Today’s game between Borussia Dortmund and Hertha Berlin was not a game that previous Dortmund sides would have won. The offense was misfiring, the pitch was sloppy, and there were turnovers aplenty committed by both teams from the first minute until the final whistle. With nothing but an increasingly precarious 1-0 lead in the second half, this had all the makings of another blown victory and more dropped points. Instead, Dortmund managed to hold off Hertha Berlin and snag their second 1-0 victory of the Bundesliga season. It may not have been pretty, but it’s an indication that this team is capable of digging deep and grinding out wins no matter what.
By investing in a new defense, Sebastian Kehl made it possible for BVB to win games like today’s. BVB’s offense couldn’t find the back of the net despite racking up chance after chance, and it appeared that a first-half Anthony Modeste header was going to be the only goal for the black-and-yellows. The defense would need to hold on; luckily, Nico Schlotterbeck, Salih Özcan, Mats Hummels, and Gregor Kobel were up to the task. Despite holding much of the possession in the final 30 minutes, Hertha Berlin ultimately registered very few chances outside of speculative efforts from long range, and Die Schwarzgelben was able to close the game out with a win.
Now, just because it was a strong defensive performance doesn’t mean it needed to be. The offensive chances were very much one-sided; BVB out-shot Hertha 21-13, and while many of the home side’s shots were from long-range, the visitors were firing away from inside the box. It almost didn’t matter who was taking the shot: every BVB player seemed to be dragging their shots wide or shooting them right at the Hertha Berlin keeper. It was only Anthony Modeste who converted, a header off a cross from Özcan, akin to hundreds of other goals he’s scored throughout his career.
The expected goals demonstrate the gulf in quality between the two sides, with BVB out-chancing Hertha Berlin 2.97-0.35. After mustering a paltry 0.63 expected goals against Werder Bremen last weekend, the cavalcade of chances today is at least a step in the right direction. Still, it was maddening to watch shot after shot float harmlessly wide of the Hertha goal. I sincerely doubt that BVB will continue to convert their chances at a 33% rate.
The Wizard of Öz
I know it’s only one match so I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but if Özcan can consistently perform like he did today throughout the rest of the season, he could end up being one of BVB’s best midfielders of the last decade. It’s been so long since Dortmund had a quality defensive midfielder who can actually defend, and when you have a player who can both move the ball and shield the back line, it opens up so many possibilities for your squad.
It’s been so long since Dortmund had a quality defensive midfielder who can actually defend. Özcan was everywhere in midfield today, winning possession, holding up the ball, intercepting passes, and providing short, crisp passes. Whenever Hertha tried to play a long ball towards the back line, Özcan was usually there to block it. If a Hertha attacker was striding towards the Dortmund goal, Özcan was there to bully him off the ball. The fact that he assisted Modeste’s goal was just icing on the cake of a terrific midfield performance. After watching Emre Can barrel around haphazardly last weekend, watching Salih Özcan control the play with a cool head today felt like a fever dream. I’m so excited to see what BVB’s midfield can do with Özcan, Bellingham, and Dahoud all on the pitch this season.
Overall, after last weekend’s miserable collapse against Werder Bremen, a win is a win. While a 4-0 win would have been much more enjoyable, it was great to see that BVB is capable of defending a narrow lead without collapsing. Hopefully, the squad can follow it up with a stronger performance against Hoffenheim on Friday.