Opinion: Roman Bürki′s transformation crucial for Dortmund title hopes | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 26.04.2019
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Opinion: Roman Bürki's transformation crucial for Dortmund title hopes

Roman Bürki has proven himself one of Dortmund's most important players this season, Janek Speight argues, signaling a remarkable transformation from the error-prone goalkeeper of last season.

Head down, hands on his head, Roman Bürki looked lost on the pitch of the GPS Stadium.

His double blunder had just allowed APOEL to take a shock lead against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Seconds later he was hunched over, staring blankly into the grass as he contemplated what had been a disastrous 2017-18 season between the sticks.

Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Buerki reacts after APOEL scored during the Champions League Group H soccer match between APOEL Nicosia and Borussia Dortmund at GSP stadium, in Nicosia, Cyprus, 17.10.2017. (picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Karadjias)

Bürki's season has been a vast improvement on a patchy 2017-18

The scene was nothing new. A week earlier he had flapped at a cross against Leipzig to gift Marcel Sabitzer the equalizer in a 3-2 defeat. And the nightmare didn't stop as the blunders kept on flowing.

A season which started with so much promise — five clean sheets in his opening five league matches — ended in Dortmund fans questioning the future of their No.1 as the press hammered Bürki for his regular moments of madness.

When Dortmund signed Marwin Hitz from Augsburg in the off-season, it wouldn't have been a surprise to see Bürki's BVB career slip through his fingers like a weak cross.

Read more:  Opinion: This is the worst Schalke side in Bundesliga history

Incredible turnaround

Heading into Matchday 31 and a potentially season-defining clash against regional rivals Schalke, however, and Bürki's name is the most important on Lucien Favre's team sheet.

The Black and Yellows' attack has taken all the plaudits this season in a goal-heavy crusade towards a Bundesliga title, while the defense has rightly been crucified as the club let a nine-point lead over Bayern slip away.

Yet amid that injury-ravaged, mistake-prone defense has been a goalkeeper in the form of his career. Bürki's transformation has been astonishing as he's been single-handedly responsible for saving Dortmund on numerous occasions.

"I've analyzed the mistakes from the past and learned my lessons," he told Bild last week. "I started from scratch, so to speak. I've become at least a little more selfish in my goalkeeping game."

The defining moment came earlier this month against Mainz, where Dortmund lost all sense of a game-plan and were desperately trying to defend a 2-1 lead to keep alive their title chances. Bürki produced a stunning triple save from point-blank range, his speed and reaction time saving a precious two points.

Bürki makes a save during the Borussia Dortmund - FSV Mainz 05 Bundesiga game, 13.04.2019. (picture-alliance/G. Kirchner)

Bürki had a storming game at home against Mainz two weeks ago

Bundesliga's best?

There's a strong case for Bürki being named goalkeeper of the season. Behind a shambolic defense he's still managed to keep nine clean sheets this season.

More importantly, he's strengthened his biggest weaknesses from last season.

Once hesitant when coming off his line to claim crosses or close down opponents, Bürki now exudes calmness and confidence as he assesses the play in front of him. Where once a world-class save was followed by an inexplicable blunder, Bürki now puts in consistently strong performances.

Roman Bürki claims a cross during the Borussia Dortmund vs. Mainz Bundesliga game, 13.04.2019. (picture-alliance/G. Kirchner)

One of Bürki's biggest weaknesses was controlling his area at crosses, but he's made progress

His quick feet, smart positioning, and sharp reflexes allow him to stick out palms, fingertips and toes to divert opponents' shots, especially in one-on-one situations.

Between the sticks, he rivals Peter Gulacsi and Yann Sommer as the league's best shot-stopper, while his big-game saves place him above his counterparts.

Read more:  Bundesliga: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke — the key battles

Clear head, clear goals

Bürki's work with a mental coach has been well documented and has clearly helped him bounce back from what could have been a debilitating season

In January he also called a "temporary" halt to his international career with Switzerland, another sign of his commitment to Dortmund and his determination to focus on giving him the best chance to develop and improve as a player.

"I have to be clear in my head and I must be aware of when I can take a risk. Or when I have to be more selfish and just hit the ball forward. You have very little time in the game to find the perfect solution," he said.

Bürki has also emerged as a leader in a Dortmund dressing room lacking in experience. He's among the old boys at age 28, and has embraced the role as the club aim to end their title wait.

If Dortmund are to haul in Bayern and lift the Bundesliga trophy at the end of the season, Bürki's leadership and presence between the posts will be crucial. And with the club's most important match of the season coming up — against Schalke in the fierce Revierderby — fans will be depending on the reliable Swiss to continue his remarkable transformation.

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