Transfer deadline day came and went on Monday, and with it the last chance for Borussia Dortmund to add to their squad. The Black and Yellows didn't pull the trigger. They will go into the rest of the season without reinforcements, despite a potentially brutal schedule.
On the surface, that seems like a huge gamble. Having sold Jonas Hofmann to Borussia Monchengladbach and agreed to terminate the loan of Adnan Januzaj, who's returned to Manchester United, the Ruhr side appear dangerously thin, especially in the attacking ranks.
They have enough depth in most other areas, but they would have an incredibly tough time replacing even one of their three regular starters in attack—Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang—for any extended amount of time.
Saturday's game against Ingolstadt proved as much. Reus missed the contest with the promoted side because of an illness and, without a true alternative for his position on the wing in Dortmund's 4-3-3, head coach Thomas Tuchel turned to Adrian Ramos, a back-up striker, to take the 26-year-old's spot.
The Colombian struggled mightily and a number of bad touches had the Signal Iduna Park crowd growing more and more restless. While his selection in the starting XI was certainly not the only or even necessarily a main reason Dortmund played one of their worst games of the season—Ilkay Gundogan's absence seemed to be the biggest factor—his performance will have Tuchel think twice before trusting in the 30-year-old on the wing again.
The 2-0 win over Ingolstadt did, however, also show why Dortmund's lack of new arrivals in January offers a potentially high reward. As we detailed in retrospect, it was the substitutes who changed the game.
Chief among them was Christian Pulisic, a 17-year-old U.S. youth international who looked like a natural during his first minutes of competitive football at the senior level—as SI.com's Alexander Abnos tweeted during the game—and Moritz Leitner, who made his first appearance for Dortmund in the league in two-and-a-half years.
Since the club didn't sign anyone to replace Hofmann and Januzaj, Pulisic, who was promoted to the first team alongside fellow under-19 player Felix Passlack, has a role right away. Depending on who's available—midfielder Gonzalo Castro has played well on the wing earlier this season—the kid from Hershey, Pennsylvania, is either the first or second alternative from the bench for Reus and Mkhitaryan's positions.
In that sense, the Black and Yellows' lack of activity on the transfer market is a chance. There's little doubt that a player such as Pulisic would've had a tough time seeing the field anytime soon had the club made a splashing signing. With BVB's decision-makers staying put, the 17-year-old will likely receive a lot of invaluable playing time this season already.
Having said that, it's difficult to envision a recently promoted youth player playing a decisive role in Dortmund's quest for a trophy this season. Pulisic's expedited development notwithstanding, the supporters will have to hope that he won't be needed in the biggest games, as YellowWallPod.com's Lewis Ambrose alluded to:
The biggest games will arguably come in the DFB-Pokal and the UEFA Europa League. Because of their 10-point advantage over third place in the Bundesliga, it's hard to imagine any team challenging them for a runner-up finish.
If Tuchel has to make do without one of his three irreplaceables in a knockout game and his side lose, many will point at the club's inactivity on the transfer market in January. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.
The club surely know they're taking a big gamble. That's why they tried to sign Yunus Malli from FSV Mainz, for whom they had already agreed a fee, per Mainz's homepage. When the 05ers pulled the plug on the deal in the last week of the window, however, it looked like Dortmund didn't have a plan B.
They were subsequently linked with Mikel Merino and Oliver Torres, but both young Spaniards are central midfielders. Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc indicated, via Thomas Hennecke of sport magazine Kicker (link in German), that the demands from CA Osasuna and Atletico Madrid were unreasonable, and so these moves didn't materialise, either.
Going into the rest of the season with their current squad is a high risk. It could go horribly wrong for Tuchel's men. There's also potentially high reward for a number of players who'll get an opportunity to shine they couldn't dare to expect just weeks ago.