Borussia Dortmund travel to their crucial Champions League clash at Newcastle on Wednesday still adjusting to life after Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham, who joined Dortmund aged 17 in 2020 from boyhood club Birmingham City, moved to Real Madrid this summer for a fee in excess of 100 million euros ($108 million).
The England midfielder’s form in the Spanish capital, where he has scored 10 goals in 11 matches including several late winners, has shown the world just what Dortmund lost in the summer.
For their part, Dortmund have had a puzzling start to the season.
The eight-time German champions are unbeaten in the league but have failed to impress, often grinding out wins against less-fancied opponents.
In the Champions League, the 1997 winners are not only winless but goalless, having gone down 2-0 at Paris Saint-Germain and played out a 0-0 draw with AC Milan.
The Germans currently sit bottom of Group F and cannot afford another defeat at St James’ Park.
At a club which has recently seen superstar youngsters Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Achraf Hakimi and Ousmane Dembele move elsewhere, it may end up being Bellingham that Dortmund miss the most.
He was a vital player last season as Dortmund came within a whisker of winning the Bundesliga title for the first time since 2012, falling agonisingly short with Bellingham injured and unable to feature in the last two matches.
He watched from the bench as Dortmund drew 2-2 at home against Mainz on the final day, handing the title to Bayern Munich on goal difference.
At Dortmund, Bellingham played a less attacking role than at he does now for Real.
Dortmund brought in two internationals in Germany’s Felix Nmecha and Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer to replace Bellingham, but the two tend to be more attack-minded and lack the versatility of the Englishman.
The result has been some disjointed and stuttering performances where the side have failed to make the most of their wealth of attacking talents, while leaving captain and defensive midfielder Emre Can exposed at the back.
‘Embrace the fight’
Newcastle started the season poorly, losing three of their first four league games, but have rebounded in recent weeks — best highlighted by their 4-1 home thrashing of PSG in early October to sit top of the group.
“We need to take something away from (St James’ Park),” Dortmund goalkeeper Gregor Kobel said after Friday’s 1-0 win over Werder Bremen.
“We need to embrace the fight from the beginning.”
The in-form Julian Brandt said he called on his Germany teammate and Brighton midfielder Pascal Gross for inside knowledge of what to expect.
“Even though they had a very good game against PSG, we need to go there with confidence,” Brandt said.
“The group is so competitive that anything can happen. We need a win badly.”
“(It will be) an intense task — one we’re looking forward to extremely,” said coach Edin Terzic.
Nmecha, who came through the Manchester City youth system and was a rumoured target for Newcastle in the summer before leaving Wolfsburg for Dortmund, is shaping as the player most likely to slot into the Bellingham-shaped hole.
He played his best game in yellow and black so far against Bremen on Friday.
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