After BVB’s loss in Paris on Tuesday, hosting high-flying Wolfsburg didn’t seem a particularly appetizing prospect. Niko Kovac’s men had won four of their previous five games, and Danish striker Jonas Wind appeared to finally be coming into his own as a top-level nine. Terzic reacted to the PSG loss by making six changes to the XI, but retaining the core principle of the back three, with Nmecha, JBG, Bensebaini, Füllkrug, Reus and Özcan all starting. Despite struggling to break Wolfsburg’s resilient defense for large periods, Dortmund were in control throughout, deservedly grabbing the lead midway through the second half as Reus slotted home from close range after a lovely move involving Donny and Jule. While the solid Wolfsburg rearguard (and some poor final-third decision-making from us) meant the scoreline wasn’t more comfortable, we never really looked threatened, with Wolfsburg mustering just a single shot on target. Here’s what I made of that game:
A Terzic Masterclass?
A “box” midfield (with four central players) is all the rage in modern football these days, and today we saw Terzic’s take on it. Dortmund lined up in a 4-3-3 on paper but shifted into a 3-2-4-1 (with Brandt dropping into the middle, Bens tucking in, and Ryerson pushing high and wide). This approach gave us several advantages: first, that we always had an extra man in midfield, second, that we could get JBG higher up the pitch so that he could run at defenders, and third, that we found it much easier to progress the ball from the defensive third into midfield (something we really struggled with until today). Bringing Öz back into the fold to play alongside the unpopular Nmecha was a controversial decision, but his aggression and positional discipline allowed the more free-roaming central players to create danger. In the defensive pose, we were very effective at stopping up the middle (either in a 4-1-4-1 with Öz as a deep six, or a 4-4-2 with Reus alongside Füllkrug up top), giving Wolfsburg very little joy.
We lined up really well, and Terzic’s substitutions were very good. Bringing off the tired-looking JBG for Donny was a masterstroke as Donny’s off-ball movement is very different to JBG’s, which unsettled the Wolfsburg defense and almost immediately resulted in our winner. Terzic put out a big statement today by lining up without his captain and several regular starters, and it’s good to see them having to fight for their spot. The tactical setup also gave several players the opportunity to perform (see below) and they delivered. Full marks to Edin today!
Redemption Arcs Galore!
I wanted to specially highlight three players here: Nmecha, Öz, and Bens.
I’ve been really hard on Bens ever since he joined, because he isn’t an elite-level fullback. Terzic has figured out that that’s exactly it: he isn’t a fullback at all. Though he nominally lined up as our left-back, Bens tucked in as an auxiliary centre-back; this shift meant that his poor technique and limited attacking ability weren’t exposed, as we could push JBG further up and use an extra 10 to support the winger (instead of an inverting full-back). As he sat a little deeper, his lack of athleticism wasn’t exposed either and the extra passing options offered by the 3-2-4-1 meant that the opposition couldn’t specifically target him with their pressing (as has happened in most league games so far). Easily his best game in a BVB shirt so far.
In the midfield, Öz was tireless. Though never the most imaginative or ambitious, he made life very hard for Wolfsburg’s central players and very easy for our own. His positional discipline and work rate covered for the less defensive Nmecha, and he recovered possession a joint-high seven times. In the attack, he was a very useful option to drop off to and recycle the play. Fully merited being picked over Can.
Next to Öz was Felix Nmecha. The German has garnered a lot of criticism since his move to Dortmund, due to his poor performances, high transfer fee, and allegedly controversial beliefs. Against PSG, he put in a pretty good performance, though that was overshadowed by a boneheaded error. However, that was clearly an indicator that he performs best with at least two supporting midfielders around him (we played with a three against PSG, and he played in a three last season for Wolfsburg). The box (and Öz’s all-action defensive presence) gave him the structure he needed to excel in, as he was possibly one of our best on the day, progressing the ball and winning it back effectively in an impressive display of silk and steel.
When you win a game 1-0 against a team that’s largely been better than you this season, it looks a nervy affair on paper. However, the underlying numbers make for very healthy reading, with Wolfsburg managing just a single shot on target, less than 40% possession, and a sub-0.5 xG. Make no mistake about it, we could’ve had more with some better finishing and decision making, but this was a game we never looked like losing. The performance was shades of early last season, where we ground out 1-0 wins and the word I used then (and will use now) is maturity. Today we performed well and showed flashes of how good we could be when firing on all cylinders, but to beat a team in great form without really having to get out of second gear is always impressive. Hopefully we can use this as the basis for a good run going forward!
Other quick reactions:
- Reus makes everyone around him better, and him and Brandt are excellent in the co-10 roles that the 3-2-4-1 allows them to play. He must start when fit.
- Mats Hummels continues to look a class apart, even when playing an unfamiliar role.
- Wolfsburg’s kits were absolutely hideous today. Looked like someone had forgotten them in a tub of highlighter fluid all night. Can’t say I’m a massive fan of ours, but theirs are a special level of yikes.
- Credit where credit’s due: today’s refereeing was good. Jablonski was clear that he was going to let the game flow more naturally, and was generally consistent with his decisions. Fair play to him.
What did you make of today’s performance? How good was Terzic today? How bad are Wolfsburg’s kits? Let us know!