Borussia Dortmund got one of their most comfortable wins of the season on Saturday, beating hapless VfL Wolfsburg 3-0 in front of only 56,000 fans due to the closure of the Yellow Wall.
How the Black and Yellows would react to the missing support from their most fervent fans on the South stand was the big question ahead of the match in the Bundesliga. While it was an at times eerie atmosphere in the usually raucous Westfalenstadion, the fact that the visitors were absolutely shambolic meant Dortmund had few issues on the pitch and gave the supporters who were not victims of the German Football Association’s collective punishment enough to cheer.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel went with a very attacking starting XI, with Andre Schürrle coming in for Erik Durm, Matthias Ginter replacing the ill Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Gonzalo Castro playing instead of Raphael Guerreiro, who was a doubt but ultimately made the bench.
Against Wolfsburg’s defensive approach with a back five, Dortmund immediately took charge of the game and never let go until the final whistle, amassing more than 70 per cent possession for large stretches of the 90 minutes. The Wolves were surprisingly passive, letting Dortmund play calmly at the back and in most build-up situations. That allowed the hosts to get into good positions up front and, with early chances coming their way, it felt like a matter of time before they would open the scoring.
To add insult to injury in a truly pathetic performance by Wolfsburg, their defensive leader Jeffrey Bruma scored a bizarre own goal to help Dortmund over the line. There was little in the situation following a failed set piece from Ousmane Dembele, but Wolfsburg missed opportunities to clear their lines and Lukasz Piszczek remained alert, playing a speculative cross into the six-yard box Bruma inexplicably headed into his own net despite not being under any pressure from a Dortmund attacker.
After the goal in the 20th minute, BVB eased off a bit and the game flattened out significantly. Apart from a shot from Yunus Malli on the stroke of half time, Wolfsburg created nothing going forward.
Still, Dortmund’s inability to keep up the tempo for an entire half was annoying and it felt as though they came out of intermission with the intention of getting an early second goal to remove any doubts about the outcome of the match.
Another poor set-piece delivery from Dortmund bounced right back to Dembele, who whipped in a dangerous ball from the right half-space. Ginter failed to connect, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Piszczek would’ve been offside if Ginter had got any touch on the ball. The Pole converted with a decisive header to score his fifth goal of the campaign — a new personal record and Dortmund’s second-best tally in the league this season, trailing only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The goal coming a mere three minutes into the second period, the match was basically decided. The only remaining question was how many goals Dortmund would produce.
Dembele hit the post with an attempt to find Aubameyang in the middle, but eight minutes later made it 3-0. The Frenchman had the presence of mind to play in Piszczek on the right and the veteran defender served up a wonderfully delicate cross back to the 19-year-old. Dembele’s bouncing header left Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio with no chance.
Dortmund then largely went into cruise-control, which gave Wolves substitute Daniel Didavi the chance to give Roman Bürki something to do with about 20 minutes to go, the Swiss reacting superbly to Didavi’s blistering effort from close range.
Pulisic and Castro had chances to score a fourth, as did Don Mikel Merino, who got his first chance to play in midfield all season. The young Spaniard’s free header from a Pulisic corner should’ve been scored, but he was perhaps perplexed by the fact that he was wide open in the six-yard box.
One of the highlights of the match — and the only one in which a Wolfsburg man played a positive part — came when Jakub Blaszczykowski entered the pitch with 15 minutes to go. The long-time Dortmund man and fan favourite had been honoured before the match and was now greeted with a rousing welcome from the 56,000 inside the Westfalenstadion. After the match, “Kuba” did a lap of honour.
Wolfsburg’s ineptitude shouldn’t take anything away from what was a fairly impressive performance from Dortmund. Apart from the fact that Aubameyang failed to get over the scoring hump, it couldn’t have gone much better for the Black and Yellows, who got strong contributions from players such as Marc Bartra, who continued his excellent run of form, Julian Weigl, Castro, Dembele and Marco Reus.
The star of the match, however, was Piszczek, who received the highest praise from Tuchel after the match. “Piszczek,” the head coach said, “embodies everything BVB stand for.”
With their win and corresponding results in other matches, Dortmund jumped up to third in the league table and momentarily reduced the distance to RB Leipzig in second place to five points ahead of their match at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Sunday afternoon.