Freezing Temps and Gutsy Augsburg Put Winning Ways on Ice
Stormy Monday Mood
If the Bundesliga needed yet another clear indication that the fans are not happy with matches on Monday, more than 27,000 fans reportedly stayed home from the Westfalenstadion rather than attend the match with Augsburg. Typically one if the preeminent atmospheres in all of Europe, Signal Iduna Park was almost eerily quiet, and the team might have been hurt by the lack of energy. Cluttered schedules and weekday matches are commonplace in England, but the Bundesliga is unique, and German fans have no interest in changing any time soon. The inferior atmosphere and decreased match day revenue that results from these ill-advised fixtures will likely be reassessed by the league in the future, with clubs and fans alike both voicing their displeasure. The club themselves announced to the fans that they would be taking up the issue with the DFL, as they only favour Monday matches “for sporting reasons”.
Stoeger Still Unbeaten…Just
The tepid atmosphere might have taken some of the wind out of the players’ sails, but Peter Stoeger still found himself unimpressed with his team’s performance. With the exception of Marco Reus’ goal, his team created few opportunities and squandered them all, leaving the door open for Augsburg to steal a rare away point in 2018. Even still, Dortmund remain unbeaten in 9 matches since he took over for the much-maligned Peter Bosz in December, even if some fans aren’t convinced of the Austrian’s long-term future with the club.
For some, the improved defence is worth his arrival alone. Generally speaking, attacking teams are more susceptible to inconsistency than defensive ones, and under Stoeger, Dortmund at least maintain a chance of taking points from a match if the attack goes cold than they did in the feast or famine months of Bosz’ reign. However, the lack of creativity is concerning to some fans, with a few even derisively likening his tactical approach to the conservative philosophy of Jose Mourinho, but without the same history of success. The club, meanwhile, have been dropping hints that Stoeger could stay on past this season, with CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke saying that they would probably speak to him before the campaign is through. Fans might be divided on whether or not he is a stylistic match with their beloved club, but the longer he stays undefeated, the harder it will be for the club to move on from him in the summer.
Kagawa Presence Missed
Mario Gotze continues to look better and stronger with each passing match since returning to action this season, but the attack has sorely missed its other number 10, Shinji Kagawa in the last two matches. Against both Atalanta and Augsburg, there was a clear missing link between the midfield and attack in both matches, and Dortmund had difficulty turning their possession advantage into meaningful opportunities. Gotze is one of the most intelligent and creative midfielders in world football when at his best, but even during his most active matches he cannot touch the work rate and distance covered of his Japanese teammate. Kagawa has been covering around 12 km per match this season, his best number since his final season with Juergen Klopp at the helm before his turbulent move to Manchester United.
Thomas Tuchel utilised Kagawa all over the Dortmund midfield once he returned, and he was a vital name on his teamsheet when healthy. However, the arrival of Peter Bosz saw him relegated to the bench for much of the first half of this season as the Dutchman appeared to favour others in his 4-3-3 shape, and it wasn’t until Stoeger arrived and reinstated him to his preferred number 10 role that he began to truly look like the Kagawa of old. At 28, he might not have much growing left to do as a player, but two lacklustre creative performances by the team in his absence shows that he is no less vital to the attack.
The goal almost came out of nowhere; Dortmund had been struggling to influence the match in the early going, and after regaining possession in their own area, the ball squirted out to Marco Reus, who moved it on to Mario Gotze just before the centre circle. Gotze took off up the field, and was joined by Reus, Michy Batshuayi and Andre Schurrle streaking toward the box, Gotze slid the ball out to Schurrle on the right who fired a low cross in the direction of Batshuayi, which was blocked by a sliding Augsburg defender. Trailing just behind, Reus sprang into the box to gather up the lose ball and deftly chipped the sprawled defender into the roof of the net for the goal. It was the sort of goal that fans used to see regularly during the high-flying days of Juergen Klopp, and it stirred a full-throated roar from the truncated Westfalenstadion crowd.
Brilliant though the goal was, it was the sort of direct, purposeful attack that Stoeger’s Dortmund have struggled to consistently execute since his appointment. Instead, his team has regularly posted high possession numbers but lacked the ability to level sustained attacking pressure at their opposition’s goal in too many matches. Against Augsburg, despite seeing 65% possession, they mustered 9 shots to their opponents 12, including just a third of Augsburg’s 6 shots on target. Unlike some possession-focused clubs who spend a sizeable amount of time on the ball in the attacking third, patiently waiting for an opening, Dortmund tend to see most of theirs in their own end or in the centre of the pitch. Fans this season have voiced their impatience with the frequency in which the ball gets recycled back through the defence, and they have yet to see Stoeger find a consistent solution to their creative woes.
Chance For Breathing Room Squandered
Having only just taken back second place from a crowded bunch of clubs sitting well below Bayern Munich in the top half of the table, Dortmund are far from guaranteed a European place this season. They trail Bayern by an insurmountable 19 points, but sit just 17 points above 16th place Mainz in the league table. Schalke, Leverkusen and Frankfurt have been strong contenders for European places all season long. Augsburg is not far behind the pack, sitting on 32 points, but Dortmund wanted to take all 3 points from the match with a tough stretch of games coming up. They will be back in action against Leipzig on Saturday, before welcoming another club from the energy drink company’s portfolio, Red Bull Salzburg, to town for the first leg of the final 16 in the Europa League on Thursday. Matches against Frankfurt, Hannover and Bayern cap off a pivotal month for the club, which could either see them affirm their position, or else risk falling back into the trailing pack.