Following a summer of managerial change at Signal Iduna Park, a sense of trepidation preluded Borussia Dortmund’s opening Bundesliga game against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
After all, last season was little short of a disaster. The Champions League regulars slipped to bottom spot during a disastrous Hinrunde – key players were injured, others under-performed and Jürgen Klopp’s position sought much attention as every week passed.
An improved Ruckrunde in the wake of Klopp’s impending resignation saw BVB climb up to seventh, while Thomas Tuchel was appointed his successor in April. Tuchel’s appointment was roundly lauded but questions remained during the build up to the 2015/16 season.
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Could Tuchel, previously working magic at Mainz but out of the game for a full season, have been tactically left behind during his sabbatical? Would managing a club of Dortmund’s stature weigh too heavily on his shoulders, given Mainz was his only other managerial position of note?
RECORD SIGNING NEEDED TO SHOW CLASS
But a pre-requisite for success under Tuchel would be an improvement among Dortmund’s illustrious squad.
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A glut of injuries – Marco Reus, Lucasz Piszczek and Nuri Sahin all had lengthy spells on the sidelines, to name but a few – had a large bearing on the underperformance of 2014/15, though some just needed to perform better - Henrikh Mkhitaryan could count himself among them.
The Armenian, signed for a club record fee in 2013, had spells out through injury himself but epitomised the rest of Dortmund’s squad in underperforming and failing to justify the price tag of just over 12 months previously.
Talk of Mkhitaryan moving on came and went over the summer but when Tuchel insisted he would be staying, it was down to the midfielder to nail down a place in his starting XI.
PIVOTAL ROLE UNDER TUCHEL SO FAR
The 26-year-old has responded in fine style, turning in match-winning performances thus far. During the first competitive game – albeit against limited opposition in Austria’s Wolfsberger – Mkhitaryan laid down a marker with a hat trick inside 13 second-half minutes.
The true test came against Gladbach on Saturday, one of BVB’s main rivals for a Champions League spot after a consistent showing last season. It was a test Dortmund’s players, Mkhitaryan in particular, passed with flying colours.
He netted twice following two lightning quick counter-attacks, firstly Reus and then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as the home side crushed the opposition. But most importantly for Tuchel and the fans, Mkhitaryan started to look like the player Dortmund paid around £24m for two summers ago.
If Dortmund can muster a surprise charge on the title this season where most predicted 12 months of rebuilding, the Armenian is likely to play a starring role as he has done so in his four matches under Tuchel so far.