Football came back with a bang on Matchday 18, welcoming Bundesliga fans back from their Winterslumber (not actually a word). With a depleted Bayern Munich dropping points on Friday, and Freiburg and Leverkusen following suit on Saturday morning, the stage was perfectly set for Borussia Dortmund to put up a classic stinker and drop points as well. Despite their best first-half effort, the team’s three second-half goals hauled the Black-and-Yellows past a determined Frankfurt side in thrilling comeback fashion.
Today’s match was a marriage of tactical disaster and listless performances with fighting spirit and determination. Let’s try to make sense of what happened at the cold and snowy Deutchebank Arena.
Head coach Marco Rose opted to break out his preferred formation, the 4-4-2 diamond, now that the players he needed to field it had all returned from injury. The result? Just as bad as before! Dortmund’s diamond midfield quickly disintegrated as the players failed to find space to work in, slipping into half-spaces that cut off the intention of their teammates. Julian Brandt and Jude Bellingham were pressed hard, with neither able to find passing routes because they were isolated from each other.
Unable to get the ball forward, Haaland and Malen were isolated leaving the fullbacks to pick up the slack out wide. Placing Mahmoud Dahoud at the base of the midfield required him to cover for the backline, but his penchant for moving forward meant that more onus was placed on the fullbacks to provide cover. Here is where things get interesting; Dortmund’s fullbacks were already forward in the wide areas! On numerous occasions in the first half, Dahoud, Meunier, and Guerreiro were all caught in advanced positions leaving Hummels and Can to manage an entire counter-attack. This resulted in the concession of fouls and chances.
This leads to my next point.
The Leaky Defense
Dortmund’s top four defenders do not defend well together. There, I said it. Sure, Akanji did not play today, but if he had would it have made the diamond midfield work? No. I fear that what has kept the Dortmund board from investing in new defenders is that each of Dortmund’s starting defenders is good in their own right. This defensive unit, however, is filled with players who do not complement each other. Guerreiro and Meunier prefer a wingback position and have consistently been caught panicking when they abandon their defensive duties for too long. Though Manuel Akanji has the pace to cover for them, Hummels does not, and chances are Emre Can is probably up near Erling Haaland or worse. Meunier is a great crosser, Guerreiro is great in the build-up. Akanji is quick and strong, Hummels is great in the air and with a pass. Nonetheless, these four players and the defensive midfielders sitting in front of them still comprise a dysfunctional defensive unit, and nothing about that is changing.
Just watch this:
Bringing Thorgan Hazard into the game today was a masterstroke. Hazard is more direct than Brandt, and switching the two was key in igniting Dortmund’s counterattack. Brandt struggled to find the time to create space and move the ball around the box, whereas Hazard took the ball and ran straight at the box whenever he had the chance. This tactical shake-up allowed Dortmund to find some rhythm and begin their counterattack. It was poetic that Hazard was the one to open the scoring.
Ugh, “fighting spirit”. When the team comes back from two goals down, it's hard not to acknowledge that what they did was impressive and required some serious commitment. The team should be commended for keeping their heads today and not abandoning the chance to win, but I struggle to really sink my teeth into this win because of how many glaring errors the three points will mask over. Do not get me wrong, I am thrilled, but with the way, the game went today and the results from December, this just did not feel like the turning of the tides, more like the turning of twenty particular minutes. Hopefully, my pessimism is proved wrong.
What are your thoughts following this wacky game? Let’s hear your thoughts.