Ranking Borussia Dortmund's Top 5 Players for November 2015
Another interesting month of Thomas Tuchel's first season at the helm of Borussia Dortmund is in the books. Thanks to an international break, the Black and Yellows played only five games in November.
The month started with perhaps the easiest match of the entire season, as Qabala visited the Signal Iduna Park for a UEFA Europa League group-stage match. The hosts comfortably won 4-0.
Unquestionably, the highlight of the month—and, for many fans, of the season—came three days later, when Dortmund won the 147th "Revierderby" against arch-rivals Schalke.
The international break came at an inopportune time for Tuchel's side, as they were on a roll of seven wins on the spin.
Following the break, a 3-1 loss at Hamburg—without question Dortmund's bogey team in the last few years—and a 1-0 defeat in the Europa League at Krasnodar saw them lose just their second and third games of the season so far. The loss in Russia might prove especially costly, since they are now unlikely to win the group and dodge a tough draw in the round of 32.
The Black and Yellows got back on track in their final fixture of the month, beating Stuttgart 4-1.
While the loss against Krasnodar stings, the month ultimately was another successful one: Winning the Revierderby is high up every supporter's wish list, while Dortmund's standing in the league table arguably improved.
They entered the month five points behind Bayern and five ahead of Wolfsburg, and they are now eight behind the Bavarians but seven ahead of the Wolves. Since a true title challenge was never likely, increasing the advantage over third place can be considered a success.
Without further ado, here are our picks for Dortmund's top five players for November.
5. Sven Bender
Sven Bender has firmly established himself as the No. 3 centre-half under Tuchel, and his performances in November have done a lot to confirm the head coach's decision.
The converted defensive midfielder played in only three of Dortmund's five matches last month, against Qabala, Krasnodar and Stuttgart, so his inclusion in this list may come as a surprise. However, he was quite clearly the Black and Yellows' best central defender in the last four weeks.
While Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mats Hummels made mistakes that led to goals, Bender was as solid as they come. Matthias Dersch of local paper Ruhr Nachrichten praised him for bringing stability to the team, and rightly so.
His best performance came against Stuttgart, where he not only led his team in tackles, interceptions, clearances and blocked shots, per WhoScored, but also initiated his team's second goal with a great pass.
4. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Still an obvious candidate for Dortmund's player of the season so far, Henrikh Mkhitaryan's play has leveled off considerably after an incredible start to the campaign.
Nevertheless, the 26-year-old could easily be considered for an even higher spot on this list. He was the best man on the pitch against Qabala, scoring once himself and assisting two goals, while also hitting the woodwork twice. He followed that up with a good performance in the Revierderby.
He ended the month on a high note against Stuttgart, where he set a season record, per WhoScored: "Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Completed more successful dribbles vs VfB Stuttgart (10) than any other player has in a Bundesliga game this season."
Keeping him from the podium are two rather nondescript performances in the two losses his side suffered, although Mkhitaryan did hit the post against Krasnodar.
3. Marcel Schmelzer
Third place going to a defender in a month where Dortmund's only clean sheet came against the most harmless opposition they'll face all year might seem contradictory, but Marcel Schmelzer has earned his spot on this list.
Despite the left-back being the only defender that started all five games, he's not responsible for a single goal the club conceded in November.
Looking leaner and more athletic than ever, Schmelzer is quietly putting together perhaps his best-ever season, putting an end to the silly suggestion that he's a system player that can only function under Jurgen Klopp.
Besides his commendable consistency, we also laud him for his accountability. As ESPN FC's Stephan Uersfeld tweeted: "Schmelzer's been excellent this season. Also a leader by now."
The 27-year-old had one of the more memorable quotes of the season so far, saying in an interview with German broadcaster Sky that his side's disappointing loss to Hamburg was a warning that the team must give 100 per cent every game in the Bundesliga.
2. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
We're running out of superlatives for the performances of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon international scored five of his 25 goals across all competitions in November, finding the net in all four games he played.
His side sorely missed him in the loss at Krasnodar, as one can't help but think he'd have converted one of the chances Adrian Ramos failed to make count.
It's no coincidence that Dortmund didn't score a goal for the first time all year in a game where the rested Aubameyang was missing.
Aubameyang, who tops ESPN FC's "Player Power Ranking" at the moment, could easily have been No. 1 on our list for the third month in a row, but his uncharacteristic wastefulness against Hamburg and his unavailability for the important Europa League match opened the door for a new winner.
1. Gonzalo Castro
Taking the top spot on our list is a player who some might have considered a failed signing just two months ago: Gonzalo Castro did indeed have a slow start to his Dortmund career after making the move from his boyhood club Bayer Leverkusen.
We had already highlighted the 28-year-old's emergence in October, but his performances have reached another level since. He was influential in the team's two best outings in November.
The midfielder was his side's best player in the Revierderby, assisting Aubameyang's goal that made it 3-1 just after the start of the second half.
Castro was also one of the best players—if not the best—on the pitch on Sunday against Stuttgart, scoring his first goal for the Black and Yellows in the league, while also assisting Dortmund's second goal with a brilliant back-heel flick the whole football world would still be talking about if it came from Lionel Messi.
The former Germany international has been so good in the last four weeks that it would be more than harsh to take him out of the starting XI. He's become more than a utility man or Dortmund's first alternative when someone needs rest. Castro has become a bona fide starter.
With clever movement, great ideas and positional versatility, the 28-year-old has been all Dortmund hoped he would be when they signed him and more, even though he was brought in to be Ilkay Gundogan's replacement when it seemed like Dortmund's No. 8 would leave the club.
It's testament to his character and ambition that he's found a way to be very valuable for the club.