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Match Observations: The Game that had Two Faces…Make that Three. No, Four. No, Five!

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Easter may have come and gone, but Dortmund were still on the hunt for a Champions League spot. 

VfB Stuttgart v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

I think everyone will agree that we are very happy with the win today. A win is a win, right? And while it’s easy to be distracted by the win, it is also important that we evaluate what road we took to get there. Don’t misunderstand, I am pleased as punch that we earned those desperately needed three points, but, I must ask, at what cost?

There are three words I’ll use to describe the match:

Consistent. Schizophrenic. Smorgasbord. Let’s. Break. It. Down.

Consistently Brilliant and Consistently Frustrating

Dortmund plays with consistency. They are, at times, consistently brilliant and consistently frustrating. They consistently give their fans ulcers and other stress-related illnesses by making careless mistakes. Everyone is well aware of how skilled and talented the squad is, and we saw moments of that today. It’s delightful and leaves us clamoring for more. After the half, there was great build up and execution. Gio Reyna to Mateu Morey to Marco Reus and voila! Reus was wide open, so it was right for goal hungry Erling Haaland to let the skipper take the shot. When they consistently work as a cohesive unit, they are an unstoppable machine.

Unfortunately, the team’s weaknesses were left exposed. The squad succumbs to dejection far too often when faced with adversity early on. This was evident by the body language of many players from Reyna to Haaland to Raphael Guerreiro. DMX echoed my sentiments as he played the teams off the pitch at the half…these boys were about to make me lose my mind! The team does not stand a chance when they fight against each other. When faced with difficulty, the only way to succeed is to work together. Pointing fingers at one another and shaking their heads will not yield positive results. This behavior is petulant and what one expects from pick-up games, not senior level professionals. There are a few vets on the squad, but overall are they just too young?

First Half versus Second Half

This match had more personalities than an episode of Saturday Night Live. Before VfB Stuttgart’s goal in the 17th minute, BVB showed some promise. They had a hustle in their step, earned a few corners and made it a struggle for Stuttgart to clear the ball. Even after Sasa Kalajdzic’s head collided with the ball to score, BVB’s game didn’t completely unravel (I’ll just ignore why two “shorties” were marking this giant). Guerreiro was accurate with his free kicks and certainly wasn’t lazy as he continued to try and create chances. Dortmund maintained control and showed their experience by taking time with chances like Reus’ shot at the 33rd minute.

Once the match hit the 30-minute mark, the mood swing took over. With the situation Dortmund finds themselves in right now, they cannot afford to waste precious moments pouting. Haaland is guilty of this too…expressing his displeasure on the pitch instead of concentrating on play.

The theme of the first half was “frenzy.” The play was not quite intentional or purposeful. Sloppy mistakes in passing left them open to Stuttgart counters. The boys have vision like Thomas Delaney spotting Haaland, but they again struggle to execute.

With the conclusion of the first half, there were concerns about something upsetting Mats Hummels’ stomach. Yeah. I know what was upsetting his stomach. His team’s first half performance and anxiety over whether he’d be left behind in Stuttgart.

Let’s contrast this with the second act. It began with a rocket of a goal. A beautiful dance of passes from Guerreiro to Reyna to our beloved Jude Bellingham! Everyone was curious to know what would transpire in the dressing room at the half and which version of BVB would remerge. This goal served to stun Stuttgart and give them a harsh reminder of who they were up against.

Throughout the second half, BVB was on the prowl; capitalizing on weak spots within Stuttgart’s defense. So, what made the difference?

At first blush, it seemed wise to rest Emre “Candyman” Can, but it cannot escape notice that BVB’s game turned around as soon as he came on to replace Hummels. Can loves a challenge and he ignites those around him, fanning the flames when necessary. He seems to thrive in gritty matches and proves over and over to be a leader on the pitch. Go back and watch his footwork in slow motion too…it is simply dazzling.

The team that played in the second half was there to win. And while the lead did trade hands a couple times, the second half felt steadier.

BVB Serves a Smorgasbord

There was really a little of everything in this match. Haaland as a false midfielder, first league goals for Ansgar Knauff and Bellingham and even BVB’s GOAT Lukasz Piszczek made an appearance!

Haaland was all over the place, position wise, and that resulted in a several free kicks for Dortmund. His play was intriguing and seemed like a positive, but let’s remember Haaland is the striker and needs to be upfront, not playing the midfield. This may be what caused him to be MIA when Reyna delivered a cross to no one.

Final Impressions

We’ve seen from Dortmund time and time again play possessively but fail to convert. Today was no different. They got caught in vulnerable situations that led them to 3 on 1 situations in the Dortmund half. It was luck that pulled them out of them, not any kind of quality or smart defending. They were plagued by mistakes that overshadowed the positives (Mahmoud Dahoud’s awareness, tireless efforts and trademark longshots).

The Stuttgart stadium DJ spun a track of a beating heart before play commenced with each half and it perfectly symbolized this match: heart pounding. If BVB can keep their emotions in check and learn how to handle setbacks on the pitch, the games will be more enjoyable for everyone!

The key takeaway from this match for Dortmund is this: Grow up.