper ready to take over in Weidenfeller, but the loss of Burki is one that still will be felt.
He is the clear-cut No. 1 for a reason.