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The XI: Calm Before the Storm

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Welcome to The XI, where we take a look at the lineup from last week and try to piece together what our next starting XI will look like.

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Last Week:

Even the busy week that was last week won't come close to touching what BVB is up against in the next month. Beginning next Thursday, the Black and Yellows will play six games in seventeen games. That averages out to just under a game every three days, with a trip to Portugal included, not to mention that last game on March 5th is a little date with the Bavarians. This is where lineups might start looking a bit weird as Tuchel shifts bodies around. Expect him to use as much of his roster as possible to keep the legs as fresh as possible (and it also lets me throw out some fun predictions, because when there's this many games in the mix, everyone is a candidate to start). But let's look at the XI from last week's match against Hertha, shall we?

This is a standard XI, and almost exactly what I had predicted before the match, just with Reus and Mkhitaryan flipped. However, while this is pretty much what a full strength BVB lineup looks like, Hertha came prepared and shut us down at the Olympiastadion. Physical play, excellent defensive rotations from the Berlin midfield, and a commitment to physical, punishing pressure and fast counterattacks left the game scoreless (while it could've easily ended 1-0 in favor of the hosts if it weren't for some Sokratis heroics. Get it? He's Greek. He's a hero. It's a...never mind).

Facing an opponent who, in Thomas Tuchel's eyes, was going to come prepared with similar tactics in a Cup tie against Stuttgart, the manager made a huge tactical shift on the road against another team who was prepared to press and counterattack:

A return back to the wing for Aubameyang and slotting Reus central paid off dividends almost immediately, as the Gabonese international found Mr. 1-0 at the back post in the 5th minute to open the scoring. After a Stuttgart equalizer, Reus turned provider, playing in Aubameyang, who finished sharply. While BVB dominated possession, Stuttgart hung around until Dortmund finally finished them off on the counter. Aubameyang sped into a clear field down the left hand side of the pitch following a set piece, drew the goalkeeper out, and centered to Miki for an easy finish and a berth in the semis of the Pokal.

Notes:

  • There was a lot to like about Tuchel's adjustments against Stuttgart after a disappointing (yet still positive result) against Hertha. Most all of Dortmund's pieces seemed to only fit into one formation: an attack-minded, spread 4-3-3 with Aubameyang at the point and Reus and Miki patrolling the wings. Hertha stifled Miki and Auba's space on the ball, and Gundogan, Castro, and Weigl frequently found themselves out-muscled in midfield. Tuchel's formation against Stuttgart switched three major things in a look that was designed to punish physical, pressing teams. First and foremost, he put Miki into the middle of the field. The Armenian is probably the most skilled dribbler on the team, and he made more than one midfielder miss before the night was over. Second, he made Reus his forward and put Aubameyang back out wide. Reus is more apt to drop back into the hole to get the ball at his feet than Auba is, allowing Auba to use his speed to get in behind. That's how Dortmund got their second goal. Third, and the part that made this all work, was the insertion of Erik Durm at left midfield. Durm will never be an elite winger by any stretch of the imagination, but his play gave a bit more cover to Dortmund's back line, and provided a viable option on the left wing that allowed Tuchel to make all the other adjustments he made. A nice change, indeed.
  • Julian Weigl is a great player, but he simply did not look very good against Hertha. Tuchel opted for the greater physicality of Ginter against Stuttgart, and the move paid off. Ginter may not have the passing or positional prowess that makes Weigl so valuable, but he knows how to get stuck into a challenge, which is exactly what he did on Tuesday.
  • Illy Gundogan absolutely bossed the field against Stuttgart, and while he struggled to generate as many opportunities against Hertha, he still managed to mix things up in the center of the midfield and open up half chances for his teammates when no one else really was. Pay the man what he wants, because he's the most important person on this team.
  • For the love of God, boys, finish your chances. While the lineup looked good against Stuttgart, they certainly let them hang around far too long in a game that should've been put away by the 70th minute at least. And while the chances certainly weren't flowing in Berlin, a little extra quality wouldn't have hurt there, either.

Prediction:

This is probably a shot in the dark, but I'm going to mix it up this week:

MORITZ LEITNER START ALERT. Honestly, I'll be very pleasantly surprised if he actually does get the start, but if I'm looking at prime candidates for Tuchel to rest before the Porto game on Thursday, Gundogan and Miki come up numbers 1 and 2. Ilkay looked absolutely gassed before being subbed against Stuttgart, and Miki has played every single minute after the winter break so far. Durm reprises his left wing role and Reus and Aubameyang will look to punish the Bundesliga cellar-dwellers. Castro and Leitner, who combined so well against Ingolstadt, will patrol the midfield for this one, and Weigl reclaims his spot at defensive mid. Will I probably get some of these wrong? Yeah. But at least I had fun doing it.

If I'm Wrong:

I don't know, man. So many different things could happen with these next several lineups. I'd imagine it would be leaving Miki and Gundogan in to play.

Do you have predictions for this week's XI? Let us know in the comments section!