Meet the New Boss, (Not) the Same As The Old Boss: Talking Points From Dortmund vs Mainz

Meet the New Boss, (Not) the Same As The Old Boss: Talking Points From Dortmund vs Mainz

I don’t mean to be obtuse, but good riddance. The Peter Bosz era came to a merciful, crashing halt over the weekend following an embarrassing loss to relegation battlers, Werder Bremen. Once a proud team with a penchant for finding a superstar number 10, Bremen are a shadow of the German giant they used to be, and losing to them is a mark of embarrassment for a team that began the season with Borussia Dortmund’s aspirations. However, Tuesday represented a return to form, as die Borussen went into Mainz and left with a workman-like 2-0 victory. There was a quiet confidence and simplicity to the team on Tuesday that had been lacking for much of Bosz’ tenure in charge, putting Dortmund back on track for a march to the top of the table just before the winter break,

The Stoger Era Commences

Ultimately, it didn’t matter that Peter Stoger had only been in charge for two days when die Borussen took the pitch at the Opel Arena because that is all his new charges needed to tie the first step in turning their season around. Known as a defensive specialist, Stoger’s effect on the team’s shape without the ball was immediate. There was a depth and a solidity to the Dortmund defence that had been lacking all season under Peter Bosz. With the ball, Dortmund were patient and sought to use their control of the ball to suck the drama out of the match.

Despite their struggles since the end of September, Dortmund still lead the Bundesliga in goals scored. While a small drop off should be expected from the uber-aggressive attack under Bosz, the defence will likely show the most improvement by the end of the season. Peter Bosz’ high pressing style often left the team caught out by the counter-attack, a recipe for disaster in a league full of teams who specialise in turning pressure into fast-break chances going the other way. It was just one match, but already a difference could be felt throughout the entire team after that performance. The win snapped an 8 game winless streak in the league for the visitors.

Keeping It Clean

There is no better way to welcome a defensive minded coach to a club than to post a clean sheet in his first match in charge. Mainz may have had some of the better chances early on, but the real story of the match was how comfortable an affair it actually was for their defence. With Stoger’s tactics, the forwards and midfielders press much more selectively, instead choosing to fall back into their defensive shape rather than chase after the ball. The back line did not set up inside the Mainz half as they might have under Bosz, and the midfielders were afforded the freedom to try and dictate the match like, well…midfielders. Roman Burki was scarcely troubled for most of the match, giving Dortmund their first clean sheet victory since a 3-0 win against Hamburg in the fifth week of the season.

Back Where They Belong

As the losses and criticisms piled up on Peter Bosz’ men after their hot start to the season, even the notoriously single-minded Dutchman conceded the need to find answers. He began to experiment with his starting XI and formation, culminating in some weird, ambiguous 3-4-2-1 that provided neither defensive stability nor an attacking spark. What Bosz hadn’t realised was that he was approaching the issue as a personnel problem, when in reality the issues were tactical and of his own doing.

Against Mainz, Stoger sent the team out in a classic 4-3-3 shape with every player in a role that most suits them (unless you’re counting Pulisic as a superior right winger than left). The midfield was anchored by the metronomic Julian Weigl who was flanked by one creative midfielder (Shinji Kagawa) and one with more box-to-box responsibilities (Raphael Guerreiro). The trio sat in front of a 4 man defence that split wide in possession, along with the wingers, to stretch Mainz right to the boundary chalk and open passing lanes. It felt familiar for both fans and players, and to see the team put in a tactically astute performance for a manager that has only been in charge for less than a week speaks volumes of these players’ capabilities.

Sharing The Wealth

There is no denying the quality of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but at times die Schwarzgelben are far too reliant on him to contribute the lions share of goals, especially with confidence at such a low ebb for most of the players. Therefore, it was nice to see Dortmund’s 2 goal victory come on the backs of goals from others besides the Gabonese striker. First, it was Sokratis who pounced on a bouncing ball from a deflected free kick just outside the six-yard box and fired it home into the top left corner who gave Dortmund the lead. After the goal, the pressure seemed to fall away from the visitors, with Guerreiro coming close to doubling the advantage just minutes later. The second goal finally came from Shinji Kagawa, who buried the final goal of the match in the back of the net off of an unselfish square ball from Aubameyang. The assist was the 15th goal involvement of the year for the striker, who was one of the few players not to struggle mightily under Peter Bosz.

Looking Ahead

The appointment and subsequent first victory of Peter Stoger could not have come at a better time for the club, who have just one more league match, against Hoffenheim on Saturday, before departing for Germany’s traditional winter break. Should Dortmund collect 3 points against the extremely capable (and much-favoured successor to Stoger, if the popular perception is accurate) Julian Nagelsmann and his team, they will carry a much-needed confidence into the second half of the season. While initially viewed as uninspiring, the Stoger hire could ultimately make perfect sense for a club whose defensive education has been woefully incomplete this season.

The team may have crashed out of the Champions League in embarrassing fashion, but excitement awaits when they resume European competition in the new year against a very strong Europa League field. With teams such as Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Napoli, Dortmund will have plenty of opportunities to prove their mettle against quality opponents. At the worst, the Europa League could offer a backdoor route back into the Champions League should Dortmund fail to recover their lofty league position. While the title race may seem a thing of the distant past, there is much still left to play for at the Westfalenstadion, and this team is undeniably one of Germany’s most talented. Perhaps there is still reason to get excited for the loyal patrons of the Sud Tribune yet this season.