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Four Observations from Borussia Dortmund’s Close Victory over Sporting Lisbon

A solid defensive effort and Malen’s first goal for the club made all the difference

Borussia Dortmund - Sporting Lisbon Photo by Bernd Thissen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund hosted Sporting Lisbon last night in the Champions League, looking to return to winning ways after their 1-0 loss to Borussia Monchengladbach at the weekend. Thanks to Donyell Malen’s first goal for the club, BVB did exactly that, beating the Portuguese side 1-0, in a game that xG would describe as having happened...

To be fair, I think it was a better game than this, but all of the best chances in the game were actually offside, so xG isn’t picking those up.

BVB’s victory kept them level on points with Ajax, who they will face in their next Champions League game in two weeks. Ajax have started the season by scoring close to one million goals in just a small handful of games, and thanks to their demolition of everything in their path, FiveThirtyEight now has them as fourth favorites to win the Champions League! Should be a fun game.

Here’s some observations from last night’s victory.

Dortmund’s Defense Holds Up

A clean sheet! Do you remember those? Borussia Dortmund’s defense has started the season by letting in almost as many goals as Ajax has scored, but they managed to avoid adding to that tally last night.

This was in large part due to BVB’s successful work to limit the number of shots that Sporting were able to get on goal. They only had one shot on target in the entire game, and they had five off target. I thought the midfield contributed a lot to these efforts, particularly Axel Witsel, and Thomas Meunier’s defensive efforts snuffed out several dangerous plays too.

To some extent, I think BVB’s defense has been a little unlucky to concede so many goals so far this season. They’ve conceded 8.7 xG in the Bundesliga this season, compared to the 12 goals they’ve actually conceded. But it’s also clear that the defense has been a bit of a mess this season too. Besides, 8.7 isn’t very good either. It’s just slightly better than 12.

Brandt Steps Up

Mahmoud Dahoud going down injured in the first ten minutes of the game was definitely not part of the plan, and I won’t pretend that seeing Julian Brandt come off the bench filled me with any confidence at all. He’s been poor for Dortmund for a significant chunk of his time at the club, but I thought Brandt played pretty well yesterday.

He was pretty busy defensively, working hard out of possession, and I liked a lot of what he was doing in possession. In the second half, he made a few really nice passes in the final third that didn’t quite come off, but looked like the Brandt we’ve seen flashes of at times since he joined BVB. Hopefully his performance last night will act as a springboard to further progress.

Malen Gets a Much Needed Goal

... And breathe. Donyell Malen’s face when he scored yesterday was a combination of delight and relief. He really, really needed that goal. It was a lovely finish as well (as was Akanji and Bellingham’s buildup). Malen was really overdoing it before he got the goal, but after that he seemed to relax, and he was much, much better for it.

I think it’s fair to say that Malen has struggled to get going since joining BVB, but I also think that fans have been a little harsh in their judgements too. Plenty of players need a moment to settle, and it sure looks like Malen was feeling the pressure before he scored yesterday. It’s unfortunate that Dortmund had to rely on him so soon, thanks to Haaland’s absence, but I think everyone can afford to wait a little longer before calling him a bust and a waste of space.

But Dortmund Still Missed Haaland

Even though Malen stepped up yesterday, there were several wasted chances thanks to silly offsides and some fluffed lines in and around the penalty area. Turns out that Borussia Dortmund are worse when their very good player isn’t playing. Sporting Lisbon had a ton of success with a pretty disciplined offside trap, and I think they’d have had a harder time if Haaland was leading the line. I’m also pretty sure they would have started sitting deeper after seeing Haaland break the trap once. Watching BVB without Haaland is a nice reminder of just how much of a cheat code he is.

Your Thoughts?

What did you make of the performance yesterday? How do you feel about BVB’s chances against Ajax? Let us know below.