Borussia Dortmund: A lethal counter-attacking force
Jurgen Klopp has assembled a team capable of turning defence into attack in the blink of an eye
Over the last three years, Jurgen Klopp has established Borussia Dortmund as possibly the most exciting team in Europe, bar none.
On their way to two consecutive Bundesliga titles in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons and a Champions League final appearance last year, Dortmund have evolved into a potent attacking unit, as a combination of excellent tactics and fantastic players has seen them destroy teams time and again with deadly counter-attacks and clinical finishing.
Losing your top players to transfers is always a blow, and Dortmund could have thrown in the towel after losing the likes of Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa and most recently Mario Gotze, all of whom have been crucial players in Dortmund's rise over the last few years.
However, the club somehow managed to become stronger in the face of adversity, and reacted to the loss of these players by signing Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus and now Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang respectively as replacements.
These transfers have not just been random swoops into the transfer market by Klopp in rushed attempts to find replacements for the players he has lost; they have been the calculated result of a shift in the manager's tactical style of play from one based on prolonged possession to one focused on lightning-quick counter-attacks and quick conversions from defence to attack.
Sahin was fantastic in the 2010/11 season, playing as the main creative midfielder in the team, and ended the season with seven goals, eight assists and the Bundesliga Player of the Season award.
However, his transfer to Real Madrid saw Gundogan arrive at the Signal Iduna Park from FC Nurnberg. Gundogan is, in every respect, a midfielder far more suited to a counter-attacking style of football than Sahin.
He is very mobile, and can play in an attacking role behind the striker as well as a more withdrawn role in the centre of the pitch, from where he can dictate play to perfection, spreading the play to the wings with great effectiveness. In his two short years with Dortmund, Gundogan has emerged as one of the world's best young midfielders.
After Kagawa joined United at the start of the 2012/13 season, Klopp turned to Borussia Monchengladbach winger, and Bundesliga Player of the Year for the 2011/12 season, Marco Reus.
Again, while Kagawa was a skilled footballer with great vision, Klopp acquired a far better player in Reus, one with a far more dynamic and attacking style of play. Reus has shown that he is capable of playing anywhere across the attacking line, and his versatility and quality on the ball were crucial in taking Dortmund to within a step of Champions League glory.
In what was perhaps the biggest hit that Dortmund's squad has taken over the last few years, Mario Gotze left the club to join bitter title rivals Bayern Munich on the eve of the Champions League final between the two teams in May.
However, Klopp again proved to be a master of the transfer window as he brought Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang in to replace the €37m departure.
While Mkhitaryan has missed most of the club's pre-season preparations due to injury, he has already made an impression on the fans, while Aubameyang's electrifying performances in the DFL Supercup victory over Bayern Munich (4-2) and the opening game of Dortmund's Bundesliga campaign (in which he scored a fantastic hat-trick against FC Augsburg) have undoubtedly served to calm the nerves of fans of Die Borussen in the wake of the loss of Gotze to Bayern.
Klopp has spent the last three seasons moulding his squad into one of the deadliest attacking forces in Europe, and the side's 4-1 home demolition of Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals last season is proof of the quality he has at his disposal.
The loss of Gotze does not seem to have deterred Klopp in his attempt to wrestle the Bundesliga title away from Bayern Munich, and the signings of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan mean that he can now name a brilliant offensive lineup of Reus and Aubameyang on either flank, supporting possibly the best European striker of today, Robert Lewandowski, with Mkhitaryan and Jakub Blaszczykowski coming off the bench.
Lewandowski is unparalleled at holding up the play, and is an outstanding finisher (again, Madrid shall testify to this fact), and with the pacy Reus and Aubameyang making runs off his central position, Dortmund have the perfect formula for counter-attacks.
A fantastic example of this potential is the side's fourth goal in the 4-2 Supercup demolition of Bayern. Aubameyang exploited a gaping hole between Bayern's central defender and left-back, both playing very high up the pitch as Bayern chased an equaliser, and used his electrifying pace to cut through the defence, latch onto a through ball from Lewandowski, before setting up a simple tap in from six yards for Reus.
The trio should help themselves to plenty of similar counter-attacks over the course of the season, and could well form the most fearsome attacking line in the world.
The side has significant quality in midfield, with Sven Bender, Gundogan and Sahin forming a superb trio that combines offensive creativity and defensive stability. Gundogan, in particular, can pick out amazing passes, and will be crucial in starting counter-attacks for the club's wingers to exploit.
With attack-minded full-backs in Marcel Schmelzer and Lukas Piszczek and ball-playing central defenders Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels (who seem to prefer their attacking duties rather than their defensive responsibilities), Dortmund have all the ingredients for a fantastic, attack-minded style of football.
All said and done, with the players he has at his disposal and the way they fit into his counter-attacking style of play, it would be foolish to expect anything other than free-flowing attacking football of the highest quality from Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund side this season.
Count on some great counter-attacks and even better goals from the side that has won over the hearts of millions over the last three years, and is aspiring to achieve further glories under Klopp.
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