Times remain difficult for Borussia Dortmund’s coach Thomas Tuchel as his team lost 1-0 to Benfica Lisbon in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Rumors are circulating that there is a growing gap between the coach and large parts of his squad.
When Marco Reus, one of Dortmund cornerstones, was substituted in the 82nd minute, he left the pitch shaking his head in disbelief. Borussia’s top-striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had to go 20 minutes earlier. Gabon-born “Auba” went off totally frustrated with his head hanging.
Tuchel’s decision to substitute the Africa Cup participant was heavily criticized by former Dortmund coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
“I don’t understand the decision. I always showed my top striker that I trusted him, even when he’s having trouble of scoring,” Hitzfeld said.
Tuchel explained that Aubameyang is not in best shape after the tournament in Africa and that his body language did not give the impression that he was going to score a goal.
In a survey carried out by the “Bild” tabloid, over 70 per cent of the voters regarded it was a big mistake to take off Aubameyang.
Former German international Michael Ballack tweeted, “62nd minute? Seriously? In moments like that you have to be 100 per cent behind your big players.”
Other TV pundits like former striker Erik Meijer said: “Taking off a striker in a game like that means you have to have another one to replace him. But Dortmund has none.”
Andre Schuerrle and Gonzales Castro were unable to help after being sent on the pitch. Both, as Tuchel said last week, currently lack determination.
The game in Lisbon again made obvious just how much Dortmund depends on Aubameyang’s goals. The striker’s future in Dortmund is far from secure as he has talked several times about his “next step” which would mean joining one of the top-dogs in European football next summer.
Tuchel still seems to be trapped between expectations at the club and reality. While Dortmund’s fans and club officials dream of titles and an fast attacking game leading to many goals, Tuchel keeps complaining about a squad that is burdened with far too high expectations. Rumors are indicating Tuchel’s era could be over next summer, one year before is contract runs out in 2018.
The second leg in Dortmund on March 8 leaves enough space to improve things again but in general the mood amongst the team seems to be worsening.
Aubameyang not only missed three good chances but a penalty as well. Reus was most of the time busy expressing his frustration by throwing his arms up in the air.
“The efficiency problem in front of the goal has been accompanying us for several weeks,” Dortmund manager Michael Zorc complained before demanding. “We have to be more consistent and we a greater will to win.”
According to club insiders, the relationship between Zorc and club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke on the one hand and Tuchel on the other is threatening to fall apart should the coach not deliver positive results and soon.
Last summer Tuchel urged the club to provide additional experienced players. The club rejected the coach’s demands and stuck to policy of signing highly talented youngsters. Tuchel last week complained that expectations inside the club are far removed from reality. Tuchel’s statement was seen as being directed at Watzke and Zorc.
The next challenge for Tuchel and his team is waiting this Saturday when they play VfL Wolfsburg in the league.
After the defeat against Lisbon, Tuchel himself was confident his team would be able to strike back in the second leg.
“We didn’t just play well today,” he said, “We played extremely well. Lisbon had no chances at all, we dominated the entire game.