Wow, Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel has been putting out all different types of line-ups since the start of 2016, and we've won all but one game since the start of the new year. This game was expected to be a tricky one for Dortmund, with a possible lack of motivation, lots of rotation, and a tough Darmstadt team on the road. However, the heavily rotated Dortmund side took home the three points thanks to some players who haven't featured much lately.
Fans knew there would be some rotation before the big games against Bayern and Spurs coming up, but the eight changes that were made to the line-up from last weekend were a bit more than most probably expected. Roman Burki missed out due to illness, but it was nice to see Roman Weidenfeller back on the pitch for what feels like a long time. Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Nuri Sahin, Lukasz Piszczek, Marcel Schmelzer, and even more were all rested, as it wasn't really worth risking them on such a sloppy pitch in lousy weather. The biggest story going into the game was Felix Passlack's professional debut for Borussia Dortmund, who played a good game despite not getting a ton of action on the right wing. He was replaced in the 69th minute by Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
It was Adrian Ramos who stole the teenager's spotlight in the 38th minute, scoring after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's shot was saved by Darmstadt goalkeeper Christian Mathenia, who parried it to Adrian Ramos. The Colombian's long legs, as pointed out by the FOX Sports commentator, allowed Ramos to reach the ball and finish it in an awkward manner. It was his fourth Bundesliga goal on the season, with two assists as well, meaning he's contributed to six goals in a total of 245 minutes on the pitch on the Bundesliga this season. Not a bad number for such a disregarded and criticized player.
6 – Ramos had a hand in 6 goals in this BL-season (4 goals, 2 assists) in only 245 minutes on the pitch. Efficient. #d98bvb— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) March 2, 2016
Before the goal, Dortmund had most of the possession, and Darmstadt were content to force the visitors to break them down. The only other big chance on goal Dortmund had in the first half came minutes after the first goal, when Ilkay Gundogan failed to convert a one-on-one chance with the keeper. After halftime, Dortmund came out looking much better, and it only took them seven minutes to find their next goal. Gonzalo Castro, who has been heavily out of favor in recent weeks, played a superb ball to Erik Durm, who controlled it well and finished nicely, as if he had been a striker during most of his youth years.
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images
The most encouraging thing about this game was the performance of those players who were rotated in. Gonzalo Castro got his first start in weeks, and performed very well, along with Adrian Ramos and Erik Durm. Both Durm and Castro could see some more playing time even with the tough fixtures ahead, but it's hard to see Adrian Ramos getting the nod over Aubameyang despite the Gabonese striker's poor form recently.
After the second goal, both teams had a few chances to go on and score, but the game ultimately felt like it had already been decided. Darmstadt could have had a penalty when Mats Hummels fouled Mario Vrancic around 60 minutes, but it wasn't called as it seemed like Vrancic already had his shot away before any contact or foul was made. Gündoğan was taken off around the 80th minute to give him a small breather in preparation for the upcoming games.
The three points for Dortmund today were made a little bigger when Jhon Cordoba scored the winner for Mainz against Bayern. Now only a five point gap, the match-up between Dortmund and Bayern this weekend could either stifle a possible title race, or ignite one. With key players given rest today, and the back-ups performing well, Dortmund have put themselves in a strong position to capitalize on any Bayern mistakes.