Most of the time, if a sports team wins 3-0, their fans have little to reasonably complain about. For many fans any win, pretty or ugly, is something to celebrate. Normally I would feel the same about Borussia Dortmund, but today seems like a rare exception. Against Greuther Furth, the team in last place in the Bundesliga, that until last weekend had not won a single game in the league, I didn’t just want a win. I wanted a dominant performance.
Unfortunately, that was not what we got. Even though BVB won decidedly 3-0, with the xG differential a respectable 1.92-0.38, the performance was less than desirable, especially for the first 30 minutes, during which they failed to register a single shot on goal. Even after BVB received a rather fortunate goal courtesy of a somewhat spontaneous handball call, Dortmund didn’t look that good, and going into the 80th minute with the scoreline only at 1-0, I thought it was a distinct possibility that Furth would score a cheap equalizer off a corner. Thankfully, Erling Haaland would instead win a header off a free kick from Julian Brandt, and Donyell Malen would have a nifty individual effort before the game ended, and Dortmund would enjoy the win without any humiliation.
Here’s what I thought of the game:
Real problems with ball progression
Borussia Dortmund held 68% possession during today’s game, and Greuther Furth didn’t want to sacrifice defensive stability by pressing too hard, so the game very quickly became a war of attrition, in which BVB would try to break down Furth while their opponents feasted on whatever scraps they could muster from counter attacks. Very rarely did Furth look like scoring, but for the first 80 minutes, the same could be said for Borussia Dortmund, outside of a rather fortunate penalty resulting from a handball.
I believe that Dortmund’s problems stemmed from their midfield. Furth defended very centrally, making the admittedly smart gamble that denying Jude Bellingham, Marco Reus, and Mahmoud Dahoud when he came on, space to operate, would be worth giving Thomas Meunier and Nico Schulz more space. It seemed that no matter who was in BVB’s midfield, the play inevitably got pushed to the flanks. This was a pretty common problem we saw last year under Lucien Favre. This touch heatmap looks pretty familiar, doesn’t it?
Axel Witsel has struggled for a while, but I can’t just blame this performance on him. Jude Bellingham looked frustrated for most of the match and needed to be subbed off at the half. Mahmoud Dahoud came onto the pitch and didn’t look much better. Even Marco Reus, when he dropped deeper, struggled to formulate effective passing combinations with his teammates. I’m not a tactician so I’m not sure what the solution would have been today, but I’m sure Marco Rose will not be pleased with how his midfield performed.
Julian Brandt is back?
Julian Brandt seems like a man reborn. A few months ago, most fans would have considered him the first candidate to leave the club. Now, his name is practically etched in stone into the starting XI. His start to the season was slow, but over the past month or so, he has really turned it around. His performance today was arguably enough to earn him Man of the Match.
Practically everything positive that came out of Dortmund’s attack came through Julian Brandt. He assisted Dortmund’s second and third goals, but also played a brilliant through ball into Marco Reus in the first half that the captain should have converted. He was all over the pitch, using dribbles to create space and playing forward passes. For a while, these types of midfield numbers have been improving, but now he’s contributing on the scoresheet as well. As long as he continues to produce, he’s going to hold the acclaim of BVB fans everywhere.
No hair, no problem
So Donyell Malen came off the bench and scored a pretty go-BALD
It’s so shiny! And smooth! And hairless!
Donyell Malen came off the bench with a new look, and he quickly scored what I consider to be his biggest highlight-reel goal with the club so far. He collected a cross from Brandt out of the air with a skillful touch, did a quick juke to freeze the Furth defender Marco Meyerhöfer, before poking the ball into the net.
With this goal, Malen demonstrated a lot of what his play lacked during the earlier parts of the season. He demonstrated chemistry with his teammate by being in the right position to receive Brandt’s cross. He showed his skill to bring the ball down, and then finally demonstrated the patience necessary to flatfoot the defender and calmly finish the play. It’s a sign that his confidence is beginning to re-emerge. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Let me know your thoughts!