Upon Review, You May Steal A Point: Talking Points From Borussia Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen
Hope and change (ok, well at least change) were in the air on Saturday as a reshaped Dortmund side travelled to the BayArena to take on Bayer Leverkusen in front of 30,000 fans. It seemed like misery was again in store as the hosts took the lead with the game’s first goal, but a red card would help the visiting Dortmund escape with a point, the game ending at 1-1. The match marks the eighth consecutive in the league in which die Borussen failed to come away with the victory, as the season continues to plumb the depths of mediocrity for this side. Relief is not likely on the horizon either, as manager Peter Bosz will be leading his men into the Santiago Bernabeu to take on last season’s champions, Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Hell Or High Line
How long does it take a manager to figure out that a high line and a slow defence don’t mix? It appeared that Dortmund might once again be let down by their manager’s stubborn adherence to principle, when Kevin Volland was allowed to score an easy opening goal for the hosts. Roman Burki was forced off his line after Nevin Subotic whiffed on the ball after stepping up, leaving Volland free to run in behind for the easy goal. The goal was a marker of everything wrong at the moment with the Ruhr club, and for a while, it appeared they might lose again. Lucky for them, a woefully misguided challenge on Gonzalo Castro by Wendell was reviewed and corrected to a straight red card, saving their chances of levelling the match. Dortmund have struggled at the back this season, not at all helped by their one-dimensional approach forced on them by their manager’s simplistic tactics. Time is well and truly running out for the Dutchman, as the proud club has been hacked down at the knees this season by its catastrophic turn of form since September.
Despite Andriy Yarmolenko’s continued revelation as one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, die Schwarzgelben could not hide how much they missed their talismanic striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubambeyang. The Gabonese forward appears to have lost all respect for his new manager, and his sending off in the last match on served to ruin their relationship even more after Bosz called out his star man for his mistake. Dortmund had such a strong start against Schalke in the heated clash last weekend, but the defence fell apart once Aubameyang’s hot-headed behaviour forced them a man down.
For Aubameyang, the frustration must be reaching a boiling point. Having put off his dream move going on about three years now, the pressure to perform is immense on his shoulders. He has improved every season, and until his clashes with Peter Bosz, had mostly been a good soldier in the past, while simultaneously improving every season. However, now at 28 years old and with transfer fees for star players spiralling out of control up into the stratosphere, the striker may have missed out on his dream move to a club at the very like Real Madrid. He would cost Los Blancos a prohibitive amount of money for a pace-reliant player with only a few years left at the top. If his future lies outside of Germany, then likely it will be to England, where all but the smallest clubs in the Premier League could afford to whatever wages he might demand, and several could afford the transfer fee Dortmund might ask for.
The Injuries Continue to Mount (Again) With Two More Key Players Felled
Similar to early in the year, Dortmund are facing an injury crisis. Unlike earlier in the year, the club seemingly is unable or overcome them.
This weekend the newest additions to the injury list are Max Philipp and Gonzalo Castro. The prognoses on both are not positive. For the forward, his time on the pitch as short. Philipp was subbed off in the fifth minute after twisting his knee. After the match, Sporting Director Michael Zorc said simply that the injury was serious. For Castro, he took a cleat to his ankle which Zorc shared likely resulted in torn ligaments. If the injuries are as bad as feared, both could be gone for weeks.
Neither is a player that can turn this club around, and in fact, Castro had a poor day prior to his injury. However, both are veteran players who are needed if this club wants to even consider making a challenge in the Pokal and the league.
Changing It Up
The notoriously inflexible Bosz has at least committed to trying something new tactically, as Dortmund tried a 3-4-2-1 against Leverkusen. While the scoreline might suggest it helped the defence, Dortmund were instead overrun often at the back, allowing 6 more shots on target toward their own goal, despite controlling the ball for nearly three-quarters of the match. The stats tell an accurate story, as Dortmund were unable to get into dangerous scoring positions nearly enough to threaten the quality Bernd Leno in the Leverkusen goal.
Without Aubameyang, Max Philipp started through the middle but didn’t make it out of the opening minutes before being replaced by Andre Schurrle. The third forward, Christian Pulisic, dropped a little deeper into the midfield and functioned as the creative player in the attacking trio. Bosz still seems to favour a double pivot of Julian Weigl and Nuri Sahin, despite a wealth of options to try through the middle, and even tried Gonzalo Castro at right midfield/wingback in an attempt to create more dominance on the ball. With Raphael Guerreiro manning the same position on the left side, it appears that veterans Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek are now being targeted for possible replacement in the starting XI as the team desperately look for answers to their woes. Ultimately, the changes may not be enough for the Dutchman, who was reportedly given an ultimatum of improving or be relieved of his duties before the disappointment at Schalke.
Do Answers Exist In This Team?
As Peter Bosz turns desperate in an effort to keep his job, the question remains if the root of the problem lies with him or the squad at his disposal. Michael Zorc and Hans-Joachim Watzke are so well known for their innovative and intelligent decisions, but the hiring of Bosz has represented a clear step backwards from the passion of Jurgen Klopp and the intellect of Thomas Tuchel. As neither German nor particularly young, Bosz fell outside their usual preference of a native up-and-comer, and one wonders if there were financial releasing involved, or was it simply a matter of promising young coaches like Julian Naglesman not seeing the Dortmund job as a big enough step up to make it worth the move.
With the squad being turned over so rapidly over the course of the last two seasons, it is hard to say whether or not that is a cause of the team’s poor form, with everyone in the team trying to adapt to a new manager at the same time as a host of new players. Every player signed the last two summers has been generally lauded as a heady addition and identified as a talented young player who could be a star in the future. Could some of them have been overhyped? Are some of these players not good fits for the team culture? Or is it simply a manager who perplexingly cannot get through to a hard-working group of players, many of whom had been well drilled under one of the world’s best the year prior? Whatever is the cause, either alone or in concert with the other factors, the winter break could not come soon enough for a club short on results and confidence since the end of September.
By: Nate Smith & Robert Hay Jr