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Shocking Defending and Missed Chances: Three Observations as BVB Drop out of the DFB Pokal

FC St Pauli v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup: Round of Sixteen Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images

Everything was going great before yesterday. Borussia Dortmund had won two big matches in a row, including one in which they erased a 2-0 deficit with a flurry of second half goals. BVB also fell behind by two goals yesterday against 2. Bundesliga leaders St. Pauli, but they unfortunately couldn’t muster the same magic they had against Eintracht Frankfurt, and fell out of the DFB Pokal as a result.

The match was a disaster from the very beginning. It took less than four minutes for BVB to concede, on a disastrous defensive play that I’ll break down below. Forty minutes later, St. Pauli struck again, this time from an own goal by Axel Witsel. While a penalty kick for Haaland made the game close, BVB unfortunately couldn’t find a second goal to equalize, and the match ended 2-1.

Here are my thoughts.

Shocking defending

I broke this down a bit on Twitter earlier, but I’d like to give this point more attention here, because the quality of defending on this play honestly appalls me, and it should appall each and every one of you. Look at each BVB defender’s positioning in the immediate leadup to St. Pauli’s first goal:

In the first screenshot, you can see how ridiculously over-extended towards one side BVB’s defenders are. Axel Witsel, Mats Hummels, Raphael Guerreiro, and Manuel Akanji are all within 10 feet of each other and within three steps of the touch line, and other than Akanji, none are in a position to join the back line should St. Pauli manage to break their initial press.

Despite out-manning St. Pauli 5-3, 6-3 if you include Akanji, BVB fail to put any pressure on the St. Pauli players in possession. St. Pauli midfielder Jackson Irvine collects a pass, and takes over three seconds to take a controlling touch, spin, scan the field, and pass, despite being surrounded by no less than four BVB players.

Look how slow it looks in real time:

It takes one simple pass to a wide open forward to completely unlock BVB’s back line. Jackson plays the ball to Marcel Hartel. The only Dortmund player available to mark him is Thomas Meunier, the *Right Back*, who has to now defend the left side of BVB’s penalty box. Meanwhile, because every single central midfielder was also pinching near the touchline, the only other player available to defend the right side of the Dortmund goal is “stalwart defender”... Marco Reus. Manuel Akanji is also scrambling to get back, but it’s too late.

Shockingly, stalwart defender Marco Reus is not able to cut in front of Amenyido, and despite botching his first touch, the former BVB II player is able to finish the play.

So what caused this goal? First and foremost, the squad’s over aggression in pressing too strongly towards one side, while not actually levelling enough pressure on each St. Pauli player to steal the ball, pushed the squad out of the position and allowed St. Pauli to advance the ball into a dangerous position with two simple passes.

Now, let’s get to the second goal.

Shocking defending, Pt. 2

Here’s the clip in its entirety:

This is the opening move of what would eventually become the goal. Jude Bellingham has just played a pass that was cut off by St. Pauli, who have now reversed the play. At this moment, Raphael Guerreiro (circled) is for whatever reason the only BVB player in central midfield, and a St. Pauli player (Smith I believe) is about to receive a pass in a solid area. Guerreiro should recognize that it’s vital that he contain the ball and prevent them from progressing it further. So what does he do?

He dives in to try to steal the ball, misses completely, and his momentum takes him out of the play. Once he misses the tackle, he makes absolutely no effort to get back into the play. Seriously, in the clip above, watch how he just starts walking once he misses the challenge. St. Pauli now have a 7-on-4:

I don’t care if you’ve got the best defensive unit on the planet: defending a 7-on-4 is no easy task. Furthermore, this isn’t even Dortmund’s actual back line, as Hummels is taking Guerreiro’s place at left back, and Witsel has had to slot into the back line to cover for him. Hummels surrenders the wing to Guido Burgstaller. Jakov Medic plays an easy through ball to Burgstaller, who is able to advance with it before shooting in a cross towards Amenyido, but before the striker can grab his second goal of the game, Witsel does his job for him by deflecting the shot into the net by trying to block the cross.

So, what caused this goal? While it was Witsel’s own goal, it was really caused by a turnover in midfield that gave St. Pauli a numerical advantage, followed by a reckless challenge from Guerreiro that failed to win the ball, and took out BVB’s final defensive speed bump before the back line.

No matter what the system is, any challenge or pressure represents a potential risk or reward. You can win the ball, but you can also take yourself out of the play. Good defensive players are able to balance these two sides of the coin, and make well-calculated decisions instantaneously. Raphael Guerreiro should have realized that the potential benefit of winning the ball was outweighed by the potential downside of missing the challenge and giving St. Pauli a very advantageous situation.

I’m not sure what to think about these two goals. Is Marco Rose teaching his players to press this hard, or are they doing it on their own? For what it’s worth, I don’t think that being this aggressive is inherently bad, but I also don’t think Dortmund’s squad was capable of executing it properly. Axel Witsel and Mats Hummels are both quite slow, and their positioning sense can only do so much.

Missed chances

Those two instances were disastrous, but for the rest of the match, St. Pauli’s attack was mostly kept quiet. What truly led to BVB’s demise was the squad’s complete inability to convert any of their chances.

Less than two minutes after St. Pauli’s first goal, Thorgan Hazard broke through on a one-on-one, but his shot went straight into St. Pauli goalkeeper Dennis Smarsch. Marco Reus also failed to convert a close-in shot. Donyell Malen wired a shot that almost snuck in underneath the diving goalkeeper’s glove. Erling Haaland also had a few shots go wide. The best example, though, is an instance when Haaland actually found the back of the net, but the goal was called off because Jude Bellingham had been whistled for a foul in the buildup. The goal probably would have been given if the referee had just allowed the play to continue, but he blew the whistle before Haaland put the ball in the net, so it couldn’t be overturned by VAR.

The issue with cup matches is that they tend to be very prone to uncertainty. A few slip-ups and some poor finishing can be all that’s required to sink a team’s chances. Make no mistake, BVB were bad, especially defensively, but they had their chances to score. Unfortunately, in a one-game playoff, these types of results can happen. It’s okay to be disappointed, but I wouldn’t treat this as the end of the world. Dortmund still has much work to do in the Bundesliga and the Europa League.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of yesterday’s game? Let me know your thoughts below.