With Erling Haaland set to return to Borussia Dortmund for the first time on Tuesday with new side Manchester City, the hole the striker left behind is plain to see.
While Dortmund moved to plug their leaky defence in the off-season by bringing in likely Germany World Cup centre-back pairing Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Suele, the team has struggled up front since the giant Norwegian’s departure.
Haaland scored 86 goals in 89 games in all competitions with Dortmund and has hit the ground running in England.
In the Premier League alone this season, Haaland has scored 17 goals in just 11 appearances with City.
That figure is just one less than Dortmund’s entire season tally of 18 in the Bundesliga – five of which were scored in Saturday’s domination of managerless Stuttgart.
The Stuttgart game however may show a way forward for Dortmund, by encouraging them to rely more heavily on their troupe of talented teenagers.
Dortmund’s three best players in their dominant 5-0 home win over Stuttgart – Englishman Jude Bellingham, American Gio Reyna and German Youssoufa Moukoko – have a combined age of 55 and scored four of the side’s five goals.
Bellingham has been Dortmund’s most important player this season, having played every minute of every game other than a stint on the bench in Wednesday’s Cup game against Hannover.
Bellingham’s game has gone to another level since being named Dortmund captain in early October, having scored five goals in the club’s past six games – including in every Champions League game this season.
After helping Dortmund to their biggest Bundesliga win of the season on Saturday, sporting director Sebastian Kehl lauded the teenager’s influence.
“For us, he was again the one who steers the game in the right direction,” Kehl said of Bellingham after the game.
Dortmund coach Edin Terzic lobbed similar praise in the midfielder’s direction, saying “Jude did really well today. It is extraordinary to be able to play football so consistently at that age.”
With Haaland’s replacement Sebastien Haller still undergoing treatment for testicular cancer and usual captain Marco Reus fighting ankle issues, the return of Reyna, 19, has been timely for Dortmund.
Reyna offers Dortmund a creative outlet they have not had since the departure of Jadon Sancho, a fact recognised by Kehl.
“He has an incredibly high level of game intelligence. (Gio) knows how to move skilfully in the spaces and has exciting ball control and (is) a goal threat,” Kehl said after Reyna’s performance on Saturday, which saw him score his first Bundesliga goal in 14 months.
“We would like Gio to stay healthy for a long time because it gives us a lot of options up front.”
The third and youngest member of the trio is the 17-year-old Moukoko, who holds the youngest Bundesliga goalscorer record by more than a year.
Moukoko’s form has seen him start ahead of 34-year-old summer arrival Anthony Modeste and his energy has been a constant in an often lacklustre Dortmund side this season.
While Dortmund already knew Haaland’s threat better than most teams, his acrobatic late winner in the club’s previous clash in Manchester was a brutal reminder of his efficiency.
With City already qualified, a win for Dortmund on Tuesday or in their final match away against FC Copenhagen would see them through to the knockout rounds.
Although the Norwegian tends to be a man of few words, he said after his two-goal performance against Brighton on Saturday he was “looking forward to Tuesday. Special game ahead.”
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