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Match Observations: Another Weird Game, Another Weird Win

Axel Witsel’s late goal put Dortmund “back in the hunt”.

1. FSV Mainz 05 v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund laid down their second 1-0 win of the week, downing a battered Mainz O5 side who have had to postpone two games due to an outbreak of Covid-19. Dortmund had plenty of personnel issues to contend with themselves, with the makeshift back-line rolling up its sleeves once again to chase down league leaders Bayern Munich. After 87 minutes it looked like BVB would pass up another chance to narrow the gap to the Bavarians, but some late magic from Gio Reyna put Axel Witsel in a position to put the team in the league. It was, frankly, an awesome goal for the veteran who will be genuinely missed when he leaves the team this summer, and gave Dortmund something to play for in the run in to the end of the season.

Another Disjointed Performance

Dortmund in the first half (and most of the second half) were terrible. It’s hard to sugar-coat it. The team showed very little tactical awareness with Mainz consistently finding opportunities to counter down the middle, particularly when picking off misplaced passes. On the other end of the pitch, the attackers were losing the ball left and right, despite Malen’s best efforts to run right at the defense. I am curious what Marco Rose’s tactical plan has been the last two games in attack, because it seems that Malen is trying to play the game he played against Gladbach and no one is joining him. Given that Dortmund won that game 6-0, I’m inclined to side with Malen on this one. It is understandable that the team on the field may not be able to completely implement Rose’s game plan, but man Dortmund look shy of goals in this setup. Still...

We Have Clean Sheets

Two games, two clean sheets, and if you had asked the Dortmund defense to provide that in November, you would have been crazy. Sure, this is not a Simeone side, but expecting a 1-0 game from Dortmund is typically a fantasy. Still, this patchwork side has managed not only to collected six points, but to do it with zero goals conceded. Along with those clean sheets have come two very encouraging performances from Emre Can, who has had his most indifferent season in black and yellow. An instant hit when he arrived, the German has struggled to play consistent football for the black and yellows and has suffered the ire of the fans as a result. I liked Can all the way back in his Liverpool days and I still think he can be an asset to the team. Hopefully he can use these games as a launching point to prove in the remaining games that he is the player Dortmund thought it was signing.

Why Exactly did Dortmund Win these Two Games?

The past two matchdays have felt a bit like a fever dream. After dropping out of the Europa League and dropping points to Augsburg, Dortmund were hit with a Covid outbreak to add another layer of misery. Still, the players won two games. How?

Dortmund have acknowledged that some of the squad’s “best” do not have the winning mentality the team needs. This week, most of those guys have been on the injury table or in quarantine (I won’t start naming names). The lads on the field have been stuck on the bench, some of them loyal to the club DNA or waiting for a new chance to show their worth. What some of these boys are hunting is a contract extension and the knife is being sharpened for the summer. Sometimes it does not take the best players but the players who want it most, and Dortmund’s reserves proved in these two games that it’s not just about transfer rumors and fancy footwork; sometimes you just have to get stuck in.