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The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly from Borussia Dortmund vs FC Barcelona

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New Article Format Time!

Borussia Dortmund v FC Barcelona: Group F - UEFA Champions League Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Let’s face it: nobody likes Match Ratings. I hate writing them, you hate reading them, and whenever we publish them, conversation inevitably descend into semantics about what constitutes a “6” and what constitutes a “7”. Instead, we’re trying something new, and what’s better than a generic analysis article layered beneath a reference to a Ω1960s Western? Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from Borussia Dortmund vs FC Barcelona:

The Good

Mats Hummels - Aside from Marc Andre ter Stegen, it’s hard to argue that anybody other than Hummels deserves the title of “man of the match”. Any time that Barcelona forayed into BVB’s penalty box, Hummels was there with a perfectly-timed challenge. He hardly put a foot wrong the entire match, dispossessing the likes of Griezmann, Messi, and Suarez repeatedly. Suarez has received a lot of criticism from Barca fans for his performance. While I agree that he could have played better, I think a big reason for his lack of success was Mats Hummels.

BVB’s Midfield - Dortmund’s midfield pairing of Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney absolutely killed it. Delaney was a monster defensively: Barcelona could barely touch the ball in their offensive half without Delaney being there to nick it away from them. He even dispossessed Lionel Messi repeatedly, somebody who has made a career out of posterizing defenders. Witsel, meanwhile, looked every bit the MVP midfielder that we saw last year. His ability to navigate Barcelona’s press was jawdropping, dribbling around multiple attackers with ease and distribution the ball to the wings, where BVB were able to make most of their scoring chances. Delaney and Witsel made BVB’s midfield impenetrable: even with 59% possession, Barcelona could barely approach BVB’s penalty box, and when they did, Hummels and Akanji were there to mop up the rest.

Achraf Hakimi - Hakimi had a chance to make a case that he should be BVB’s starting right back, and he did that and then some. He was able to dribble past elite players like Jordi Alba to put balls into the box, and sometimes uses his pace to simply sprint the ball outside of dangerous situations. Looking at BVB’s heat map, the effect that Hakimi had on the squad was pretty significant:

Source: Whoscored.

The Bad

Thorgan Hazard - It’s not that Hazard was particularly “bad”- he created one of BVB’s best chances of the first half. It’s that he still hasn’t looked like the real game changer that lit up the Bundesliga for Mönchengladbach last year. He looked a bit behind the pace of the game and didn’t seem to have a lot of chemistry with the rest of the team.

Marco Reus’s Finishing - In addition to his missed penalty, Reus missed three or four grade-A chances from well inside the box. Ter Stegen had his number each time. While his play in midfield and his movement off the ball were very impressive, the fact remains that when you have the amount of chances that Marco had, you have to bury at least one of them, and the Captain couldn’t.

Jadon Sancho’s First Half - I’m not sure why Jadon Sancho takes such a long time to get into a match. During the second half he was a dynamic force in BVB’s attack, creating several chances and leading the squad with five dribbles. Unfortunately, he was a total vacuum during the first half. Every touch of his seemed heavy, and he blasted one of BVB’s best chances of the half well over the crossbar. Disappearing during the first half is becoming something of a pattern for Sancho, something that we would hope stops sooner or later.

The Ugly

To VAR or not to VAR

VAR did not have a good day yesterday. It failed to catch Marc Andre ter Stegen jumping off his line on Marco Reus’s penalty. Even more egregiously, if you happened to catch the Napoli-Liverpool, you saw that Napoli were able to take the lead off a penalty that was clearly the result of a dive:

Now, ter Stegen being only about eight inches off his line is hardly a big deal. Reus still should have been able to score, and in the end, BVB still had numerous chances to win the match. In fact, I would argue that Napoli being gifted a penalty is a much bigger deal. In any case, the fact remains that VAR exists to fix any referee errors, big or small, and according to the rules, both decisions should have been reversed.

Some will probably say that ter Stegen being off his line by a few inches doesn’t necessitate a VAR review, because it’s not a particularly egregious breakage of the rules. You could even argue that the rule is stupid and shouldn’t exist (to which I see your point). I’d argue that these arguments are irrelevant and just muddy the water further: when does it become acceptable to allow a penalty to be retaken, when a keeper is two feet off his line? A player who is offside by an inch is still offside, so why should the thinking be different for keepers facing penalty takers? Should Bürki be able to get off his line when facing future penalties? These are the questions that arise when VAR is used selectively.

Your Thoughts

What about BVB’s performance did you like? What didn’t you like? What did you think was ugly? Leave your thoughts below.