Fun While It Lasted: Lessons Learned From First Defeat?
Well it could hardly last forever, could it? While some in Dortmund might have fancied a dream run of lossless football until the spring, like Bayern Munich were able to do in Pep Guardiola’s first season, it was never going to happen. Die Borussen had their undefeated streak stopped on Saturday against East Germany’s newly wealthy energy drink advert-ahem- football club at 7 with a 3-2 loss at the Westfalenstadion. It was the sort of display that could typically be expected of a young and aggressive team, but which so far Peter Bosz had led them to avoid. It was Dortmund’s first loss at the Signal Iduna Park since 2015, the fifth longest such streak in Bundesliga history.
Mental lapses, poor decisions and avoidable fouls are all part of growing into a better team, especially with so much youth in the squad, but today, the team was let down by a veteran and the day’s captain, Sokratis Papastathapoulos, whose admittedly harsh red card gave Leipzig the opportunity to take the lead on a penalty. In total, there were 7 cards issued, including a sending off per side in Saturday’s match.
This match might have had more than a whiff of deja vu about it for fans watching, as the team seemed to fall back into every bad habit that had grown under Thomas Tuchel. Set piece defence once again reared its ugly head, as Leipzig were too easily allowed to claw back into the match after an early goal by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Dortmund the lead. Young Jeremy Toljan set social media alight with a costly mistake that allowed Leipzig to take the lead shortly afterwards, with some claiming the loaned out Felix Passlack would have done a better job in that situation. Ultimately however, it was their aggression (or the tightly refereed match, depending on your point of view) that did them in, with Sokratis penalty concession proving to be the nail in the coffin.
Too Reliant on One?
Of Dortmund’s 23 league goals this season, 10 have been scored by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese striker seems to keep getting better and better since joining the club, and if any questions still remain about whether or not he is a world class player, they are likely not worth hearing. The man just scores goals. Sometimes, however, he is the only one. The RB Leipzig loss showed again what can happen to Dortmund when the attack funnels through one man. Once Leipzig got a handle on Aubameyang, the Dortmund attack slowed to a crawl. Despite owning the majority of possession in the match, only 20% of that came in the attacking third. This match was a battle fought in the midfield, and despite winning more of the ball, Dortmund’s trio failed to create their usual array of quality chances. Despite taking 15 shots, only 8 found the target, and many without a real chance of beating the goalkeeper. Peter Bosz needs to get a more consistent contribution from his supporting attackers if the team are to withstand a season inevitably altered by injuries and poor form.
As was the case against their Champions League foes, Tottenham and Real Madrid, Dortmund dominated the ball and the balance of open play, but lost to fewer chances of higher quality. Peter Bosz inherited a talented but flawed defensive group when he took the job and despite the team adding a trio of quality defenders, some signs of trouble still remain. No doubt looking to avoid having a repeat of last season’s sieve of a back line, Bosz has emphasized keeping the ball this season, minimizing the opponent’s create quality chances. Utilizing a high press has helped the defence as well by involving the whole team in winning the ball back, a tactic also implemented by Tuchel and Juergen Klopp before him. Against quality opposition, however, this strategy has backfired on the team. Of RB Leipzig’s 7 shots on Saturday, all but 1 hit the target. Once teams are able to play through the Dortmund counter press, they are finding too many quality scoring chances and making die Schwarzgelben pay.
Should They Worry?
To put it simply, Bayern are coming. The Bavarian giants may have had some inner-club drama play out in a surprisingly public way recently, but they are still as formidable a challenge as there can be. Dortmund may be improving their brand of possession based, counter pressing football, but Munich’s men have practically turned it into an art form over the last half decade. Against a team like Bayern, flush with technicians to control the match and attackers to win it, Bosz’s defensive set up could quickly come unraveled. Their clashes this season will be a true battle of strength vs strength.
Dortmund are not without reason to be optimistic though. After all, they are still in first place. As strong as Bayern are in their starting XI, their depth is simply not what it used to be. Their biggest name acquisition this summer, James Rodriguez, is in danger of being sent back to Madrid with new/old manager Jupp Heynckes reportedly not a fan. The monetary advantage of the English Premier League and Spain’s big 2 has seen Bayern thrust into a new era of uncertainty. The days of the Bavarians’ huge financial advantage over other sides in the league is diminishing, and the unique allure they hold over many players in Germany and nearby countries is being challenged by other clubs with vision of their own. Are they the best team in Germany? Almost certainly, but they no longer have an air of infallibility around them.
Dortmund are also clearly a side on the ascent. Hans-Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc have have seemed to find their stride even more the last two seasons, massively overhauling the squad with some of the world’s most sought after young talents. It could be argued that Dortmund’s dynamic executive duo has had more foresight in recent times into what all of that money pouring into the Premier League might mean for Germany’s biggest clubs. So while Bayern Munich have been sticking with to they know with an experienced, well compensated squad and a sales pitch that amounts to “We are Bayern, they aren’t, so sign here please”, Dortmund have been evolving. The Bavarians will likely continue to factor prominently into Bundesliga title races for years to come, but it is starting to seem just as likely that their less glamorous rivals from the Ruhr will be fighting it out with them