Across the 2021-22 campaign, Julian Ryerson struggled for minutes in a competitive Union Berlin side loaded with wing-backs. But this season, he’s become the starlet of the side from the wings, fulfilling his wing-back role to great effect from either side. His form in 2022-23 caught the eye of Borussia Dortmund, who snapped him up for a meek €5 million fee. Here is our analysis as to why the Black & Yellows made a move for Julian Ryerson, and what he will bring to Signal Iduna Park.
ROLE & POSITIONINGEmbed from Getty Images
Julian Ryerson has primarily operated on the left of Union’s back-five, but has also featured prominently from the right this season. As a right-footed player, he’s frequently made a habit of coming inside from the left onto that right-foot, and even playing something of an inverted role as the left-central-midfielder in the side floats up into the wider areas.
From that wing-back slot, Ryerson’s role has very much been one of a traditional wing-back, tasked with delivering dangerous crosses and passes into the penalty area, stretching the field of play in the attacking phases, and then racing back to ensure his team can set up shop in defense.
As an astute 1v1 defender and a positionally savvy operator, you can expect Ryerson to also slot in nicely into Borussia Dortmund’s back-four. He’ll be a natural understudy to Raphael Guerreiro, capable of operating up and down the left wing, but also inverting in-possession to aid in the circulations and progression.Embed from Getty Images
But Borussia Dortmund are in grave need of a new right-back. In fact, they have been ever since Lukasz Piszczek’s career wind-down inconveniently coincided with Achraf Hakimi’s career boom into the spotlight of successive moves to Inter Milan and PSG. We’ve recommended the likes of Jeremie Frimpong and Matty Cash in the past, but Ryerson could also be a capable operator over on the right, especially considering that’s his natural side.Embed from Getty Images
Having started nine matches as a right-back this season compared to eleven from the left, all the signs indicate that he’ll be a wonderful fit for what Dortmund want in the position. He’ll be able to balance the attacking threat that someone like Frimpong could have offered the Black & Yellows, with the defensive nous that someone like Matty Cash might have been suited to fulfill. With that, Ryerson brings an exciting, versatile option to the club. Not only that, but an exciting option that already understands how to both exist as an ‘Inverted Fullback’ for those deeper phases of possession all the way into the attacking third; and as a ‘Wing-Back’ getting up and down the wing.
ATTACKING STYLE OF PLAYEmbed from Getty Images
Whenever Dortmud splash the cash on a full-back, you can be certain that they are prepared to play an important role in the attack. Dortmund quite famously have shipped goals for fun over the years, and one of the preeminent factors is the high-positioning of their fullbacks in attacking phases, leaving little room for error in transition.
The good news is that Dortmund have found a player who excels in the attacking phases and can, at the very least, continue the positive attacking influence of players like Guerreiro and Meunier.Embed from Getty Images
Ryerson’s excelled this season at getting forward quickly in a low-possession team, making more passes into the penalty area than any of the fullbacks we’ve mentioned thus far (3.06 per 90). Meanwhile, it’s often difficult for fullbacks to boast significantly impressive crossing percentages, yet Ryerson’s acclaimed a near 40% crossing success for the likes of Siebatchu and Becker up front.
But if analysis were done solely on statistics, Ryerson likely would not entirely stand out. He’s yet to assist or score this season, and he can occasionally be rash with his timing of tackles. Thankfully, Dortmund have sought the right statistics for their style of play, and understood that data does not tell the entire story in isolation.Embed from Getty Images
In fact, the key to being a Borussia Dortmund player is to be savvy in possession. This is not the typical Union Berlin way, who instead prioritize quicker attacks by moving the ball toward their strikers immediately upon regains. This means that Ryerson’s passing numbers will be lower across the board by nature of his team’s style of play. But encouragingly, the Norwegian defender’s won 62% of his attempted dribbles this campaign, and nearly 50% of his attacking duels.
This demonstrates the 25-year-old to not only be a skillful player capable of beating opponents, but someone who does not panic under pressure.
Take note of the Freiburg player in this image who’s been completely bamboozled by Ryerson’s wizardry on the ball. He’s just a super smart operator that simply does not fret when forced toward the touchline. Capable of busting out a quick turn out of nowhere, flying defenders simply don’t have a chance. Just look at this one from Augsburg, who found himself floored for several seconds after Ryerson pulled the ball back.
He’s not only a skillful dribbler capable of beating opponents, but a powerful one. Once he breaks free, that power will often extend into the attacking third where his crosses are usually hit with more pace than whip. This often serves the physicality of players like Siebatchu and Becker up front, and their incisive movement to create space. It needs to be honed in and controlled, ensuring he can pop up with more assists in the future.
But beyond having aerially adept teammates that aid his ability, Ryerson generally makes intelligent decisions about when to cross the ball. If space allows, he’s fully comfortable recognizing the right moment for a deeper cross. But when thrown into a 1v1, he loves to take that player on before creating his own sense of space for the moment.
So not only does he impose a variety to his play that can threaten the opposition’s ability to predict the situation, but he also offers a great degree of fearlessness. He’s not afraid to play the ball on his left when deployed on that side, and he’s not afraid to get the ball forward at risk of his passing percentages. Again, this can sometimes result in crosses being aimlessly hit into the box at the first opportunity, but that will undoubtedly be reigned in at Dortmund in the prioritization of quick attacking combinations.
Since he’s a standout dribbler capable of pulling off those bamboozling moments, this will suit the wing-back well. You never know quite which way he’s going to turn, even if he does have a slight right-sided dominance. From the right, he’s much more direct in taking players on down the line and then delivering that power. From the left, that’s where you might see more variety and whip, as he cuts inside onto his stronger side and looks for the back-post, or quickly shifts the ball back onto his left.
As part of Union’s style, his first touch is often always with an edge toward looking to play forward. This is an encouraging sign for a club like Dortmund that can sometimes be criticized for being too slow out from the back. Even at that, while Terzic’s team are more patient out from the back than Union Berlin, they also excel on the break. Ryerson will therefore be an excellent addition to Terzic’s attacking approach, even by the sheer pace and power he operates ahead of smoother players like Guerreiro.Embed from Getty Images
All and all, Borussia Dortmund have made a clever signing with the purchase of Julian Ryerson. He’s clearly not the most capable progressor or possession-savvy facilitator, but he stands out for his grit and determination on the ball, and fearless attitude toward attacking phases.
DEFENSIVE STYLE OF PLAYEmbed from Getty Images
As a member of Union Berlin, Ryerson must also be more than capable of defending. Luckily for Urs Fischer, Ryerson has an aggressive edge matched with supreme timing. Union will often compact the wider areas in numbers, aiding in Ryerson’s ability to win the day.
But we still must give credit to the Union man himself, who nicely gets touch-tight when appropriate, or backs off to maintain a safe distance depending on the situation. He’s won nearly 66% of his attempted tackles, and 68% of his total defensive duels this season.
His speed is not only positive in Union’s quick attacking transitions, but also in ensuring he can quickly gallivant back in defense. This is the key area in which Raphael Guerreiro and Thomas Meunier lack, and where Dortmund can often be punished out wide. Ryerson on the other hand is quick to sense out the danger, and effectively cover the gaps.
The one addition to his defensive output would be in calming down the moments of unnecessary aggression, where he can sometimes lose his cool and cause fouls. His over-archingly strong sense of timing in the tackle is also not necessarily matched up when it comes to competing in the air. Ryerson’s won 47% of his aerial duels this campaign, ranking just slightly ahead of Raphael Guerreiro.
A final note is that we’d expect the 25-year-old to have some work to do in learning Terzic’s pressing principles, and the art of ensuring he can use that speed and aggression at the right moments without flying in too fast. If full-backs step up to contend the wide areas at the wrong moment, it’s not terribly difficult to exploit the space in behind, where a centre-back often has too much ground to cover in a back-four. This might hurt less in Union’s back-five with three centre-backs, but it could be something to watch out for at Borussia Dortmund.
Nevertheless, Dortmund have clearly signed a capable defensive player in Julian Ryerson, and have all the right coaching tools to enhance his defensive output in the coming months to years.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTSEmbed from Getty Images
Borussia Dortmund have snapped up something of a gem in Julian Ryerson, for an incredibly inexpensive fee. The Norwegian is capable of playing on the left or right of the defense, and smartly uses his pace, power and unabashed skillful edge wherever he goes. He’s evidently not the finished product in or out of possession, but Ryerson will provide an excellent option for Dortmund to deploy on either flank for the remainder of this campaign, well into the future. Reinforcements may still be needed at right-back in particular, but the signing of Julian Ryerson proves that Borussia Dortmund mean business.
So there it is! An analysis of Borussia Dortmund’s superb signing of Julian Ryerson. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses and Bundesliga content. Also don’t forget to check out @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys on social media to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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