On a night filled with enthralling Champions League showdowns, including multiple high-scoring affairs and last-minute winners, Borussia Dortmund and Club Brugge met for a joyless 90 minutes that ultimately got Dortmund the three points they needed, thanks to a slapstick 85th minute goal from Christian Pulisic. Here are our match ratings:
Lucien Favre: 6
There’s a saying that’s often (mistakenly) credited to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.” This cliché seems especially appropriate, because many of the problems with Favre’s tactics and squad selection are the same problems that we’ve seen for weeks. Playing Reus as a center forward, leaving in Wolf for 90 minutes, and starting Witsel and Weigl in the same position were all poor decisions, whose ramifications many of us saw coming the moment the squad was announced.
To Favre’s credit, his substitutes were spot-on. He recognized that Sancho was a vacuum on the pitch, and rightfully subbed him off for Pulisic, who was an immediate improvement. He also replaced Götze, who was invisible after the first 15 minutes, with Shinji Kagawa, who brought more creativity and dynamism to Dortmund’s offense. Finally, Favre recognized that Witsel and Weigl were not an effective midfield pairing, and replaced the latter with Mahmoud Dahoud, who contributed to the match-winning goal. Yes, BVB were ultimately very fortunate to score a flukey goal and come away with three points, but it was nice to see Favre recognize some of the problems plaguing BVB, and take the appropriate steps to fix them.
Roman Bürki: 7
I know Bürki’s expectations weren’t exactly sky-high to start the season, but the way he’s played so far has me cautiously optimistic. He wasn’t challenged that much, but when needed, he came through.
Marcel Schmelzer: 6
The way some fans are criticizing Schmelzer, you’d think he was the worst player to ever wear a BVB uniform. Yes, Marcel has his faults, and he probably isn’t at the level that BVB need him to be, but he really hasn’t been that bad. For the most part, he was solid defensively last night, with three clearances, a tackle, and an interception. His offensive contributions were comparable to the rest of the squad: bad, but he shouldn’t really be singled out when nobody else is contributing much.
Manuel Akanji: 6
He was mostly solid, but had several poor turnovers that almost led to goals. He has a Hummels-esque tendency to carry the ball into midfield and try to jump-start an attack. He attempted this a couple times last night, and it almost backfired once or twice. While Brugge were fortunately never able to capitalize, that might not always be the case in the future.
It’s frustrating, because Akanji is a rock defensively when he’s in position. I understand his desire to help out on offense, but he should be careful about venturing into midfield.
Abdou Diallo: 7
Diallo continued his good form with another strong defensive performance. He almost scored another goal off a corner, too. If he can become a reliable scoring threat on set pieces, it could go a long way to helping Dortmund’s offensive struggles.
Lukasz Piszczek: 5
As with Schmelzer, the BVB fanbase has been critical of Piszczek to start the year. While Lukasz hasn’t been terrible, he’s showing clear signs of decline. He needs Marius Wolf to cover him on defense, which imposes a heavy opportunity cost on the team’s offensive output. In the coming fixtures, I’d like to see Favre rotate either Toljan or Hakimi into the right back position, both to give Piszczek rest and provide some relief along the wings.
Julian Weigl: 5
The formula for Dortmund’s midfield continues to be: stable on defense, anemic on offense. Both Weigl and Witsel did a good job breaking down most of Brugge’s forays into midfield, but were also unable to create anything moving forward. Weigl’s distribution, like Witsel, was poor. He was subbed off for Dahoud in the 84th minute.
Axel Witsel: 5
Witsel’s night was a carbon copy of Weigl’s. Both players are used to playing identical positions, and it showed. It’s clear that a Weigl-Witsel midfield pairing is not an ideal combination.
Mario Götze: 4
Mario Götze’s future with the club is in serious question, and he didn’t do much to help his chances. Although he created some decent chances in the first 15 minutes or so, he simply added nothing for the remainder of his time on the pitch. Shinji was much more threatening on offense.
Jadon Sancho: 4
Jadon Sancho has been spectacular in the Bundesliga thus far, so many BVB fans have been begging Favre to put Sancho in the starting XI for weeks. Favre finally did so yesterday, and Sancho rewarded him with an uncharacteristically dismal performance. He was selfish in his decision making, he ignored players making open runs when on the ball, and he frequently dribbled right into defenders. Favre rightfully replaced him with Pulisic, who was much less selfish, and much more effective.
Marius Wolf: 4
Wolf continues to look lost on offense. He has an ability to suck the air out of counterattacks that we haven’t seen since Gonzalo Castro. He does, however, do a decent job of covering for Piszczek, which is presumably why he continues to see minutes.
Marco Reus: 5
He’s not a center forward. Period. If BVB are to field an ineffectual winger-turned-striker while Paco is out, I’d much rather have it be Philipp, so that Reus can play in the position he was actually meant to play.
He did save a goal, which was nice.
Shinji Kagawa: 6
While Shinji didn’t create any goals, he at least brought some creativity into Dortmund’s attack. He successfully took on a couple defenders, and he put some decent service into the box, which is more than I can say for Götze.
Christian Pulisic: 7
While his goal may have been an insult to the sport of football, it was a goal nonetheless, and was enough to earn BVB three points. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be a Club Brugge fan last night: watching your club put in a stellar defensive performance against one of the top sides in the Bundesliga, only to surrender an absolute howler at the last minute.
Outside of the goal, Pulisic was also an improvement over Sancho. His distribution and decision-making were much better, and he combined with Shinji to produce a couple threatening attacks. On the night of his 20th birthday, he was arguably Dortmund’s best player.
Mahmoud Dahoud: 6
If anyone deserves credit for BVB’s lone goal outside of Pulisic, it’s actually Dahoud. The initial ball into the box that led to Pulisic’s deflection came from a clever one-touch pass from Mo.
You could argue that it was ultimately a lucky bounce, but I’d counter that good things happen when you put the ball into the box, and Dahoud’s ball was incisive enough to make just that something happen.
Do you agree with my ratings? Leave your thoughts below.