Why Marcel Schmelzer Has Been the Unsung Hero for Borussia Dortmund This Season

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2015

Dortmund's defender Marcel Schmelzer runs with the ball during the German first division Bundesliga football match Borussia Dortmund v SV Darmstadt 98, in Dortmund, western Germany, on September 27, 2015. The match ended with a 2-2 draw. AFP PHOTO / PATRIK STOLLARZ

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Borussia Dortmund's impressive start to the Thomas Tuchel era has brought many at the club a lot of praise. 

The new head coach himself has been applauded for branding a unique playing style. Julian Weigl was commended for making himself indispensable early in his first top-flight season at just 20 years of age. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's fine early-season form has been lauded, too.

One man who hasn't received his due recognition, though, is Marcel Schmelzer.

The 27-year-old is used to being overlooked, overcriticised even. He acknowledged as much in an interview with Bundesliga.de, saying he feels like players who "just" do their jobs don't get the recognition they deserve compared to flashier ones. 

Dortmund's left-back position, which Schmelzer has taken up relatively unrivalled for seven years now, has often been identified as one the club needs to improve at.

Bleacher Report's Stefan Bienkowski wrote in March: 

One of the standalone problems within this current Dortmund side is the continued misfortune of Marcel Schmelzer and his consistently underperforming nature at the Westfalenstadion. The left-back unquestionably gives his all for the side and has been a worthy servant throughout Klopp's time at the club, but an upgrade is an absolute must if the club hopes to one day challenge for the title again. 

Schmelzer in his early days under mentor Jurgen Klopp.
Schmelzer in his early days under mentor Jurgen Klopp.PATRIK STOLLARZ/Getty Images

Some Dortmund supporters surely felt that Schmelzer's standing would diminish this season, as former head coach Jurgen Klopp was the left-back's biggest advocate.

These fans believe, as chatter in forums and on social media goes, that Schmelzer only played so well for the club during the successful run between 2010 and 2013 because he played behind industrious Kevin Grosskreutz a lot.

If Dortmund's start to the 2015/16 campaign is any indication, they all were utterly wrong.

Schmelzer is still an undisputed starter under Tuchel, playing the full 90 minutes in all seven Bundesliga games he was available for before a strained thigh muscle kept him out of Dortmund's last two.

The full-backs have a pivotal role in Tuchel's possession-orientated system, as they're placed higher up the pitch than in previous years. Schmelzer benefits from that change.

Schmelzer wasn't always perfectly used on offense in recent years.
Schmelzer wasn't always perfectly used on offense in recent years.Boris Streubel/Getty Images

On the ball, he receives it much later in attacks, which often sees him in a position at, or close to, the penalty box, as Martin Rafelt noted for Spielverlagerung.de. In recent years, he often got the ball in no-man's-land with limited options, frequently resulting in half-baked crosses.

Schmelzer has created nine chances in the Bundesliga so far, according to Squakwa. Matthias Ginter, whose surprising offensive exploits from the other full-back position led to him starting in two internationals for Germany, has created only one chance more. Schmelzer assisted one goal in the league so far and won his team a penalty on Matchday 2 at FC Ingolstadt

Both scenes showed an improved Schmelzer. Against Borussia Monchengladbach in Dortmund's opening fixture, he played a pinpoint cross to Aubameyang, who just had to get his head on to the ball to find the net. At newly promoted Ingolstadt, he won the penalty with courageous dribbling, indicating a new found confidence. 

Schmelzer's fighting spirit is unquestioned.
Schmelzer's fighting spirit is unquestioned.PATRIK STOLLARZ/Getty Images

Defensively, Schmelzer has probably been Dortmund's most consistent player. His strength in gegenpressing allows him to be make plays from his higher position on the pitch. Five defensive actions per game reflect that, per Squawka.

His importance to Dortmund's game has been evident in the two Bundesliga matches he missed.

At Bayern Munich, Tuchel tried to replace him with Lukasz Piszczek. The right-back by trade struggled on unfamiliar turf, providing virtually nothing offensively and being at least partly at fault for one of Bayern's five goals. 

At Mainz 05, Park Joo-ho, signed late in the summer to back up Schmelzer, made his Bundesliga debut for the club. The South Korean was hesitant to move forward with the same authority Schmelzer has shown this year, and he didn't provide the width deep into enemy territory the team had become accustomed to.

Schmelzer, who Spielverlagerung's Rene Maric once dubbed the least skillful world-class full-back in the game, was dearly missed.

It should help people realise how important a piece he is for Dortmund. As the saying goes, you never know what you've got until it's gone.

Lars Pollmann is a featured columnist writing on Borussia Dortmund. He also writes for Yellowwallpod.com. You can follow him on Twitter.