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Three observations from Borussia Dortmund’s group-clinching 2-1 victory over Zenit St. Petersburg

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BVB have officially won Group F.

Zenit St. Petersburg v Borussia Dortmund: Group F - UEFA Champions League Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

After three consecutive winless matches in all competitions, Borussia Dortmund have finally gotten a win football, even if it wasn’t a glamorous one. BVB travelled to St. Petersburg to face FC Zenit, and despite playing in front of several thousand raucous fans, managed to overcome an early 1-0 deficit with a pair of second half goals, courtesy of Axel Witsel and Lukasz Piszczek, of all people. Even though it wasn’t pretty, it was enough to earn Dortmund three points and a spot at the top of their group, meaning BVB won’t be drawn against another group-winner in the round of 16. Here are a few of my observations:

I f@%king love Lukasz Piszczek

This isn’t really going to be an analysis of any kind, and I hope you’re all okay with that. I just want to profess how awesome Lukasz Piszczek is. Him and Mats Hummels are the only BVB players remaining from Dortmund’s title winning seasons in the early 2010s. Despite being 35 years old and in the final year of his career, as he plans on returning to his native Poland at the end of this season, he seems practically incapable of putting in a sub-par performance. Not only did he slide in seamlessly for an injured Manuel Akanji, but he unleashed some of his ancient striker’s instincts when he pounced on a loose ball and smashed it into the net.

BVB’s forwards were having trouble scoring, and instead of complaining about it, Piszczek said “F—k it” and scored for them. He was then subbed off for Dan-Axel Zagadou. Many players would have whined about being subbed off and pouted for the rest of the match, but not Piszczek. When Axel Witsel scored Dortmund’s go-ahead goal, he was celebrating harder than anyone:

What a legend. When Piszczek does retire at the end of this year, I’m gonna write a 10,000 word treatise about how great he is.

The Reus/Hazard pairing (sort of) worked

Ever since Erling Haaland injured himself, Borussia Dortmund have had trouble figuring out who will lead the attack. First, Lucien Favre tried playing Marco Reus up front, but that didn’t work, as Reus no longer has the pace to beat most defenders in a foot race. Favre has also given Youssoufa Moukoko a few appearances as a substitute, and while he looks promising, he isn’t ready to lead the line for BVB for the full 90 minutes. Meanwhile, Julian Brandt as a striker was a non-starter. So far, nobody has come close to matching the goal threat that Erling Haaland poses.

Today he tried something different. Instead of having a single player up front, Thorgan Hazard and Marco Reus both led the line, with each player occasionally taking turns to drop deeper to receive balls in to their feet. While neither player was actually able to get in behind Zenit’s back line the way Haaland would, having a pair of strikers up front, usually complimented by an additional midfielder like Emre Can or Bellingham, forced Zenit to defend a lot more narrowly, which opened up a lot of space on BVB’s left wing.

This gave BVB a few solid chances from the left corner of the penalty box, including a driven shot from Hazard that forced a save and a curled effort from Reus that struck the post. Because of the back three, Nico Schulz was also able to get forward and occupy the same dangerous area, and while none of his crosses or cutbacks came to fruition, they were still decent chances.

It’s clear that Borussia Dortmund are not the same without Erling Haaland’s ability to latch onto a quick through ball or lobbed pass. Lucien Favre will need to come up with alternatives like this to unlock opposition defenses. Youssoufa Moukoko clearly isn’t ready to become a full-time Bundesliga striker, so Borussia Dortmund will need to make do with the veterans for now.

Marwin Hitz was fantastic

The one goal Marwin Hitz conceded was due to a very unfortunate deflection that left him flat-footed. Other than this single exception, Hitz was fantastic. He made three strong saves, including a diving save to his left on Daler Kuzyaev a minute into the second half, and then covered up the ball when Zenit whipped in another low cross off the rebound. He also did a good job handling in-swinging crosses, and didn’t spill any rebounds from the couple tricky long shots that Zenit were able to produce. I still don’t think that Hitz should be starting over Bürki, but it’s nice to see that BVB can still get quality performances out of their backup keeper.

Your Observations

What did you think of today’s match? Leave your thoughts below.