From a fanbase’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than returning from an international break and dropping points. Thankfully, despite a few scary moments, Borussia Dortmund managed to claw out a narrow 2-1 victory against VFB Stuttgart today, courtesy of Donyell Malen’s first Bundesliga goal, and an 85th minute winner from Marco Reus.
The first half was remarkably even, with the 16th-place Stuttgart defending well and preventing BVB from breaking the ice. Donyell Malen started strong, just missing the net with a header assisted by Julian Brandt, and played much more active off the ball in the attacking third. BVB’s midfield of Jude Bellingham, Julian Brandt, and Axel Witsel performed fairly well, despite facing rather hectic pressing from Stuttgart. With Raphael Guerreiro returning to the squad, Dortmund were able to get much more ball progression from the left wing, which diminished the burden on Jude and Witsel. BVB might have had a slight edge in the first half, but it ended 0-0.
Dortmund continued to apply the pressure, and were rewarded with a beautiful goal from Donyell Malen. He collected a pass from Guerreiro just off the top of the box, and quickly struck a shot that deflected off a defender and into the net. Unfortunately, VFB Stuttgart would respond quickly. Manuel Akanji was caught in possession far further up the pitch than he should have been, and Stuttgart managed to quickly progress the ball into his vacated space. Axel Witsel failed to drop into the back line, and after wriggling past a Mats Hummels tackle, Roberto Massimo managed to slot a shot past Kobel.
Luckily, Borussia Dortmund grabbed a winner when a successfully defended corner (!) launched Marco Reus down the left wing on a counter attack. He played a through ball into Thorgan Hazard, and although the Belgian attacker’s shot was saved, the Captain was right there to pick up the rebound.
BVB would successfully close out the game, and improve their record to 9-0-3. Here are a few thoughts.
This was Donyell Malen’s best game in black and yellow
It’s no secret that Donyell Malen has had a less than stellar start to the season for Borussia Dortmund. Before today, he hadn’t scored or assisted in the Bundesliga, and he often looked completely lost on the pitch. It was reported over the international break that Marco Rose and the rest of BVB’s coaching staff had a series of very frank discussions with Donyell Malen, and also called him out publicly, with both Rose and Zorc publicly encouraging Malen to work harder on the pitch.
Whatever they told Malen over the international break clearly worked, because he looked like a different man today. While in the first few months he looked reticent to press, today he was closing down every Stuttgart player like a heatseeking missile. His goal was a bit fortunate, having deflected off a Stuttgart defender, but it only happened because he was so willing to take shots. He looked incredibly relieved to have scored. Hopefully this is a goal that helps to turn Malen’s season around.
The Captain’s still got it
Don’t let his age deceive you: Marco Reus is still a f—king baller. With Haaland out, he continues to be the one reliable offensive producer for Borussia Dortmund. His shot statistics today were monstrous, with five attempts and four shot assists, enough to lead both squads in both categories. His came remarkably close to scoring on not one, but two direct free kicks, and his killer instincts put him in the right place at the right time to score a go-ahead goal.
Marco Rose continues to pick up results
Today’s performance was far from perfect. Up until the final equalizer, I’d have called it dead even, and a draw would have been a fair result. In the final 15 minutes, VFB Stuttgart were giving it their all going for a winner, throwing bodies forward refusing to give any BVB player a moment of uncontested possession. They easily could have forced a goal, and many previous iterations of Borussia Dortmund could very well have collapsed. Instead, BVB not only managed to bear the brunt of Stuttgart’s attack, but they took advantage of Stuttgart’s aggressiveness and caught them out on a counterattack.
Through 12 games in the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund are 9-0-3. In a vacuum, that’s a very strong record. That’s a rate of 2.25 points per game, which translates to 76.5 points over the course of a full 34-game season. This would be BVB’s best season points total since 2015-16. They’ve managed to claw out result after result despite playing with many key pieces missing. This was Raphael Guerreiro’s first match in over a month. Mahmoud Dahoud sat on the bench. Erling Haaland and Gio Reyna have and will continue to be missing for the foreseeable future.
Despite all that, BVB are only one point behind Bayern Munich. The squad’s underlying numbers are strong as well, with the third best expected goal differential in the league. They’ve managed to beat several strong teams including Leverkusen, Union Berlin, and Hoffenheim. Their only losses in the Bundesliga have been narrow results against competitive opponents: Freiburg, Mönchengladbach, and RB Leipzig, which they each lost by a single goal. Sure, the Ajax games in the Champions League were hidings, but as Bayern’s recent loss to Gladbach in the DFB Pokal demonstrates, any team is capable of collapsing into a dumpster fire on any given day.
Given the circumstances that BVB have had to face this season, Marco Rose has done about as good a job as anybody could possibly have expected from him. Dortmund are still right there in the title chase, and still have a decent chance to make it to the Champions League Knockout Stage. If BVB manage to stick around in both competitions, and the squad reaches something remotely resembling full health, then I have a feeling that Marco Rose could take this squad to even greater heights.
What did you think of today’s game? Leave your thoughts below.