With a week to go until Der Klassiker, Borussia Dortmund kept themselves within reach of the top of the table with a solid, if imperfect, 3-1 win over VFL Wolfsburg. BVB can now leapfrog Bayern Munich with a win at the Westfalenstadion next weekend.
After falling out of the Champions League on Wednesday, BVB desperately needed a rebound to put them on track. An aggravating 2nd minute goal from Wout Weghorst gave the impression that it would be another lackluster defeat from Dortmund. Luckily, BVB would manage a strong response and equalized in the 35th minute, after Marco Reus drew a penalty from Maxence Lacroix.
Dortmund came out strong in the second half, and were rewarded for their efforts nine minutes in. The goalscorer was the suddenly prolific Donyell Malen, who snatched his third goal in as many games with a wicked shot from the top of the box.
While Wolfsburg would continue to surge, looking for an equalizer, it would be Dortmund who would grab the next goal and seal all three points. It was none other than star talisman Erling Haaland, returning miraculously early from his injury, who would score.
Although Marco Reus had a chance to make it 4-1, his one-on-one effort was saved by Wolfsburg’s Pavao Pervan. Here are my thoughts from today’s game:
Wolfsburg steamrolled BVB’s left side
After Nico Schulz’s poor showing against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday, I was surprised to see him get another start. Unfortunately, he did not redeem himself in the slightest. Wolfsburg’s attackers seemed to purposefully target Dortmund’s left side, focusing on isolating Mahmoud Dahoud and Nico Schulz. This approach resulted in a goal less than two minutes into the game, when Schulz and Dahoud both decided to claim Dido Lukebakio while leaving Ridle Baku unmarked:
This would not be the first time that Wolfsburg would absolutely rinse Schulz and Dahoud. Lukebakio made Dahoud look like a fool in the 67th minute when he nutmegged him and glided into the box at the left side of the net, and blasted a shot that forced a save from Kobel.
Raphael Guerreiro might not be a stalwart defender, but unlike Schulz he has the ability to hang onto the ball while under pressure. By keeping the ball, he denies the other team possession by default. Schulz, on the other hand, is a turnover machine and can’t hold onto the ball to save his life. This makes him a favorite for other teams to press.
In the future, if Raphael Guerreiro is missing, I wouldn’t mind seeing Marius Wolf given a shot at left back. He’s proven that he can be a useful utility player. In fact, he was useful today, playing out of his natural position on the right wing. Schulz seems to have lost a lot of his confidence, and it might be time for him to move to another playing environment where the pressure isn’t so high.
Breaking news: BVB are a better team with Erling Haaland
I understand if there are Dortmund fans who are disappointed with the club crashing out of the Champions League. Even without Haaland and the coterie of supporting characters who have been injured at his side, Dortmund probably still should have advanced from the group. Today’s performance demonstrates how much a difference Erling Haaland makes when he is in the squad, and in doing so, he also demonstrated how much his absence hurts the team. It’s easy to see why Dortmund’s offense struggled so much over the past month when you consider that the team doesn’t even have a natural striker when he isn’t on the pitch.
If Haaland is able to stay healthy, then I would not be surprised to see BVB compete for the Bundesliga or the Europa League.
Gregor Kobel is BVB’s best keeper since Weidenfeller
I know this isn’t exactly a high bar, because “since Weidenfeller” only really encompasses Marwin Hitz and Roman Burki, but it still feels like such a long time since Dortmund have had a reliable goalkeeper between the sticks. I had some concerns about Gregor Kobel when he first arrived from Stuttgart, but thankfully the Swiss goalie has proven my worries to be unwarranted. He’s been one of the key reasons why BVB are so competitive in the title race so far, despite having a very porous defense.
Kobel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga this season, and today’s performance was no exception. Kobel saved six of the seven shots on target he faced, including a few dangerous efforts from Aster Vranckx and Dodi Lukebakio. There was also nothing he could do on Wolfsburg’s lone goal, as Wout Weghorst was able to knock a cross down right on Kobel’s doorstep, before the keeper could react. During the periods of play when Wolfsburg was dominating the play, Kobel always stepped up to make a save just at the right time, and BVB were victorious in no small part because of this.
If Kobel is able to maintain this level of play, then BVB will be set at goalkeeper for a long time.
Dortmund needs to be better against Bayern
Don’t let some of their recent underwhelming results fool you: Bayern Munich are still the strongest team in Germany. They lead the league in goals for, goals against, expected goals for, and expected goals against. Aside from Joshua Kimmich, they’re at full health and should be able to field a strong squad next weekend.
If BVB are going to win next week, they will need to elevate their game relative to how they’ve played over the last few weeks. Wolfsburg registered 15 shots and 2.17 expected goals (Understat’s model). BVB have now failed to concede less than 1.0 expected goals since October, when they beat Mainz. They’ve been bleeding shots and chances against inferior opposition, which they simply cannot afford to do against Bayern.
Hopefully Jude Bellingham and/or Raphael Guerreiro can return by next weekend, because if this same squad plays the way they did against Bayern, then it could be a long 90 minutes next weekend.
Are you satisfied with today’s performance? Leave your thoughts below.