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Borussia Dortmund’s season has been a tale of two Peters. And it all started so well for the first.
Having been appointed head coach after impressing with a young and vibrant Ajax side during the 2016/17 campaign, Peter Bosz's tenure with Die Borussen couldn’t have started much better.
Dortmund took 19 points from their first seven Bundesliga games, had racked up a plus 19 goal difference and were leading the table with Bayern Munich stuttering under Carlo Ancelotti.
Then it all fell apart. Bosz’s side claimed a measly three points from their next eight matches.
Their attacking prowess was suddenly halted – they went from 6.7 shots on target per game to 5.25 – but more worrying was their defence, with their xGA90 (expected goals against per 90) increasing from 0.61 to 1.89.
Dortmund conceded 21 goals in those eight games. Their xGA was only 14.29 yet that was the second worst figure in the Bundesliga, with only Köln (17.00), then managed by Peter Stöger, having a worse total.
Peter The Second's Arrival
Bosz was sacked on December 10 and was replaced by…Stöger, who had been dismissed by Köln six days earlier. His arrival wasn't a huge surprise, however, as he was considered for the role in the summer prior to the appointment of the former Maccabi Tel Aviv manager.
The 2011/12 Bundesliga title winners had dropped to eighth in the table, but were just three points off the Champions League places.
The challenge for Stöger was to steady the ship and then direct it back into the safe waters of the top four – the title at this point was gone with Jupp Heynckes' return to Bayern catapulting the side to the top of the division.
In his eleven games in charge either side of the winter break, he has done that. Dortmund have taken 23 points, only second to Bayern (31) in the time period, and their xGA is 11.71, the third lowest and only slightly above the ten goals they have shipped.
Perhaps most tellingly, however, is Stöger has altered the playing style. Under Bosz, Die Borussen pressed intensely and allowed 4.5 passes per defensive action (PPDA) in the opposition half. This has been scaled back to a more energy-conserving 8.14.
And yet, despite the positive results, Stöger's Dortmund aren't convincing many, especially after they were knocked out of the Europa League by Red Bull Salzburg.
The club's 2.23 xG90 under Bosz has fallen to 1.8 and xGA has only dropped from 1.29 to 1.06. So overall, in terms of per 90 xG difference, Dortmund have actually gone from +0.94 to +0.74.
What is more troubling for Dortmund fans is the performances – the most convincing one was the 2-1 win against Hoffenheim at the end of December, which was secured by a dramatic 89th minute-winner from Liverpool transfer target Christian Pulisic.
Late goals have become something of a specialty under Stöger; a whopping eight of the 18 scored in his tenure have come in the final 15 minutes and, perhaps more staggeringly, five have arrived in the 89th minute or later.
While it can be interpreted as Dortmund showing great resolve or displaying clinical late-game finishing, it’s evident the side are easing off for large spells and are then having to resort to last-gasp tactics to save or win matches. It’s hardly a formula for success.
There have been subpar displays in draws against Wolfsburg, Hertha and Freiburg, another in the 2-0 win over an awful Hamburg side, while Michy Batshuayi's debut double in the 3-2 win against Köln papered over several open cracks.
The biggest let-off, however, was against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Stöger's men, somehow, won the match 1-0 with Batshuayi scoring again. But Roman Bürki made a Bundesliga season-high 11 saves, while Dortmund registered 0.36 xG compared to the host's 1.85. It was the definition of a smash-and-grab.
Glib draws with Augsburg and RB Leipzig have followed, and a 3-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt was again largely down to Batshuayi, who registered four of the side's five second-half shots.
And yet, despite the unconvincing displays, Dortmund have moved up to third and are on track to secure Champions League football once again.
But questions are being asked, with Stöger largely the focus.
Does his reliance on more established stars – Marco Reus, Mario Götze, André Schürrle or new darling Batshuayi – to win games conflict with the BVB ethos of signing and developing young talent like Jadon Sancho or Pulisic?
Does the Austrian coach lack a footballing philosophy that fits Dortmund’s entertaining, high-octane style?
And is the criticism of “boring, old-fashioned, deep-sitting, counter attacking, 4-2-3-1 football” justified given he's managed just 11 Bundesliga games either side of the league's shortest winter break?
Defenders of Stöger would argue he has done an excellent job and can point to the table as the one metric that ultimately matters.
They could also bring up Schürrle’s renaissance, which has come despite the club being happy to move him on in the winter window – clubs in the Premier League were certainly interested.
They could also use as evidence Reus and Batshuayi being integrated into the Dortmund side and winning multiple crucial games.
The ‘Stögerists’ can claim, too, that both Mahmoud Dahoud and Ömer Toprak – viewed by many as failed summer signings and two of the culprits in the failed Bosz era – have become reliable performers.
Stöger hasn’t solved every problem, however. Marc Bartra felt ignored by the coach and left in the winter for Real Betis. Julian Weigl’s form is a huge concern, while Bürki and Jeremy Toljan continue to perform poorly, although that was a problem prior to his appointment.
Stöger Isn't To Blame
Ultimately it’s not realistic to expect permanent solutions from a manager who seems to be in Dortmund on a temporary basis.
CEO Hans Joachim Watzke and sporting director Michael Zorc must own up to the mistakes of shelling out £65million for Sebastian Rode, Andriy Yarmolenko and Schürrle, but also re-examine the premature departures of talented youngsters Emre Mor and Mikel Merino.
There are also questions to be asked about the Bosz hire and the potential candidates prior to Stöger, who were wide-ranging and somewhat bizarre.
The latest speculation about Stöger’s successor is that Julian Nagelsmann will not come until the summer of 2019 at the earliest – there is a 10 million Euro buyout clause but Dortmund would be loath to pay.
Former BVB reserve coaches Hannes Wolf – who was fired by Stuttgart earlier this season – and Huddersfield Town's David Wagner have been linked, but it's too early to tell if there is genuine interest.
Stöger, meanwhile, will handle the situation with a mix of tragic stoicism and trademark humour. The position he is in is not easy, but he is doing all he can to make the most of his “once in a lifetime” coaching opportunity.