Having an attacking trio with a catchy acronym is a real must-have in European football right now. Real Madrid boast the ‘BBC’ of Benzema, Bale and Cristiano whilst Barcelona operate with ‘MSN’ in Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
On Saturday the Bundesliga had its first glimpse at Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and André Schürrle – a trio that should henceforth be known as ‘DAS’ (because, well, it sounds German).
Dortmund struggled to impose themselves in their 2-1 opening day win against Mainz, given that they spent over €100 million this summer. But excitement could be found though in watching Thomas Tuchel’s new front three.
The 19-year-old Ousmane Dembélé still looked raw on his Bundesliga debut, yet it was difficult not to admire the way he effortlessly outpaced the Mainz defence time and again. Then you had fellow speed demon Aubameyang, who has been helping ‘Ous’ (as Dembélé’s team-mates call him) to settle in after he joined from Rennes in the summer.
Last week Aubameyang told German magazine SportBILD that he wants to score 25 league goals again this season. His brace on Saturday shows there’s every chance.
@lewy_official wow and the race is started. hat-trick ???
— Aubameyang P-E (@Aubameyang7) August 26, 2016
— Robert Lewandowski (@lewy_official) August 27, 2016
The undoubted star of the three, however, was André Schürrle, Dortmund’s record signing after arriving for €30 million in July.
‘Schürrle soaked up each and every moment in the bubbling cauldron with an almost childlike joy,’ said kicker magazine of his performance. To put it in simpler terms, he set up both goals, crossing for Aubameyang’s first before winning the penalty for the striker’s match-winning second.
After the final whistle Schürrle expressed some of this childlike joy in the tunnel at the Signal Iduna Park. “I felt comfortable,” he said, insisting that the team starting with a win was the most important thing.
Schürrle then went into detail on his relationship with Tuchel, who was also his coach at Mainz and has kept in touch with the forward ever since.
“He was sending me books,” Schürrle told The Set Pieces. “He was sending me some stuff about eating, about playing. All the time, even when I was in Chelsea, I had contact with him.
“That I have the opportunity now to work again with him at this unbelievable great club – there’s nothing better than this for me right now.”
Schürrle was reluctant to name the additions to his personal library – “I don’t have to tell you everything,” he smirked – but he confirmed that one of the books was ‘The Inner Game of Tennis: the ultimate guide to the mental side of peak performance.’ It is a title – written by Timothy Gallwey in 1972 – that Tuchel is particularly fond of, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan also receiving a copy from his coach at Dortmund last season.
“I think it was written just for me,” said the recent Manchester United signing in January. “Everything I did wrong is described in there. Then I started to change things, just like the book said.”
"The player of the inner game…learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard." – The Inner Game of Tennis (1979)
— Jordan Amadio MD MBA (@AmadioMD) July 25, 2016
Tuchel’s influence wasn’t enough to keep Mkhitaryan at the club, but it was a key factor in Schürrle’s decision to move from Wolfsburg. The 25-year-old has played under José Mourinho and Joachim Löw in the last few years but counts Tuchel as the best he’s worked with.
The pair’s relationship dates back to 2008 when Tuchel was coaching Mainz’s Under-19 team with a 17-year-old Schürrle playing in attack. Schürrle says even then there was something different about his coach.
“He was so enthusiastic, so hard working with a youth team,” he explains. “When you see a manager that has a vision, that has a way of playing, a style of playing – it’s so important.
“He knows how to treat young players, how to show them what he wants, how can they be better.”
That fact is highlighted by the Under-19 German youth championship Tuchel won with Mainz in 2009. In the final, they beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1. A 17-year-old Dortmund midfielder by the name of Mario Götze was on the scoresheet, just five years before Schürrle crossed him the ball in the Maracanã to seal Germany’s fourth World Cup.
Before that fateful night in Rio de Janeiro, when two of Dortmund’s recruits this summer brilliantly combined, Tuchel had been promoted to first team coach at Mainz following his success with the youth team. He led the newly promoted club to an impressive ninth-place finish in the Bundesliga – the best in their history – with Schürrle joining him in the step up to the big league.
They worked together for a third successive campaign as Mainz climbed ever higher. In 2011 they finished fifth with Schürrle scoring 15 times in the Bundesliga, his best ever tally in a season.
That summer the then 20-year-old signed for Bayer Leverkusen. Moves to Chelsea and Wolfsburg followed – as did Premier League, World Cup and DFB Pokal winners’ medals – but in each of those triumphs he was a super sub, holding an important but somewhat unfulfilling role.
Schürrle’s consistency when starting has previously been the problem, particularly at his last club Wolfsburg.
“We have expectations of him that have to better than what he has shown so far,” said his coach Dieter Hecking last September, whilst December brought further questions over his performances – and namely his willingness to run – from Sky Germany pundit Dietmar Hamann.
He turned it around at the end of last season, however, scoring eight goals in his last nine league games for Wolfsburg. Then came his reunion with Tuchel – a man that “has something deep inside that really wants things to work,” according to Schürrle.
That quality manifests itself in different ways, from giving his players useful books to read, or even, as revealed last week, by installing new cameras above Dortmund’s training pitches to allow better analysis of their work before games. Schürrle insists that with Tuchel’s dedication and attention to detail, “you will have success.”
That is the part that remains to be seen. After losing Mkhitarayn, Ilkay Gündogan and Mats Hummels in a summer of upheaval, Tuchel’s Dortmund are still a work in progress. You could see that on the sideline in the first half against Mainz as Tuchel berated his defenders’ use of the ball. It was also visible by the amount of opportunities Mainz carved out that, on another day, would have seen them walk away with a merited point.
Dortmund’s potential is undeniable, though, particularly with Marco Reus still to come back from injury. Schürrle may worry about being sacrificed when he does, but those fears should dissipate if he continues to perform as he did on Saturday. As Tuchel’s long-standing protégé, he has plenty of learning – and reading – to look forward to.
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Fellow new signing Marc Bartra was also in action for Dortmund as he made his Bundesliga debut following his move from Barcelona.
Afterwards, the 25-year-old spoke of the challenge of replacing Mats Hummels and his satisfaction in starting the campaign with a victory.
“I feel very good in the position, I feel comfortable,” Bartra told The Set Pieces. “There’s not really much difference in the position to how we played at Barcelona. I turn the pressure into motivation and desire.
“I was really looking forward to playing my first game in the Bundesliga, and doing so with a win is important. It gives us confidence.
“(In the first half) when the ball went out, we started going out with three and that made things more complicated and difficult.
“It was also really hot, and took a lot of effort to pass the ball to a team-mate. But the most important thing is that as the game went on, we became more comfortable.”
Bartra has now joined up with the Spain squad for the friendly against Belgium and World Cup qualifier against Liechtenstein.
Borussia Dortmund’s next match is away to Bundesliga newcomers RB Leipzig on Saturday, 10th September.