Ranking Borussia Dortmund's Top 5 Players for 2015
With 2015 now officially in the rear-view mirror, what better time could there be to take one final look back at Borussia Dortmund's year?
After covering the ups and downs of a tumultuous 2015, we'll take a look at the best individual performers this time.
Note that we only considered players who spent the entirety of the year with the club—sorry, Julian Weigl—and that we already graded Dortmund's new arrivals in December.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the Black and Yellows' five best players of 2015.
5. Shinji Kagawa
Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa—like Dortmund on a whole—was better in the second half of the year than the first, but he still makes our list.
The 26-year-old was the Bundesliga's second-leading assist-giver in 2015, per stat provider OptaSports, with his 11 assists only trailing team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
He generally seems to have recovered the form that made him such a vital part of Dortmund's trophy-winning seasons in 2010/11 and 2011/12, although it feels like he's playing a more mature style of football now.
4. Marcel Schmelzer
The only defender to make our list, Marcel Schmelzer has earned his spot through consistency more than anything else.
The 27-year-old won't wow anyone with spectacular displays, but that doesn't take away from the fact he's by far Dortmund's best full-back.
In a year in which their defence was the downfall of the Black and Yellows a number of times, Schmelzer was the only part of the back line who was steady and truly dependable.
3. Ilkay Gundogan
Another player who was decidedly better in the second half of the year, Ilkay Gundogan returned to the form that made him one of the most sought-after players in all of Europe before his long absence from the game with a mysterious back injury between August 2013 and September 2014.
The Germany international is Dortmund's general on the pitch and perhaps the most indispensable player on the team. His statistics don't look all that great—he's only scored two league goals in 2015 and assisted four more—but his game isn't about providing goals himself.
With his creativity, passing range and intelligence on the field, Gundogan impacts every phase of the game.
2. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
The perception about Henrikh Mkhitaryan is his Dortmund career was saved by the arrival of Thomas Tuchel as the club's new head coach in the summer, but in reality, the Armenian's resurgence started during the second half of the 2014/15 season.
His noticeable uptick in performance was one major reason the Black and Yellows managed to salvage a spot in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers after a disappointing campaign overall.
Still, Mkhitaryan exploded in the new season—if we were to grade just the second half of 2015, he might well be No. 1 on our list.
As Fox Soccer's Ross Dunbar noted, "the Ruhrpott giants will be keen to tie the 26-year-old on to a new deal to avoid a swoop from Juventus or Manchester United in the next 12 months. Mkhitaryan remains one of the seriously under-appreciated players in European soccer."
1. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
There really was no other choice. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's development into a top-class centre-forward might have started long before the calendars read 2015, but it has culminated in an incredible year for the Gabonese.
This time a year ago, one would've been laughed at for including Aubameyang in the pantheon of great strikers in world football, but he showed he belongs there in these last 12 months.
The 26-year-old has become a deadly finisher, having "scored more clear-cut chances (28) than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues in 2015," according to WhoScored.com.
Perhaps most impressively, the Gabon international didn't have a single dry spell in 2015. The longest he's gone without a league goal was two games in a row.