Matthew Marshall – Westfalenstadion
Borussia Dortmund advanced to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 after a 2-1 win against Slavia Prague at the Westfalenstadion. Jadon Sancho opened the scoring in the 10th minute, Tomas Soucek equalised on the stroke of half-time before Julian Brandt’s 61st minute winner. Inter Milan’s failure to beat Barcelona ensures Dortmund continue in Europe’s elite club competition.
Roman Bürki was busy in the first half and produced some important saves. Nicolae Stanciu’s cross was met by a header from Peter Olayinka that Bürki kept out, Stanciu’s shot then tipped wide by Bürki as the visitors continued to create chances.
Bürki spilled a corner that saw Milan Skoda shoot over, but that was his only blemish as the Swiss stopper kept Slavia Prague at bay. Lukas Masopust’s shot took a wicked deflection that Bürki tipped over the bar, but he could do nothing about Tomas Soucek’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Bürki was at it again in the second half, diving at full stretch to tip Soucek’s shot wide before a tremendous save to deny a close range header from Abdulla Yusuf Helal.
Dortmund’s dangerous new look attack
Lucien Favre unleashed Thorgan Hazard, Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus up front for three consecutive games. Dortmund’s new look formation allows all three speedsters to look for runs behind opposition defences which was on display in the early stages.
Slavia Prague’s backline was put on notice as all three players caused them problems, most notably Laco Takacs who was fortunate not to be punished after sloppy turnovers. Marco Reus wasted two glorious chances to extend Dortmund’s lead but was uncharacteristically wasteful in 1 on 1 situations.
Borussia Dortmund’s threat on the counter attack was apparent throughout the match but the final ball was lacking. It appears a matter of time before the new trio develop an improved understanding which will result in many more goals being scored.
Julian Brandt has been deployed in a deeper position in recent matches and his ability to release Dortmund’s forwards was evident from the start. It’s a re-enactment of his positional switch under Peter Bosz at Bayer Leverkusen and Dortmund seeing some of the benefits.
His pass found Marco Reus in the opening minutes when Jadon Sancho’s effort deflected wide, Brandt then released Reus who squared to Sancho for Dortmund’s opener. Every time Brandt touched the ball it seemed to spell danger for Slavia Prague, but we soon saw another side to his game that spells concern for Lucien Favre.
A heavy touch saw the 23-year-old lose possession and pick up a caution as a result, wayward passing inside his own half putting Dortmund under pressure on a number of occasions. He lost Soucek in the build up to Slavia’s equaliser with Mats Hummels coming out from defence as a result.
Brandt displayed his attacking threat as he collected Sancho’s through ball and finished at the near post to make it 2-1. His ability to unlock defences and score goals is an extremely useful asset, but if Brandt continues in central midfield he needs to stop giving away so much cheap ball and be more committed in the defensive aspect of the game.
New look formation a work in progress
Lucien Favre switched to a three man defence after conceding an alarming amount of goals in November. Dan-Axel Zagadou has been the beneficiary and there were some promising signs against Hertha Berlin and Fortuna Düsseldorf.
There were enough incidents against Slavia Prague to cause concern however. Hummels was caught in no man’s land for Soucek’s equaliser, Ondrej Kudela somehow failed to head home at the back post, Julian Weigl’s carelessness in getting sent off wasn’t punished and Roman Bürki was arguably man of the match.
The convincing nature of the win against Fortuna was a smokescreen. Slavia Prague showed enough to suggest that the better sides in the Bundesliga and in Europe will continue to score regularly against Dortmund who are increasingly reliant on Axel Witsel.
Favre still under pressure
Lucien Favre was understandably jubilant following the news that Barcelona had won in Milan. Hanging on against Hertha, the 5-0 win against Fortuna and progression in the Champions League is welcome respite following the 4-0 loss in Munich, 3-3 draw against Paderborn and 3-1 defeat in Barcelona.
The Swiss tactician did what many managers do when it’s simply not working, namely a formation switch from a back four to a back three. The structural issues remain however, and the question whether Dortmund can sustain a title challenge is up for debate.
Favre has a relatively easy run of fixtures coming up until early February, the only exception being a crucial home match against Leipzig on 17 December. The jury is still out on Favre and the Dortmund hierarchy are surely still scanning the marketplace for a suitable replacement.