Borussia Dortmund defeated a struggling Union Berlin in a match that was anything but straightforward. The first half saw early goals from both teams as well as three prolonged VAR checks, each time halting play and breaking any kind of momentum. Both teams had a goal ruled out and Union were awarded a questionably soft penalty kick when Sheraldo Becker kicked into the bottom of Mats Hummels’ outstretched foot inside of the box.
The second half was exciting for Dortmund fans as our squad was much better organized. The addition of Julian Brandt to the attacking midfield was brilliant as he became something of a catalyst in the attacking buildup. Nico Schlotterbeck missed out on the recent German National Team Call-ups and I think he displayed why he should have been picked with his impressive performance, crowned with an equalizing strike from outside the box. Marco Reus set up Julian Brandt for the third goal, but only after Füllkrug appeared to direct him to do so during the counterattack. Finally, Julian Ryerson made it 4-2, scoring in his second consecutive league match. After that, it became clear that Dortmund were taking control. This was Dortmund’s fourth consecutive league win and I hope fans will feel a bit better about the Edin Terzic and BVB heading into this International Break.
A Tale of Two Halves
This feels like an all-too-familiar story with Dortmund. My thoughts at the end of the first half revolved around questions of why this team seems to be struggling at home. The match against AC Milan felt winnable, the draw against Heidenheim should have been a win, and the first matchday against Köln was only won thanks to a last-minute mis-hit strike from Donyell Malen. The first half was reminiscent of the uninspired home performances we’ve seen lately. Yet, we also know that Edin Terzic is capable of inspiring the team at halftime unlike other managers in recent history.
The second half of this game was perhaps the brightest forty-five minutes of football we've seen from Dortmund this season. The defense was compact and organized while our attacking players were actually creative. Brandt, Reus, and Füllkrug seem to have a solid understanding of one another through the attack. Even our defenders were finding the net! Dortmund dominated the second half and deservedly won, but they looked like a completely different squad in the second half than the first. Home matches need to start stronger.
Niklas Füllkrug Makes Dortmund Better
It’s pretty amazing how quickly Füllkrug has found his place in the Starting XI. He’s not a typical striker but he might just be the striker that Dortmund has needed. He was incredibly creative in his play today, despite that touch he had on Union’s opening goal. In the fifty-fourth minute, Reus found space in the midfield and sprinted with the ball. Füllkrug was the obvious choice for Reus to pass to continue progression, but Füllkrug could be seen pointing his finger in a clear gesture directing Reus to pass up the field to Brandt, who had more space ahead of him, running into the box. This highlighted his spatial intelligence in the game, while still exhibiting an unselfish drive to see the team win. Reus delivered a great pass to Brandt who slotted it home to take the lead. Füllkrug was involved in nearly every attack and I admire his ability to find space.
We’ve been pretty critical of Dortmund in the recent transfer window, but I’m beginning to think Füllkrug will be our best signing of the season. Last time BVB made a panic purchase of a striker, (Modeste) he scored two goals for the club. Füllkrug netted his second today and I feel confident he’ll score more.
The Double Pivot Isn’t Working
How do we replicate the Emre Can-Jude Bellingham double-pivot in midfield? Can-Sabitzer has looked mediocre with occasional positive movements and Özcan-Nmecha has been mediocre just as Can-Nmecha has. I think our best midfield pairing at the moment is Can-Özcan but Oz needed a break after the recent matches. Can-Nmecha is what Edin Terzic wants as the double-pivot but the first half of this game demonstrated why a Can-Nmecha midfield can be a big problem. Emre Can plays well with a strong midfield partner. When Nmecha drifts out of position and Can is forced into central defense, he struggles. He needs someone like Özcan who can more readily split the defensive duties with him. We were lucky last season that Jude was so good in both attack and defense. We simply don’t have a player of that quality and profile. Terzic can field a stronger attacker or defender but we simply lack any players who are current prodigies in both.
The second half highlighted individual talent from both Can and Nmecha but the two still didn't seem to be meshing as a cohesive unit. Emre Can has been out of form. We know it, Edin Terzic knows it and Julian Naglesman knows it. Can is capable of much better and I think we will see that from him again, but right now it’s clear he’s struggling and I’m not sure Terzic has quite figured out how best to utilize a player like Nmecha. He has moments of brilliant play, stealing the ball or dribbling around players, but he does so little that’s actually productive. Every time he makes a good run, I’ll see two or three players who are open to pass, but Nmecha somehow sends the ball to someone heavily marked... or he takes a wild shot that has no chance of going in. Nmecha was also omitted from Julian Naglesman’s call-ups. Today showed why Brandt and Füllkrug were picked while Can or Nmecha were not.
It’s really nice to head into an International Break on the tails of a win like this.
I hope Hummels’s injury substitution was just precautionary. I’d hate to see him miss out on his German National Team recall.
What did you think of Dortmund’s 4-2 win over Union Berlin? What were your key takeaways?