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Bargain-buy Axel Witsel conducts Borussia Dortmund’s ‘modern jazz’

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Belgium midfielder was written off when he joined Tianjin Quanjian but a year later he is a vital cog in the BVB machine At least Axel Witsel was honest.

“I don’t deny the economic aspect was important and my choice was made especially with the money in mind,” said the Belgium midfielder in November 2017.

A little more than a year on and now at the fulcrum of Borussia Dortmund’s revival following his lucrative spell with the Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian that is thought to have earned him £20m in only 18 months, he can certainly afford to feel smug.

“Therefore we chose some experienced, robust players; physically strong players but also with experience like Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney from Werder Bremen.” From a team who were fortunate to scrape Champions League qualification ahead of RB Leipzig by goal difference and were soundly beaten twice by Wednesday’s opponents Tottenham in the Champions League group stages last season, Dortmund lead Bayern Munich by five points in the league despite throwing away a 3-0 lead against Hoffenheim on Saturday.

He had gone under the radar in China … I knew he would prevail.” Having topped the Champions League pass statistics table for highest completion with 96% (he is second in the Bundesliga), Witsel has been making up for lost time.

He turned 30 last month and, usually deployed in the double pivot alongside Denmark’s Thomas Delaney in Lucien Favre’s fluid 4-2-3-1 system, has started all but one of Dortmund’s matches in the Bundesliga this season.

But while all the attention has been on the club’s emerging players such as Jadon Sancho, his fellow winger Jacob Bruun Larsen and the flying full-back Achraf Hakimi, Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, believes the conductors of what has been described as BVB’s “modern jazz” approach – in comparison to Jürgen Klopp’s brand of “heavy metal football” – have been their midfield duo.
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