A Christmas Wish List for Borussia Dortmund Head Coach Thomas Tuchel

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2016

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 07: Coach Thomas Tuchel of Borussia Dortmund protests to the referee during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Real Madrid CF and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 7, 2016 in Madrid, . (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

A look at the calendar suggests 'tis is the season to be jolly, even though fans, officials and players of Borussia Dortmund may find that more difficult this year.

The club's up-and-down first half of the season culminated in a series of somewhat disappointing draws that have the club spending the month-long winter break in sixth place in the Bundesliga.

The Black and Yellows may only be four points behind Hertha BSC in third place, which should represent the goal for the rest of the campaign, but they still cannot be overly happy with the way they limped to the finish line of 2016.

That said, there is no better time to be hopeful of things getting better in the future than Christmas. The club is getting into the spirit, as evidenced by this seasonal social media video:

With the holidays right around the corner, Bleacher Report decided to take a look at what Dortmund's head coach Thomas Tuchel may have put on his Christmas wish list this year.

                                  

An injury-free 2017

Tuchel is going through a bit of a rough time at the moment. After an impressive first campaign following in the gigantic footsteps of Jurgen Klopp, there seems to be a spanner in the works this season.

Results in the Bundesliga are not up to the high standards the 43-year-old set last season—even though a win over Werder Bremen in January would give them 30 points for the first half of the season, a tally Klopp only beat three times during his seven years at the Westfalenstadion.

The biggest reason for the discrepancy between the 2015/16 campaign and the current season lies in the summer, when Tuchel lost three of his best and most important players in captain Mats Hummels, midfield genius Ilkay Gundogan and player of the season Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

In hindsight, the public probably underestimated the impact of those key departures. Tuchel would always need time to form the next great BVB team, especially given most of the eight signings in the summer were inexperienced players with vast untapped potential.

However, the transfer window in the summer is not the only reason for Dortmund's fickleness this season. Much unlike during the last campaign, Tuchel has had to make countless changes to his squad due to injuries.

Per Fussballverletzungen.com, a blog dedicated to statistical analysis of injuries in the Bundesliga, Dortmund have had the second-most sick days per player in the division since the start of the campaign:

Tuchel has been heavily criticised for his tinkerman approach this season, as this writer detailed in an earlier piece, but the truth is, he often did not have any other choice but to rotate players in and out of his starting XIs.

If Dortmund are to play a more consistent second half of the season from January on, they will need to have better luck with injuries to key players.

Between first-choice goalkeeper Roman Burki, defensive leader Sokratis Papastathopoulos, team captain Marcel Schmelzer, midfielders Raphael Guerreiro and Mario Gotze and attackers Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle, many of the team's best and most important players missed at least a few games throughout the last months.

Should they be available on a more consistent basis in 2017, Dortmund should look much more solid, and Tuchel will have a better opportunity to find his best team and stick with it.

                                   

A natural central midfielder

The club received a lot of praise for the way they reacted to the losses of Hummels, Gundogan and Mkhitaryan in the summer, and rightfully so. The Ruhr side arguably made the best of a difficult situation.

However, one position they largely ignored came back to haunt them throughout the first months of the season. This writer graded Dortmund's summer window at B+ but noted "Dortmund didn't properly replace Gundogan and could suffer from the lack of a creative central midfielder."

Ilkay Gundogan's shadow still looms large at the Westfalenstadion.
Ilkay Gundogan's shadow still looms large at the Westfalenstadion.Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Indeed, this has turned into an Achilles' heel for Dortmund, who too often have looked predictable in the buildup phase without a strategical mastermind such as Gundogan taking control in the middle of the park.

Gotze has done admirable work, especially towards the end of the year, but mostly in the defensive aspects of the position. He is not a natural central midfielder, and his attacking output suffers when he has to play a deeper role.

Guerreiro has impressed in central midfield with three goals and four assists but only played the role in five matches, per Transfermarkt.com.

Relying on the 23-year-old to become a full-time starter at the position is a dangerous proposition, given he was signed as a left-back from FC Lorient and has missed 12 of Dortmund's 25 matches across competitions with somewhat mysterious muscle issues.

It seems rather obvious that the Black and Yellows need another central midfielder in the squad, even though it is difficult to find a good deal in the January window.

Dortmund have often avoided the inflated market during the season, with the €12 million signing of Kevin Kampl in 2015 serving as a cautionary tale. The Slovenian failed to make any impact at the Westfalenstadion and was sold to Bayer Leverkusen after half a season.

That said, the Black and Yellows should still try to find a potential difference-maker in central midfield as early as January, be it Borussia Monchengladbach's Mahmoud Dahoud, as this writer suggested in November, or someone else.

Tuchel publicly denied having any transfer wishes for the January window in a press conference ahead of a Bundesliga match against FC Augsburg, per local paper Ruhr Nachrichten on Twitter (link in German), but it would not be too far-fetched to think the club could be working on a signing behind the scenes.

The need for a true central midfielder is too big to be overlooked.

                                              

Clarity about Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

With news coming down that Real Madrid's transfer ban has been reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to only include the coming January window, per Rhys Turrell of the Daily Star, it was only a matter of time before the next batch of rumours linking Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to the club will be ready.

Those links will never die down until the Gabon international makes clear what he intends to do in the next summer. His wish to play for Los Blancos at some point is well-documented, with his mother Margarita Crespo reiterating it to Spanish sport paper AS (h/t Anthony Chapman of The Sun) earlier this month.

"He promised his grandfather that he would play for Real Madrid and since he was a little boy he spoke about Madrid and never about Barcelona," she said.

Thomas Tuchel and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have an excellent relationship, but for how long will they work together?
Thomas Tuchel and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have an excellent relationship, but for how long will they work together?CARMEN JASPERSEN/Getty Images

Seeing as Dortmund's star striker will be 28 by the time the summer transfer window opens, a deal in 2017 would not be too surprising. It could be a now-or-never situation for Aubameyang.

The Black and Yellows have so far not suffered from the near-constant speculation surrounding their best attacker, but chances are, at some point it will be a distraction. Everyone would be best-served if Aubameyang made his wishes clear as soon as possible.

Tuchel will have to make do without the 27-year-old to start the second half of the season due to the Africa Cup of Nations in his home country Gabon anyway, as Aubameyang could miss up to three matches. 

It would be best if Dortmund's boss knew whether it was a first taste of life without the star striker or merely a short time of waiting.

                                                      

Lars Pollmann also writes for The Yellow Wall. You can follow him on Twitter.

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