A motivated team and a clearly improved defence set the stage for Dortmund’s 3-1 win over VfB Stuttgart in the quarter-final of the German cup. Even heavy rain that flooded the turf in the Mercedes-Benz Arena could not stop the Black and Yellows on Tuesday night.
Although Thomas Tuchel had said prior to the match he would select his best players to clash with Stuttgart, Dortmund’s head coach decided to field Erik Durm as left-winger, while Matthias Ginter replaced Julian Weigl in central midfield.
Jürgen Kramny, meanwhile, wanted to take out Dortmund’s most threatening weapons, namely İlkay Gündoğan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as he fielded Serge Dié and Christian Gentner as man-markers in the middle of the park. Stuttgart mostly used an asymmetric shape, with right-winger Lukas Rupp playing deeper than Filip Kostić on the left side.
Interestingly, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang started on the right wing, and he stayed there most of the time. Marco Reus, who kept Stuttgart’s centre-backs busy, scored after only five minutes. Mkhitaryan instigated the situation, when he made a dribbling near the opposing penalty box. The Armenian found Aubameyang who was unmarked in the right part of the box. A cross-pass was then converted by Reus near the back post.
In the following minutes, the Black and Yellows convincingly avoided opposing counter-attacks, with a wide-awake back-line that fluidly moved back and forth. Offensively, the interplay between Mkhitaryan and Durm on the one side and between Reus and Aubameyang on the other presented Stuttgart’s defence with a problem they could not tackle until the half-time break.
After 21 minutes the hosts were back in the game, though. After saving a rebound following an own corner kick, a cross-pass from the left side found Daniel Didavi whose attempt was blocked by Mats Hummels. But Rupp scored with a wide-range shot that turned into a curveball caused by a slight Mkhitaryan deflection.
From that point on, Stuttgart begun to pick up more loose balls in the middle third, and made it a physical duel, which was their plan from the get-go. Stuttgart’s future looked brighter than after the first few minutes – until Aubameyang threw a wrench into their works.
At the half-hour mark, he shortly switched positions with Reus. Seconds later, Reus used a turnover to move the ball forward, targeting Aubameyang with a through-ball. The Gabonese sneaked in between Toni Šunjić and Kevin Großkreutz, which allowed him to take accurate aim before firing the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
Until the half-time break, we saw Dortmund attacking the gaps between the opposing defenders with many through balls. What worked once could work again, the Black and Yellows probably thought.
After the interval, Dortmund were waiting for an opening to hit with the deciding punch; Stuttgart were swinging for the fences. Tuchel slightly changed their strategy, focussing less on ball possession while attempting to hit Stuttgart on the break.
And the guests in the person of Aubameyang had the chance to finish the match early into the second half, when Reus played a tremendously accurate and smooth diagonal pass. However, former Dortmund goalie Mitch Langerak denied Aubameyang’s attempt in the 55th minute.
The spectators had to wait twelve minutes before Dortmund’s offense went full comedy mode, as four players in Stuttgart’s penalty box could not find the back of the net. Mkhitaryan on his own threw two more chances away – before Aubameyang broke through and allowed the Armenian to score with ease in the 89th minute.