Borussia's U19s will start the new Bundesliga season in the A-Junioren Bundesliga West with the derby against FC Schalke 04 on Sunday 14 August (kick-off is at 11:00 CET in the Brackel youth performance centre).
"We know what we are up against. Schalke are certainly one of the favourites for the West German championship. But anything can happen on the first day of the season," said coach Mike Tullberg, seeing BVB as the outsiders in this derby steeped in tradition.
Tullberg has long since consigned the fairytale 2021/22 season, which ended with the team winning the German A-Junioren Championship, to the history books. Since the beginning of July, Tullberg has been preparing his largely newly formed squad for the challenges of the coming months: the Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal with the tricky opening match at Energie Cottbus (10/11 September) and the UEFA Youth League. "We've lost some talented players and are trying to compensate for that with a mature style of play and compactness within the team. The boys are on board – everyone has the desire to get better. First we had to find ourselves, but we are making noticeable progress and are on the right track," says Tullberg.
He looks at the first team squad with a little melancholy, but above all with great joy. Four top young talents who came through the academy or youth teams at BVB and would still be eligible for the U19s are part of Edin Terzic's Bundesliga squad: Youssoufa Moukoko, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Tom Rothe and Abdoulaye Kamara. "That is also a great credit to the work done in the youth performance centre and, of course, a great story for the boys," said Tullberg. Yet the team will miss the extra class the four young stars brought with them – in European competitions at least. In the UEFA Youth League, if he can also draw on three players from the class of 2003 (for example Gürpüz, Semic, Coulibaly, Lütke-Frie, Ostrzinski, Fink), at least one or two of them will strengthen the team and Tullberg will have much better options within his squad.
Borussia's U19s remained undefeated in the friendly matches until the final game, which they lost 3-1 against the U21s of the Dutch second division team PEC Zwolle. The high point came when the team beat RB Leipzig 5-0. In the Bundesliga Cup in Schwäbisch-Halle, a strong U19s tournament, BVB took third place after a 3-1 semi-final defeat against FC Schalke 04.
The ideal formation crystallises
"We should put that right on Sunday," smiles Edwin Boekamp, the head of the academy. Knowing that the opposition are no longer comparable to the Schalke team that was brushed aside by BVB last season in the Bundesliga and in the semi-finals of the German Championship. "They are the reigning German U17 champions, they defend compactly, they move the ball well and they have great pace up front. They punish every mistake," said Mike Tullberg, emphasising the quality of the opposition.
The ideal formation quickly crystallised for BVB. Noa-Gabriel Simic, who joined us from FC Augsburg, immediately earned himself a place in the team, "although he can still get a lot better," as Mike Tullberg notes. Jaden Korzynietz, Rafael Lubach and Vincenzo Onofrietti made the biggest leap in development from last year's U17s. Winter signing Filippo Mane can also hope to get plenty of game time.
The team's spine is formed by the players from the championship winning squad: Nnamdi Collins, Farouk Cisse, Vasco Walz, Julian Rijkhoff, Jonah Husseck, Michel Ludwig, Ayukayoh Mengot and Hendry Blank. They will be joined by Samuel Bamba, who is back after nearly six months out injured. For the next few months, however, Tullberg will have to make do without Isaac Nwachukwu, who broke his hand in the friendly against Zwolle.
Criticism of the Bundesliga format
Once again this year, the Bundesliga teams will face each other only once, so the teams will not get to play everyone home and away – much to the chagrin of Mike Tullberg, who accuses the DFB Youth Committee of "turning competitive sport into grassroots football. In the lower leagues, the youngsters play significantly more games than in the Bundesliga." So BVB are pleased to be able to test themselves against top teams in Europe.
For the time being, however, they are fully focused on the season opener against Schalke. "We will take each game as it comes and have to be on our toes from the first game of the season," says Tullberg, who of course wants his Borussia side to lead the way again – not only in the Bundesliga.