Does Donyell Malen’s recent form warrant optimism for his future at Borussia Dortmund?

Donyell Malen. (Photo by Frederic Scheidemann/Getty Images)
Donyell Malen. (Photo by Frederic Scheidemann/Getty Images) /

Borussia Dortmund’s Donyell Malen scored against Union Berlin in one of the weekend’s top-four clashes in the Bundesliga.

With the Bundesliga title race still very much alive coming into this past weekend’s game between Borussia Dortmund and Union Berlin, BVB looked in part to Donyell Malen to help take three points from this encounter with the Dutchman scoring the club’s opening goal of the fixture. Malen has sparked both optimism and bewilderment since making the switch from PSV Eindhoven two seasons ago. Malen was brought in to replace the outgoing Jadon Sancho, and while it was clear from the off that the two players were not the same, Malen’s general inability to fill the void left behind by the now Manchester United winger has been notable.

Since joining Die Schwarzgelben, Malen has had an enduring love affair with various portions of the goal, including the crossbar and both posts. Despite the hardworking nature he has shown on numerous occasions, Malen has been extremely unlucky when it comes to his finishing, with the player more often than not being just wide of the mark despite methodically putting himself in good positions from which to score. This wastefulness in front of goal has often put Dortmund on the back foot in games because they’ve lacked the same threat out wide that Sancho posed on the pitch.

This inability to fill the void left by Sancho is not entirely Malen’s fault, however. Coming from a team where he predominantly played in a front two, Malen has had to adapt to playing out wide for the most part. Dortmund never really planned to make Malen an option a striker, but to play him as a winger.

This transition has clearly been a hard one for the player, but as of recent the Dutchman has hit a rich vein of form. Malen has provided both goals and assists in his most recent outings, scoring against Bayern Munich in addition to his aforementioned goal against Union. He also registered an impressive goal and two assists against FC Köln in March, which seemed to be the catalyst for the performances that followed.

Despite the good run of form, there are some reservations about the player’s ability to maintain these performances for an extended period of time. There have been a handful of “false starts” throughout Malen’s Dortmund career. These moments have made it obvious that he, as a player, is talented and capable of strong outings, but has yet shown the capability to remain consistent over a longer stretch of a given season.

His most recent stint has however been the most impressive, and begs the question as to whether Dortmund will be willing to hold on to the player beyond the season. There’s a number of factors to keep in mind when answering this question, so let’s break them down:

The first factor is, just where do we want Donny to play? With the Dutchman seemingly starting to make it work out wide, one might assume that the plan would be to allow him to maintain momentum and continue to develop in this vein. Dortmund will likely be looking to move Thorgan Hazard on permanently after his loan to PSV expires, which will hopefully bring in some much needed capital and possibly create space there for Malen to compete with Karim Adeyemi, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Julien Duranville for time on the pitch. That being said, depending on his form for the remainder of the season, moving both Malen and Hazard on could generate capital to bring in a natural winger.

Alternatively, in the striker position, Malen would face competition from Sébastien Haller and Youssoufa Moukoko, as Anthony Modeste looks set to depart after his contract contract comes to an end this summer. As we’ve already mentioned, Malen really blossomed in a front two at PSV.   Edin Terzić has tried to play him up top as a lone striker, but it has not worked out in Malen or the club’s favor.

The question then would be, does it make sense, based on how Dortmund usually look to play, to keep Donyell Malen in this position? The answer of this question depends on whether Dortmund want to keep trying with Malen or give an opportunity to one of their talented youngsters thriving in the academy. Julian Rijkhoff, another talented Dutchman in his own right, currently plays in Dortmund’s youth ranks and has been proving his worth for quite a few seasons now. The current U-19 striker has 24 goals and 6 assists to his name for the season so far, and just recently scored a 7 minute hat-trick in the German Bundesliga U19 semi-final vs Hertha Berlin.

Rijkhoff’s talents were recently recognized by the club with a new, long term, contract extension, with Lars Ricken stating that the player has developed well and has a bright future:

"“Julian has developed very positively in our youth academy and is a key component of the Netherlands U18 national team. We’re happy to continue to have a centre-forward in our squad who consistently scores goals and has excellent prospects.”"

Rijkhoff’s development and consistent displays may merit a move to the senior level sooner rather than later. He is already far older (18) than Youssoufa Moukoko was when the young German international made his senior debut. He is a well rounded striker that has earned comparison to Robert Lewandowski, whose profile could fit the team better than Malen does.

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While we can also point to Donyell Malen’s versatility as being a plus and a reason for Dortmund to hold on to the player, it’s clear that he as a footballer needs a stable run of games to really show what he is capable of on the pitch. If we continue to change where he plays, it’s unlikely the club will see the best of him as he’ll never have the time needed to get going. With this in mind, separation may be the best case scenario for both sides unless Malen can use the rest of the season to convince the club, as well as himself, that he can play consistently in the role the club have fashioned for him.