Sometimes, you just lose to really good clubs. That’s what happened tonight. Borussia Dortmund faced the Champions of Europe and one of the greatest sides of the past two decades and lost. That wasn’t the whole story of course. There were plenty of factors that contributed to Dortmund’s defeat, and we’ll try to look at them now.
In hindsight, Peter Bosz’s plan seemed suicidal. Watching the first ten minutes, it was apparent that things were going to go wrong. Dortmund’s setup in possession was intriguing to say the least. Toljan and Piszczek played absurdly high up the pitch, almost as wide midfielders, while Sokratis and Toprak were left to face the press of Madrid’s attackers. Whenever BVB turned the ball over in midfield, Toljan and Piszczek would have to come rushing back, and often would not reach the ball in time to prevent a chance. Castro and Götze added next to nothing going forward, and often created turnovers that led to Real Madrid chances. When Weigl and Dahoud came on, however, there was a marked improvement in midfield. Those two have more technical quality and more pace; they should be the starters from now on.
Madrid did more or less what Tottenham did at Wembley. They sat back, allowed Dortmund to have the majority of possession, and created counterattacks off of turnovers. They had several breaks early in the match, and Bürki made several stellar saves.
The first goal, which came in the 18’ minute, was just a great pass from Carvajal and a brilliant strike from Gareth Bale. Bale just found some space between Sokratis and Piszczek, and Carvajal laid a perfect ball into his path which he smashed into the net. Ronaldo made a great run to draw in Sokratis and Toprak, and Piszczek was to far forward to intervene.
Dortmund actually responded pretty well, and I thought they were the better side for the next twenty minutes or so. That didn’t stop Madrid from striking again. Toni Kroos launched a terrific through ball to Gareth Bale, who knocked a perfect low cross to Ronaldo, who had gotten near-side on Toljan. Ronaldo did what Ronaldo does, and it was 2-0.
The first half did not come without controversy either. One notable example was this:
To me, that’s a clear hand ball, a clear penalty, and at least a yellow card, if not a red. But alas, it was not called, and the first half ended 2-0.
BVB came out during the second half and really kicked it into gear. Casemiro, Ramos, and Varane were excellent, and made several key interventions that likely prevented goals. Real Madrid sat back a bit more and Dortmund were able to breathe a bit more in possession, as the full backs drifted back slightly more. Dortmund’s work was rewarded when Aubameyang notched yet another goal. It was a great cross from Castro, who until that point hadn’t contributed much. Auba got on the right side of Ramos and slotted home a goal.
It was at this point that Bosz did something that I actually really admire. He basically said “F—k it” and went for the win. He took off Toljan for Dahoud, Sahin for Weigl, and shifted his side into maximum attack mode. Dortmund played with a back three for the rest of the match, and actually created several really good chances that again required interventions from Ramos and Varane. Unfortunately, none of these chances came to fruition. It was Real Madrid who were able to counter and seal their victory with another Ronaldo goal.
I couldn’t find any video of it, but basically Modric sent Ronaldo running down the right wing with a through ball. Toprak tried to hold Ronaldo off, but Ronaldo was able to fire off a shot that beat Bürki near post. The match thus ended 3-1, with Real Madrid coming close on several other counterattacks.
I think that the biggest takeaway from this match is that Bosz needs to rethink the way he plays against clubs with pace and talent. It’s one thing to play with a back two against Wolfsburg or Gladbach, it’s another thing to do it against Zidane’s Real Madrid. That high line was hammered from the get-go, just like it was against Spurs. You could tell within 10 minutes that it was going to be a rough night for the boys in yellow, with the defenders getting caught out again and again. It might be too late to salvage this year’s Champions League campaign, but there are still lessons to be learned that can be applied to the Bundesliga.