Ilkay Gündogan is widely expected to leave Dortmund this summer, but Thursday’s performance in the Europa League against Tottenham suggests Thomas Tuchel may have already figured out how to replace the 25-year-old star.
Sport rarely offers much excitement when there is no contest, and when Tottenham Hotspur arrived at the Westfalenstadion to face Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League on Thursday night, there was very little for neutrals to take joy from.
While many would have groaned at Tottenham's decision to play a "B team" and instead focus their priorities on the Premier League title race, Dortmund were more than happy to oblige the lesser side with three goals without response. The German powerhouse effectively confirmed their spot in the next round before a ball is kicked in the return leg in London next week. There will be few fans who reminisce about Thursday's game when they thumb through their ticket stubs at the end of the season, yet that's not to say Dortmund's first leg was ultimately pointless.
The most notable absentee from Thomas Tuchel's side was midfielder Ilkay Gündogan, whose foot injury ruled him out of the game. Dortmund didn't falter or even stumble or struggle in Gündogan's wake. In fact, Tuchel's side excelled without his talents in the middle of the pitch and that may prove vital to the future of this team. Gonzalo Castro was the official replacement, but it was a team collective from Castro, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Julian Weigl which proved vital to Dortmund's stellar performance against the English foes.
Dortmund dominated from the first moment to the last through smart passing and intense pressing, but it was Mkhitaryan's runs and Castro's passing which ultimately broke down Tottenham's pensive back line and allowed their side to run away with a deserved win.
The way Gonzalo Castro played against Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund may be able to relinquish Ilkay Gündogan
Indeed it was Castro - a player who has had to sit on the bench more often than not this season - who created the third and final goal with a delightfully chipped through-ball to Marco Reus in the 70th minute. A move of such technical finesse that any playmaker would have been proud of. Castro may not be a simple replacement for Gündogan, but his ability to work in a system with Mkhitaryan and Dortmund's other players suggests Gündogan may not be as irreplaceable as he was once thought to be.
Much has been made of Gündogan's future at Dortmund in the English and German press, but unless the German international signs a new contract to stay in Dortmund, he will almost certainly be sold this summer or leave 12 months later when his contract expires. If that were to happen, Tuchel may dive in to the transfer market for a replacement, but Thursday night's performance will go a long way to suggesting he may have a squad that can cope with Gündogan's departure.
“It wasn't noticeable that Ilkay [Gündogan] was gone,” Neven Subotic told DW when asked about the topic after Thursday's win. “It was a great chance for whoever played in that position. Gonzalo [Castro] got a nice assist for the third. So it was nice to see that."
“I don't think anybody looks at it as a loss when somebody is not playing," he added. "We look at it as an opportunity for the guys who get a chance.”
With one foot in the Europa League quarterfinals and second place in the Bundesliga confirmed with games to spare, it is all smile around Dortmund right now. When the summer transfer window comes and offers begin to arrive for key players those smiles may quickly turn to frowns, but if Dortmund fans can take anything from Thursday's uncontested clash with Tottenham, it is this: Tuchel's side looks just fine without Gündogan at the heart of this ever-improving Dortmund side.