In early May 2011, after weeks of rampant speculation that Nuri Şahin would be leaving the club in the summer, Borussia Dortmund moved forward and brought in İlkay Gündoğan from Nürnberg to replace him. Just days later, Şahin was sold to Real Madrid, and the mantle was passed.
Over the last year and a half, Gündoğan has done his best to make BVB supporters forget about Şahin. Die Borussen won the double last season capturing their second consecutive Bundesliga crown and the DFB Pokal with a 5-2 smash job of Bayern Munich. All of this was completed with Gündoğan on the pitch while Şahin was languishing at Real Madrid and Liverpool looking for playing time. Gündoğan was competing with Sebastian Kehl, Sven Bender, and Moritz Leitner for playing time, and he outshone them on his way to earning Jürgen Klopp's trust as the club's midfield lynchpin.
However, there is no doubting in Şahin's quality, so when the club made a move to bring the Turkish international back to Dortmund in January, it was hailed by all as a great move. Now, as BVB prepare for their first Champions League knockout round game in fifteen years, they'll have to do it without Gündoğan. The midfielder did not travel with the side to Donetsk due to a thigh injury that has recently been plaguing him. Manager Jürgen Klopp will likely turn to Kehl and Bender to anchor his midfield, but he may have another issue on his hands. Right back Marcel Schmelzer is nursing an ankle injury and is likely a matchday decision, while reserve fullbacks Patrick Owomoyela and Kevin Großkreutz are definitely out with injuries. If Schmelzer is unable to go at match time, the best solution is to move Bender to right back and bring Şahin back into the midfield.
While BVB has shown they belong among Europe's elite thus far in this season's Champions League, their form in the Bundesliga has been up and down. They haven't been the same side defensively this season, and some score lines, including Saturday's 1-4 loss to Hamburg, show it demonstratively. Many of those results have a key component in common: Gündoğan was not in the starting eleven. In fact, BVB are winless in six matches when Gündoğan doesn't start. The midfielder has become so entrenched in Klopp's side that they don't operate the same without him.
Even though BVB is going into this match with injuries, they still have an advantage over Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainian Premier League does not resume from their three month long winter break until March 1. While they have been in camp preparing for this huge match, that cannot simulate the pace and energy of a real match.
If Şahin is forced to start in the Donbass Arena on Wednesday evening, he will need his pivot partner to help him far more than Gündoğan would purely due to his lack of fitness. Before returning to BVB in January, the last time Şahin was seeing consistent minutes was in the spring of 2011. His performances since returning to the Westfalenstadion have been good, but he'll need to find another level if he's thrown onto the pitch against a dangerous Shakhtar side.