Borussia Dortmund have come out on top of the weekend’s biggest Bundesliga pairing.
Champions League side Leverkusen travelled to Dortmund’s home ground on Sunday, plotting to become the team to set an end to BVB’s record-breaking season start. The home side, however, had hatched a different plan and, with apparent ease and remarkable supremacy, calmly dispatched the guests 3-0. It is safe to say that Dortmund have passed their first proper acid test with flying colours.
After some five minutes of finding their rhythm, Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund quickly shifted the gear up a notch and comfrotably dominated the pitch in all areas. Their quick passing and running proved overwhelming for the outplayed visitors who consequently went down 1-0 after a trademark Dortmund counter-attack, which saw goalkeeper Leno’s blunder cap off Bayer’s chain of mistakes.
With Dortmund up by one, tempers flared and a frenetic first half unfolded. It took the half time break and a side change (attacking the Yellow Wall end) for Dortmund to recollect and pick up where they had left off earlier, leaving Leverkusen with no doubt about their intentions to send them home empty-handed as of that point.
With 30 minutes left on the clock, Shinji Kagwa added the inevitable second to BVB’s tally. Fifteen minutes later, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put the final nail in Leverkusen’s coffin, emphatically putting a penalty behind Leno.
Dortmund clinched an impressive victory, yet all the while Leverkusen’s Javier Hernandez could have notched up two himself and thrown Dortmund a serious curveball. Luckily for Tuchel, he did not have to find out if or if not his boys could have handled the setback, as the Mexican’s nerves got the better of him in both situations. What remains is another title-challenger-worthy performance that moves Dortmund back up to the top of the table.
Tactician Tuchel lined up the Black and Yellows in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation. Notable absentee Marco Reus had returned to the team from a two-week injury spell, however he did not make the starting XI and ended up spectacting the entire 90 minutes from the bench. In his place, young Jonas Hofmann got the nod over newly arrived Manchester United loanee Adnan Januzaj. The attacking midfield line was complemented by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Kagawa. The remainder of the formation remained unaltered.
Over the course of the match Tuchel then almost seamlessly restructured the team multiple times. Substitute Januzaj and Aubameyang would often swap their midfielder and striker duties. At other times, BVB implemented a classic 4-4-2 with Aubameyang and Adrian Ramos chasing the ball up front.
Borussia Dortmund XI (4-2-3-1): Burki (GK); Ginter, Sokratis, Hummels, Schmelzer; Gundogan, Weigl; Hofmann, Kagawa, Mkhytarian; Aubameyang.
Bayer Leverkusen too did not see the wisdom in experimenting ahead of this heavyweight matchup and fielded a 4-4-2, featuring new signing Hernandez next to Stefan Kiessling up the park. Christoph Kramer and former Dortmund employee Kevin Kampl played at the heart of Leverkusen’s midfield, comissioned by coach Roger Schmidt to provide the two fairly dissimilar strikers with passes. When Schmidt realised there was no way to penetrate Dortmund’s centre and the strikers were basically left to their own devices, he tried to correct his judgement call at half time by taking off Kramer and Kiessling. Neither Julian Brandt nor Achmed Mehmedi could find an answer to BVB’s levelheaded defence.
Bayer Leverkusen XI (4-4-2): Leno (GK); Donati, Tah, Papadopoulos, Wendell; Bellerabi, Kramer, Kampl, Calhanoglou; Hernandez, Kiessling.
BVB finally use the entire rectangular – and not just for running
Here is one of the new, arguably most valuable tricks Tuchel instigated at Dortmund: The ball is – at least fans might say – carried all over the pitch in a responsible and more balanced fashion. To elucidate what that means, the three percentiles above against any team (on average) at the Westfalenstadion last season would have read something like this: 21%, 60%, 19%.
Now why is this more than a niggly comparison of pretty similar figures? The reason is twofold. One, it confirms what everyone is witnessing, namely Dortmund’s recovered wealth of ideas in midfield. The ball no longer gets stuck and shoved around in the centre like it used to last year but is steadily circulated back and forth, broadening the play and capitalising on width and depth of the green. As much as BVB’s offense relishes the cheeky pass in attack, they also no longer shy away from employing their own third to regroup and working out the opponent’s approach.
Secondly, while Dortmund has always been eager to charge up and down both flanks, the ball would often be intercepted before chances eventuated. This meant plenty of distance run on paper yet little danger from the sides. The style in which Dortmund now staffs on both wings frankly make last year’s strategy look like futile running exercises on the sidelines. The right-back change from tireless runner Lukasz Piszczek to strategist Matthias Ginter perfectly epitomises that change of philosophy.
It all starts with the Goalkeeper – Leverkusen fail to swoop down on Buerki
Referring back to the previous talking point, there is another reason as to why Dortmund no longer shun the back-pass at all costs: Roman Buerki. The young Swiss has revitalised BVB’s build-up play, being the exact counterdraft to weak-footed veteran Roman Weidenfeller. The graph on the left denotes Buerki’s formidable clearances (if that is what you want to call them), of which only three over 90 minutes could not find a teammate.
Buerki has a stellar first touch on the ball, exudes calmness and more often than not plays an incisive ball to inspire the ensuing new attacking wave. Next to Buerki we find Bernd Leno’s graph juxtaposed and the contrast is quite astounding. What is more is that this also suggests that Leverkusen simply failed to put enough pressure on Buerki to just clear the ball aimlessly. Conversely, BVB’s attack deserves praise for clamping down on Leno at any time.
Conclusion – Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund looks daunting and the way in which they stifled and overcame Leverkusen gives Tuchel plenty of reasons to be looking forward to the next two Bundesliga challenges. After that the first of two Klassiker is beckoning in Munich. BVB should aim to travel to Bayern unbeaten. Currently, that objective does not sound far-fetched.
Conclusion – Bayer Leverkusen
Roger Schmidt’s XI is going to have to shake this defeat off as quickly as possible. The coach admitted that an away loss in Dortmund is not completely unexpected but bitter all the same. The team’s quality is undeniable, with Hernandez’ addition being the icing on the cake. Bayer has to bounce back quickly and they should be able to steadily climb the ladder.