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Three Questions from Borussia Dortmund’s Cagey Victory Against Hoffenheim

I’ve got some questions that need answering!

TSG Hoffenheim v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Usually after watching a game, I have questions about certain parts of the game, why a player played the way he did or what was behind some of the manager’s decisions, or something else entirely. So rather than just bombard my poor wife with these questions, I feel like I’ll just posit them all to you, the loyal FTW readers! There won’t always be a set number of questions. Some will be really specific questions, others will be more grand in their scope. I’m sure I’ll even have a really stupid question thrown in there that can be answered embarrassingly easily.

Anyway, here are the questions I’m left with following Saturday’s 1-0 win over Hoffenheim:

Are we really going to play Erling Haaland every game?

Of the eight Bundesliga goals Dortmund has scored, the only ones Haaland didn’t have a role in were Reyna from Bellingham against Gladbach and Can from Reyna against Freiburg. The blowout against Duisburg aside, Haaland has either scored or assisted in every goal for Dortmund this season.

And man, did they need him against Hoffenheim. BVB had plenty of opportunities to score on Saturday, but be it tight defending, a sub-par playing surface, or a terrific individual effort to block a shot, Dortmund remained scoreless until Haaland came on, got on the end of a headed flick from Reyna, and passed on a 1v1 to Reus for the winner. There were several other instances after he came on where Haaland made runs behind the Hoffenheim defense to get himself a goal-scoring opportunity only to just miss. He’s an incredibly rare and special talent but he’s still human (I think).

Don’t forget, Haaland played in all three of Norway’s UEFA Nations League matches, so he’s already entering Saturday with somewhat tired legs. He’s going to play a lot of matches and a lot of minutes for club and country, and both Dortmund and Norway can’t afford to have him not playing.

If Haaland were to be out for a significant period of time, Dortmund could be screwed. Paul brought this up in yesterday’s observations article, but Dortmund 100% need a back-up for Haaland. Not a central midfielder operating as a false nine, not a winger who can also play up front; I mean an honest-to-God second striker. I know the plan is to wait for Moukoko to turn 16 and bring him up full-time to the first team, but to me that is a foolish plan. Can you really rely on a 16-year old to back up a 19-year old?

I really hope that Dortmund brings an older, more experienced forward in the winter period, even if it’s for just short term.

How badly will Dortmund’s lack of defensive depth hurt them?

I’m sure you heard this many times leading up to and during the match, but Mats Hummels was the only true center back Dortmund had at their disposal against Hoffenheim. Playing next to Mats was Emre Can, a central midfielder who can also play CB, and Lukas Piszczek, a right-back filling in at center-back. And when Pisz left the field after getting a finger to the eye, he was replaced by defensive midfielder Thomas Delaney.

Dortmund’s failure to pursue a new center back signing was criticized before the seasonbegan, especially after they decided to loan out Leonardo Balerdi to Olympique Marseille. Now, with Akanji still in quarantine, Zagadou injured, and Balerdi making a whopping two appearances for Marseille, Dortmund center-back depth is laid bare for everyone to see.

Against a team missing their leading scorer, Hoffenheim rarely threatened Hitz with only nine total shots and three on frame. The makeshift backline held their own on Saturday, but I don’t know how well they would have done had Kramaric been on the field. There were moments yesterday where our opposition had an opportunity to score but they didn’t, but against a team like Leipzig or Bayern or even a team that has a competent scoring threat not out because of COVID-19, Dortmund’s current defensive set-up could be in trouble.

Even when Akanji and Zagadou return to the pitch, the position of center defense should still be an area Zorc and company look to add to. I’m not sure what kind of talent is available for the first team from the reserves, but if there’s no one there we should still add someone. For depth if nothing else.

Why was it Julian Brandt at the forward position on Saturday?

Last year, Brandt was among the three-player swing of signings Dortmund made at the beginning of last season’s summer transfer window, and he rewarded Dortmund and its fans to the tune of 7 goals and 13 assists across all competitions. A tad disappointing considering what BVB spent for him, but he was also a constant nuisance in central midfield with his control, vision and passing.

Somehow, Brandt had fallen behind 17-year old and new signing Jude Bellingham in central midfield and 17-year old Giovanni Reyna further up the field in the attack. He’s always been one of the first offensive players off the bench, along with Marco Reus. But while he wasn’t an ever-game starter for Dortmund last season, it’s still surprising to see someone so young and talented (33 appearances for Germany) come on in relief of one of two teenagers. He’s only played okay since the season began, scoring only one goal across six matches.

He had his chance on Saturday to make his mark on Favre from the center forward position, rotating most of the time with Sancho and Reyna, and yet he still failed to do anything of note in his 64 minutes on the pitch. He had zero shots, was dispossessed seven times, and only created one key pass. Once he left the field for Haaland, Dortmund’s attack completely changed.

I’m going on record right now and stating that I really like what Brandt brings to the pitch for Dortmund… when he’s playing in a role of strength. When he’s in central midfield, either further up the pitch or next to Witsel, he can excel with his vision and passing ability. When he’s all alone up front, however, he’s not much of a target for Dortmund. I’d have definitely started Reus at that position over Brandt, as Reus has actual experience playing at that position.

I’d like to see more of Brandt on the field because I believe he can make a very positive impact on the squad, but definitely not as a forward.

Leave your own questions below. Let me know what questions you’ve got following the Hoffenheim match!