Ranking and Grading Borussia Dortmund's Summer Signings After 1st Half of Season

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2016

Ranking and Grading Borussia Dortmund's Summer Signings After 1st Half of Season

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    DANIEL ROLAND/Getty Images

    As German football embarks on its month-long break in action known as "Winterpause," there is no better time to evaluate the performances of Borussia Dortmund during the first half of the 2016/17 season.

    Their campaign was always going to be shaped heavily by the summer transfer-window activity, when the club's decision-makers had the unenviable task of replacing three of the team's best players in Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

    They did so by signing no fewer than eight new faces for almost every area on the pitch, only leaving out a new goalkeeper and a classic striker. 

    Dortmund received near-unanimous praise for their transfer business in the summer, with Squawka.com going as far as calling them "the undisputed kings of the transfer market."

    But how have the summer signings performed during their first few months with the Black and Yellows?

    Click "Begin Slideshow" to see Bleacher Report's ranking and grading of Dortmund's eight new players.

8. Mikel Merino, No Grade

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Signed for €3.75 million from Spanish side CA Osasuna, Mikel Merino joined the Westfalenstadion club as an intriguing developmental prospect.

    Despite being a full-time starter for the team from Pamplona in his age-18 and -19 seasons, it was likely that the Spain under-21 international would need some time to get acclimated in his new surroundings at Dortmund.

    A positional switch—head coach Thomas Tuchel has exclusively used the midfielder at centre-back—did not help, as he seemed to struggle with adapting to life at a much bigger club. He has only appeared in three matches, making two starts in the Bundesliga.

    He has showed an intriguing blend of technique, passing ability and physicality, but with so little playing time to judge upon, he will receive no grade from B/R at this juncture.

7. Sebastian Rode, D+

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Brought in from Bayern Munich for €12 million, Sebastian Rode was supposed to add another dimension to Dortmund's midfield.

    A physical box-to-box player with seemingly endless stamina, the former Eintracht Frankfurt man was never going to replace the playmaking genius of Gundogan but still looked a decent addition to the squad.

    Only a few months after his signing, however, Rode already seems a rare miss on the transfer market for the Black and Yellows, as this writer detailed in an earlier piece. The 26-year-old is a man without a defined role under Tuchel.

    His passing range is nowhere near good enough to play him at the base of midfield, while he does not possess the strategic mind to play as a central midfielder against most opponents. He cannot help the team break down defensive opposition because his passing is incredibly conservative and risk-averse.

    ESPN FC's Stefan Buczko offered a damning opinion on Rode's fit at the Westfalenstadion, writing "the midfielder does not possess the skillset to be anything more than a passenger in a possession-based team."

    Tuchel has occasionally tried him at right-wing-back, making use of his running ability, but Dortmund have enough options at that spot in Lukasz Piszczek, Erik Durm and Felix Passlack.

    Rode would likely be among the best players for a dozen of Bundesliga clubs, but going by his first half season in the Ruhr valley, the marriage between him and the Black and Yellows does not make a lot of sense for either side.

6. Emre Mor, C

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Much like Merino, Emre Mor was added with the future in mind. A €7 million signing from Danish side FC Nordsjaelland, the Turkey international dazzled at Euro 2016 and thus raised expectations at his new club.

    The 19-year-old has struggled to make good on that promise on a consistent basis, but that cannot come as a huge surprise to anyone. After all, this is his first full campaign as a professional footballer. Ups and downs are only natural for such a young player moving to a more competitive league and club.

    He has noticeably improved in some important areas, be it decision-making or his defensive contribution in counter-pressing, indicating he takes coaching well.

    The end product is lacking at times, as he has scored one and assisted two goals in 13 appearances across all competitions, but his incredible talent has been on display a number of times.

    As an example, he won the ball against Real Madrid's Marcelo and played a perfectly weighted pass to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ahead of Marco Reus' equaliser against Los Blancos in the UEFA Champions League, a goal that would allow Dortmund to win their group.

    In Mor, the Black and Yellows have a rough diamond who mostly needs more seasoning and consistency to become the difference-maker his natural ability dictates he ought to be.

5. Andre Schurrle, C

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    Michael Probst/Associated Press

    The club's record signing, Andre Schurrle joined from VfL Wolfsburg for a whopping €30 million. More than his potential fit at the club, that price tag made fans sceptical of the winger ahead of the season.

    Given his strong bond with head coach Tuchel, who made Schurrle his captain when he coached FSV Mainz 05's under-19 Bundesliga side, the expectation was the 43-year-old would be able to get the best out of Schurrle, a player who seemed to stagnate since leaving Bayer Leverkusen for Chelsea in 2013.

    As Buczko argued, his signing made some sense even despite the inflated transfer fee, given his solid defensive contributions and steady nature would make him stand out in a team of many highly talented but inexperienced players.

    A strong start to the season, with two assists on the Bundesliga's opening day against former club Mainz and a late equaliser against Real in the first meeting in the Champions League, seemed to validate the signing, but nagging knee problems have mostly relegated the 26-year-old 2014 World Cup winner to back-up duties since October.

    His numberstwo goals and three assists in only 579 minutes of playing time—are nothing to write home about, but it is clear Tuchel trusts Schurrle, giving him starts against Bayern Munich in the league and in the second leg against Los Blancos.

    The Germany international should play a bigger role in the second half of the season, health permitting, and thus improve on his grade.

4. Marc Bartra, C

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    Alik Keplicz/Associated Press

    The first half of the season was a tale of two halves for Marc Bartra, a bargain €8 million signing from mighty FC Barcelona.

    The Catalan had no problems sliding into Hummels' usual spot at left-centre-back early in the season, showing his excellent footballing education in La Masia with some lovely passes in the buildup phase, as tactics blogger Tom Payne showed in this video

    Bartra also displayed the required athleticism to play in a high defensive line, as Dortmund like to do against deep-sitting teams.

    Had we given out these grades in October, chances are Bartra would have topped our ranking. However, he has not been the same since suffering a muscle injury against Wolfsburg on September 20 that saw him miss a total of five matches across all competitions.

    His passing has become erratic and outright dangerous for his own team, as it often invites the opponent to play on the counter, while he makes ludicrous mistakes in his defending. As Buczko put it, the 25-year-old "found himself chasing shadows far too often."

    His timing in challenges is off, he does not position himself well to cover passing lanes and he tries to play attackers offside when the rest of the defence does not—no other player needed the winter break more than Bartra.

    That said, the potential he showed earlier in the season cannot be denied, and all in all, he still deserves a C for his performances.

3. Mario Gotze, B-

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    TF-Images/Getty Images

    More than the more expensive Schurrle, Mario Gotze was considered the crowning jewel of Dortmund's summer spending spree. His sensational return for €22 million after three ultimately disappointing years at Bayern was easily the biggest story in the summer.

    At first glance, one might assume he has not made the impact many expected from the 2014 World Cup winner. Scoring two and assisting two goals in 15 appearances across all competitions, he has not had the attacking output Dortmund fans had become accustom to during his first stint with the club.

    However, it is unfair to measure Gotze's performances on his scoring tally. He plays an entirely different role in this Dortmund side but arguably a more important one. He is no longer a winger or attacking midfielder who runs at defenders; he is more of a strategist, playing in deeper zones on the pitch.

    More than anything, his emphatic defensive contributions have made a difference for the Black and Yellows, as was evident in a commendable performance against the Bavarians in November. 

    Seeing as it took Gotze a while to get into shape following an extended summer vacation after the Euros in France and considering the fact he got better and better as the season went on, there is every expectation that the 24-year-old will only improve in the second half of the campaign.

    Nonetheless, one could argue he already was one of the team's best players during the last months and flew under the public radar due to his new role as more of a central midfielder. 

    Dortmund fans may never see the Gotze of old again, but the new iteration is arguably more important for his team than the old one ever was.

2. Raphael Guerreiro, B+

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Of all eight new signings, Raphael Guerreiro's performances during his first half year in the Ruhr valley easily were the biggest surprise.

    Signed for €12 million from Ligue 1 side FC Lorient, the Euro 2016 winner with Portugal was considered a player for the left wing, potentially challenging team captain Marcel Schmelzer at left-back as the season would go on.

    No one will have expected the 23-year-old to turn into the club's best central midfielder soon after joining Dortmund, but that is what happened, even though he has only played in five matches at that position.

    With three goals and five assists in only 674 minutes of playing time, the French-born player made an immediate impact that was not lost on his head coach, who only speaks in the most glowing terms about the summer signing. 

    "Guerreiro is full of quality," Tuchel said in November, per sportswriter Rui Miguel Martins on Twitter. "He makes everyone around him better because he resolves problems. He just needs the ball."

    The Portugal international would likely have received an even better rating and topped our ranking had he not missed 12 of the club's 25 matches across all competitions with a somewhat mysterious muscle injury.

    It is a testament to his quality how much Dortmund have struggled without him.

1. Ousmane Dembele, a

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Even though Guerreiro would likely have pipped him for the No. 1 spot on our list had he been healthy throughout the first half of the season, Ousmane Dembele deserves the best rating out of all of Dortmund's summer signings.

    The 19-year-old Frenchman has been breathtaking, especially towards the end of the calendar year, with electric displays throughout the month of December. The €15 million Dortmund invested in his signing from Stade Rennes must be considered a massive bargain.

    The France international has made impressive strides during his first months at the Westfalenstadion, improving his decision-making and defensive contributions to a level where he has to be one of the first names on the teamsheet on any given matchday.

    Five goals and a whopping 12 assists make him one of the most productive players on the team, and only four players (Aubameyang, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Julian Weigl and Matthias Ginter) have played more minutes than Dembele.

    Seeing as it is his first full campaign at the senior level and he made the huge jump from a middling French side to a Champions League club, there is not enough praise one can heap on the 19-year-old.

    He was Dortmund's best signing of the summer and has the quality to become one of the best players in the world, as this writer detailed in an earlier piece

                                   

    All transfer information and performance data via Transfermarkt.com

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

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