On paper, this was a game Dortmund should've won handily. With Hoffenheim second to last, and Dortmund second behind the leaders, the home side were naturally the big favorites. However, Hoffenheim are a team that have always played well against Dortmund since we failed to relegate them at the end of the 2012-2013 season, and they turned up once again at the Westfalenstadion today.
Despite missing our two first choice center halves to injury, our line-up was a strong one. Nuri Sahin got his first Bundesliga start in exactly 365 days, while Gündoğan was on the bench after coming off at halftime against Porto. It was another game where we failed to create many chances playing a 4-2-3-1, with a doppelsechs instead of deeper lying playmakers like Gündoğan. In Mats Hummels' absence, the build up from defense to offense was lacking, despite Sahin's presence.
In the first half, we did very little offensively, lacking any creativity, and we didn't make up for it with good defense, either. Newly appointed manager Julian Nagelsmann had Hoffenheim dominating our midfield, and they scored on a counter-attack in the 25th minute. Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Bürki could've done a little better on the original shot from Kevin Volland, which was parried right to the feet of birthday boy Sebastian Rudy who converted the tap in.
It was nearly 2-0 a few minutes later, but Bürki made a good save on Kevin Volland's shot from close range. The closest Dortmund came to a goal in the first half was a free kick from Marco Reus, which was nicely saved by Hoffenheim keeper Oliver Baumann. We haven't scored a free kick since Robert Lewandowski scored one on the last game of the 2013-2014 season against Hertha, so it's no surprise that this one was kept out.
At the start of the second half, Ilkay Gündoğan was brought on for Shinji Kagawa, who didn't do much to impress in the first half, along with the rest of the Dortmund team. A lot of criticism was aimed at Kagawa, but he certainly wasn't the only one who wasn't on the top of his game today, i.e. Marco Reus. Just two minutes after coming on, Gündoğan tore through the Hoffenheim defense and nearly scored a wonder solo goal, but it hit the post and Reus fired the rebound over. Right after, Hoffenheim went straight up the pitch and Mark Uth forced Bürki to make another good save.
The game changed significantly in Dortmund's favor when Sebastian Rudy picked up a straight red card after a cynical foul on Aubameyang. In the 57th minute, Rudy slid in from behind and clipped Aubameyang when he had no chance of winning the ball. Despite not being the last man, it broke up a good goalscoring chance for Dortmund, which was enough for the referee to deem it a red card offense. With Rudy off, Hoffenheim put everyone behind the ball and tried to hold onto their lead for the rest of the game. They did a pretty good job of it, but Dortmund ended up making the inevitable breakthrough.
Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images
The equalizer came in the 80th minute off a short corner, where Mkhitaryan played a one-two with Gündoğan, who played in Mkhitaryan. Henrikh finished it neatly with his left foot into the far corner, and opened up the floodgates for Dortmund. Mkhitaryan was one of Dortmund's only consistently good performers throughout the game. A lot is being discussed about Gündoğan and his impact on the Dortmund team, but Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another crucial player for Dortmund who really needs to sign a contract extension. He was my personal man of the match, and I've got his jersey coming in the mail!
The go ahead goal finally came in the 85th minute, and it was once again created by Ilkay Gündoğan, who played in Lukasz Piszczek with a clever lofted pass. Piszczek delivered a good cross from the byline, and it found Adrian Ramos' head who scored his third goal of the Bundesliga season. The goal could go a long way for his confidence, as he's been out of favor since the start of the Ruckrunde, and could see some more action considering we're still alive in three competitions. Our first choice striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, finally got his goal for the day in the 91st minute, on a counter-attack started by Adrian Ramos. Aubameyang didn't have much service for most of the game, but he was able to convert a tap in assisted by Mkhitaryan to put him at 22 goals for the season.
This performance wasn't Dortmund's best, but it was very encouraging to see them come from behind emphatically, even if they were given a huge advantage with the red card. Without it, it's hard to say that we certainly would've won, as Dortmund didn't look like scoring until much later in the game. It was evident that Hoffenheim still have our number, and look like a team that should be able to avoid relegation. There's a full slate of Bundesliga games midweek, which sees Dortmund take on Darmstadt away, a team who play dirty, dive, and will be tough to beat if we play like we did before the red card today.