“To find fault is easy; to do better may be difficult.” – Plutarch.
Borussia Dortmund boarded the team bus in preparation for what was a relatively short 17-kilometer trip to Bochum with the Bundesliga title firmly in its sights. Relegation threatened VfL Bochum provided the stage for a local battle between two clubs fighting for very different conclusions to the campaign. Supporters will know that drama permeates through every corner of Germany with every passing match day. This one, on a rainy Friday evening in North-Rhine Westphalia, was no different.
Dortmund headed into the tie on the back of a thoroughly impressive dismantling of Eintracht Frankfurt in the previous matchday. A match in which Edin Terzic’s squad took advantage of another Bayern Munich slip-up at long last. A well-placed strike from Bochum’s Anthony Losilla was almost immediately answered by Karim Adeyemi to level the score at 1-1 after just seven minutes had gone.
Though the equaliser was enough to temporarily calm the nerves of the league leaders, it never translated to any genuine semblance of control over the game as its script was played out. A couple of additional opportunities had been spurned by Adeyemi in the first half, which proved to be pivotal in the aftermath of the night.
Bochum’s pressing shape frustrated Dortmund for most of the game and it was demonstrated by the latter’s inability to generate consistent passing combinations through the midfield. Causing both Julian Brandt and Jude Bellingham to find dead ends in many of their ball receptions in Dortmund’s build-up play.
Enough individual talent existed to generate chances in the second half. However, it was both match referee, Sascha Stegemann, and his (lack of) video assistance in Cologne, that inadvertently possessed a strangle hold over much of the post-game spotlight after both had refused to review a clearly legitimate penalty claim after a foul on Adeyemi. An additional penalty claim, albeit less convincing, was made by Dortmund for a potential handball and deemed unjust once again.
The astriction of Dortmund’s desperate long-balls and deep crosses on the Bochum defence only increased as the final whistle approached. In the end, the aggressive home side managed to hold off the league leaders and salvage a crucial point that could ultimately determine which league Bochum find themselves competing in next season. For BVB, the consequences of the latest stumble will sting and likely become more painful come Sunday. Here are three things we learned about Borussia Dortmund following a chaotic tie in round 30 of the Bundesliga.
Borussia Dortmund remain fragile away from home
While it’s still entirely possible for Terzic to lead his boyhood club to a Bundesliga title in just a few weeks, one of the primary reasons the endeavour could fall short is due to a dramatically different record away from the friendly faces of the Yellow Wall. Dortmund posts a negative goal differential away from home. Which quite honestly makes it all the more astounding that they’re still within reach of snatching the league title from an equally inconsistent Bayern Munich.
While it’s typical for home sides to be a little braver in terms of their willingness to press and take risks, it’s unacceptable for Dortmund to routinely respond to the situation by losing much of their attacking fluidity and tactical cohesion. At times, as was the case against Bochum, it can appear that individual brilliance is relied on to make a breakthrough. One of the most obvious ways this is demonstrated is in the level of success that Bochum enjoyed when half-heartedly committing to a high press. The approach to beating that press seemed to be centred around bypassing it all together and hoping for success from Sebastian Haller’s arial ability. It failed time and time again.
Edin Terzic made too many changes at Stuttgart, but not enough at Bochum
Dortmund’s head coach is not to blame for the chaotic defending in the calamity that was the club’s trip to Stuttgart. But he could be questioned for the wholesale substitutions that were made when the game appeared in safe hands and its impact in positional fluidity. The opposite issue arose against Bochum. Where there was no stability at any point and attacking reinforcements (Reus, Moukoko, Reyna) arrived too late.
It’s understandable to start the likes of Jude Bellingham, Julian Brandt, and Emre Can without any hesitation when you consider the high-quality performances of this season. Donyell Malen has experienced his own resurgence as of late and it’s played a part in Marco Reus’ recent absences from the starting lineup.
However, the attack looked stale for much of the evening and only sparked into life when Reus and Moukoko finally touched the pitch. Haller is a talented footballer. Nobody doubts it, but there is growing validity to those questioning if Dortmund’s ideal style of play has a place for his profile. He was largely invisible against Bochum and it’s been the case in a hand full of fixtures this season. Moukoko is very young, but his explosive pace and control in tight spaces was immediately evident once again on Friday night. Don’t be surprised to see increased minutes down the stretch of the season.
Referee Sascha Stegemann and the DFB deserve serious criticism, but not all of it
Stegemann’s comments in response to the inquiries: “I’m extremely annoyed, I feel like sh*t. It was a very, very short night [of sleep], I’m not fine with it,” he said. “You get up with a bad feeling because you’re angry that you didn’t make the right decision in a scene.” These types of statements will do little to calm the nerves of Dortmund supporters and rightfully so.
The problem is that, Adeyemi also missed a couple of easy chances, the overall attack looked pedestrian at best for at least 75% of the match, and this is the reality that is excruciatingly difficult for Dortmund to come to terms with. It’s easier said than done to accept realities that induce a sense of self-inflicted penance.
Perhaps, it was Brandt who illuminated the inward psychological conflict most clearly. Asked about where the blame should be placed for the result: “I’m more frustrated about the things you can influence yourself and they were the chances, especially in the first half,” he said. “It might’ve been different with a little bit of luck, but I’m more frustrated about our own failings.”
GGFN | Reece Edwards