Borussia Dortmund left it to a late winner against FC Krasnodar to lay the foundation for their Europa League campaign at home on Thursday evening.
FK Krasnodar’s left-back Artur Jedrzejczyk turned to the left raising his arms in disappointment as he looked for a teammate that was supposed to mark Park Joo-ho, who had just scored the winner in the 92nd minute with a flying header. It was a mix of joy and relief for Borussia Dortmund, who didn’t cover themselves in glory in their first Europa League match against strong opposition.
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Borussia won the game in top team fashion, securing three vital points after a mediocre performance, but all in all the win was a deserved one. They turned around yet another match, again demonstrating mental strength.
Before the game, much of the intrigue revolved around Borussia’s starting eleven: would Thomas Tuchel rotate apart from Roman Weidenfeller and if so, how much? The head coach decided to go with Belastungssteuerung (controlling the strain) as far as he could in partly resting Shinji Kagawa, Marcel Schmelzer (played one half each) and Julian Weigl, who was subbed on in the final 30 minutes.
Gonzalo Castro and Park Joo-ho started in central midfield ahead of Ilkay Gündogan. Adnan Januzaj made his full Dortmund debut on the right side in replacing Marco Reus, who is set to rejoin team training on Friday. The four changes took their toll on Borussia, as the team didn’t play up to the high standards it set over the course of the season so far.
Tuchel bemoaned “a lot of misplaced passes and sloppy body language” in the first half in his postgame remarks.
FC Krasnodar were certainly Borussia Dortmund’s toughest opponent so far this season. Oleg Kononov’s side showed a lot of quality and calmness on the ball by regularly escaping BVB’s pressing. In general, the Russians always looked to be a threat throughout the game until they eventually ran out of steam after 70 minutes. They only managed two shots on target, scoring their first one, but that hardly paints an exact picture of their game.
Matthias Ginter’s attempt to defend Feydor Smolov in the 12th minute, when the Russian skimmed past Borussia’s young right back with a simple trick, raised more questions about Ginter’s defensive prowess. Meanwhile Ilkay Gündogan and Sokratis Papastathopoulos didn’t cover themselves in glory either, as they failed to pick up Pavel Mamaev who nutmegged Roman Weidenfeller from close range to give the visitors a surprising lead.
Ginter made up for his lapse by scoring the equalizer in stoppage time of the first half. A towering header in the box left Andrij Dykan with now chance. After a rather underwhelming first half the scoreline was the best news for Borussia Dortmund. The Black and Yellows simply couldn’t find a way to implement their ball circulation and left poor Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang chasing a lot of indecisive long balls. Unsurprisingly, BVB played more directly than in the matches before – and more unsettled.
It’s also unsettling to see Gonazlo Castro so, well, unsettled. The longtime Leverkusen player again struggled to leave his mark. His confidence looks to be on an alltime low as he simply lacks the ease his teammates are showcasing at the moment. It was another match that will leave some Dortmund fans worrying about the club’s €11 million acquisition.
Weigl, Weigl, Weigl
For someone who had tuned into the match around the 65th minute, it will have been very surprising to see the level score. That has to do with Julian Weigl, who was brought on after 61 minutes for Castro. It’s not necessarily about Weigl himself, rather the change in Dortmund’s shape when the 20-year-old entered the pitch.
His introduction to the game allowed Ilkay Gündogan to move higher up the field, due to Weigl’s immaculate passing from the deep parts of midfield. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Shinji Kagawa on the field as well, Borussia pushed the opposition deep into its own territory and searched for an opening – Krasnodar’s few attempts to counter were suffocated by Sokratis Papastathopoulos, as Smolov often found himself isolated upfront.
The sharpness of previous matches was lacking up top for the Black and Yellows, and they subsequently found it tough to open Krasnodar’s congested defence up through the middle. In a way, it was almost logical that Dortmund’s two goals were created from the wings. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Adnan Januzaj both had chances to tilt the game into BVB’s favour beforehand, however. Mkhitaryan’s curler went just wide of the post, a rare sight these days, whereas Januzaj’s shot with his weaker right foot was saved by Dykan.
It speaks volumes about the development Borussia Dortmund has taken under Thomas Tuchel so far. The team on the field certainly staid calmer in stoppage time than the fans on the stands. Even in injury time the players did not rely on the Brechstange (“Crowbar” – relying on punts up field in the hope that coincidence and will-power will bring the lucky punch), but kept looking for an opening without falling into hectic. More proof that Borussia Dortmund’s approach has matured overall under Tuchel.
In the end it took a bit of luck for the Black and Yellows to come away with the three crucial points that might take some pressure off the matches in the later games of the group stage, when they have important Bundesliga games to worry about, too.
They team made the best out of a mediocre performance. One can’t expect them to play their very best stuff all the time and, after all, they now hold the impressive record of having won 10 out of 10. For Tuchel it was a success also because he managed to rest a few players along the way, which he will hope have some effect in the upcoming matches. Adnan Januzaj, Park Joo-ho and Adrian Ramos left the field having made positive impressions. It’s important for the head coach to find reliable alternatives who show him that he can rotate his squad through the busy schedule of the coming weeks and months.
Be sure to check out a new regular feature on our site, where we provide you with interesting postgame soundbites from players and the head coach after each game.