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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Chelsea loanee Ian Maatsen thriving as Dortmund’s youthful multi-tasker

Borussia Dortmund made it back-to-back wins since the Bundesliga’s winter break on Saturday to make up more ground on the top four.

Their 4-0 defeat of hosts Cologne eased the pressure on coach Edin Terzic and saw another encouraging performance from Manchester United loanee Jadon Sancho, who won the penalty that saw Dortmund double their lead early in the second half. But the biggest impact came courtesy of the youngest player in the visitors’ starting XI.

Ian Maatsen, the 21-year-old newly arrived on loan from Chelsea, was the star of the show and if German TV’s highlights programme Sportschau were to award a “golden tray” award for assist of the month, he would already have the January prize sewn up.

The Dutchman’s 40-metre through ball for Donyell Malen’s second goal of the match, to make it 3-0 just past the hour mark, in the wake of a Cologne attack, was an absolute delight and — the hosts’ pitiful attempt at “Restverteidigung” (rest defence) notwithstanding — a real feat of execution.

“I saw him in space and sent him,” Maatsen told reporters later, adding humbly that he had been “sloppy” in losing possession earlier in the same move.

But there was so much more to his game to excite Dortmund supporters. He was also the quickest player on the pitch, clocking up runs at 35kph (21.7mph), strong in the tackle, conscientious in his positioning and comfortable going forward.

Best of all, though, he was two players in one.

Aware of his side’s chronic build-up problems, Terzic took a leaf out of Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola’s playbook and had Maatsen line up as a second defensive midfielder in possession.

The new arrival took to this tricky assignment as if he had already played hundreds of games in that hybrid role. His assured touch under pressure allowed Dortmund to cut through Cologne’s pressing with relative ease and added a degree of control to their game that had previously been sorely missing.

“I like getting the ball in difficult situations,” Maatsen said of his multi-tasking duties. “It feels like I’ve been playing with the boys for years.”

Maatsen conducts his post-match media duties (Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)

His new team-mates are still getting to know him — “He doesn’t talk much,” goalkeeper Gregor Kobel revealed — but it has not taken them too long to see that the ball is safe with him. No one in Saturday’s match had more touches than his 109.

Maatsen’s game-changing excellence, on top of a solid outing in his Bundesliga debut a week earlier — a 3-0 away win against Darmstadt — reflects well on sporting director Sebastian Kehl, who will be in contention for a promotion when long-serving chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke steps down towards the end of 2025.

The 43-year-old had been criticised for the club’s underwhelming transfer dealings last summer but managed to bring in two loan signings in Dortmund old boy Sancho, from Manchester United, and Maatsen in time for this month’s restart.

The pair arrived with a solitary Premier League start between them this season, but both have instantly lifted their new team.

Maatsen applauds the away fans after the win in Darmstadt (Hendrik Deckers/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the duo from the Premier League should only prove stop-gap solutions. Sancho’s full-time return to the club he called home from 2017-21 is only feasible if he and United were somehow prepared to give up huge sums in terms of his wages and the transfer fee. Dortmund do not believe that is a realistic scenario.

They could afford to pay Maatsen’s salary, but probably not the £35million ($44.3m) release clause that has been inserted into his contract by his parent club. Dortmund’s search for top-class full-backs on either side will resume at the end of the season.

Chelsea, meanwhile, will look on his loan in Germany with mixed feelings. That release clause provides insurance in the shape of a guaranteed financial benefit in case his development accelerates further in the next four months.

But if Maatsen, who also spent last season out on loan and helped Burnley win Premier League promotion, does continue in the same impressive vein with which he has begun, £35million might be considered a bargain at a time when plenty of elite clubs are desperate for fast full-backs.

Especially invertible ones.

(Top photo: Uwe Kraft/AFP via Getty Images)

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