Borussia Dortmund lost on the final matchday of 2015 at Cologne. Late goals from Simon Zoller and Anthony Modeste cancelled out Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ first-half goal. With the defeat on the club’s birthday, to make matters worse, Dortmund are now eight points behind Bayern Munich at the halfway point of the campaign.
Mixed zone – find the post match quotes here
Head coach Thomas Tuchel made five changes to his winning side from the game in the DFB-Pokal at Augsburg. Matthias Ginter, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Park Joo-ho, Shinji Kagawa and Jonas Hofmann replaced Lukasz Piszczek, Sven Bender, Marcel Schmelzer, Gonzalo Castro and Adrian Ramos.
Somewhat surprisingly, Hofmann played on the left side of attack in Dortmund’s hybrid system that alternated between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3. Cologne played with an extra centre-back in a fluid 5-4-1 that turned into a more classic 3-5-2 once the Billy Goats had to chase the game.
As so many opponents have done in the Hinrunde, Cologne sat deep, conceded possession and tried to hit Dortmund whenever they lose the ball. The Rhine side’s stingy defence (Cologne boasted the fourth-best defensive record when the weekend kicked off despite two heavy defeats accounting for 10 goals alone) proved harder to crack than the one the Schwarzgelben faced last week against Frankfurt, so it didn’t come as a surprise when Dortmund opened the scoring after a corner: Sokratis was completely unmarked and didn’t reject the invitation to nod home from a few yards out.
As the club’s website points out, it “was Borussia’s 47th in the league, and thus equalled their tally for the entire 2014/15 season.” Overall, Dortmund were very dominant in the first half, as 75 per cent possession indicate.
Cologne did, however, react fairly well to going behind. Peter Stöger’s team began to press with more intensity and higher up the pitch and thus created a few problems for Dortmund. The left side of Park and Hofmann was especially targeted by the Billy Goats. Park gave away what should have been a penalty to Cologne after needlessly fouling Pawel Olkowski, but referee Knut Kircher inexplicably waved on.
Roman Bürki made a brilliant save to deny a header from Frederik Sörensen in the 33rd minute. The Dane was played onside by Mats Hummels’ outstretched arm, and it might actually have been the skipper who tested his ‘keeper, as it looked like the ball might have taken a deflection.
Tuchel was forced to make two changes at half-time, with Hummels picking up a muscular problem and Park’s horrendous showing in the first half leaving Tuchel no other option but to bring on reliable Schmelzer at left-back. Bender took Hummels’ spot in central defence and the captain’s armband.
It was all Cologne for the entirety of the second half. The Black and Yellows looked sluggish and more and more tired as the game went on. Despite the surprisingly heavy rotation, the fact that they played their fourth game in ten days showed a bit.
The hosts created some half chances until another spectacular Bürki save in the 79th minute. Dortmund’s No. 38 used his fingertips to parry the ball onto the post and he looked like his side’s hero at that point.
Unfortunately, he went from hero to zero just four minutes later, when he played a terrible pass directly into the path of Simon Zoller, whose shot he had saved so brilliantly minutes earlier, and this time, Cologne’s striker didn’t miss. The wobbly pitch played a huge role in Bürki’s costly mistake, but such is the luck of the men between the sticks sometimes.
Anthony Modeste, whom Stöger sat on the bench for the first time all season, was Cologne’s match winner, scoring the 2-1 in stoppage time. Marcel Schmelzer couldn’t clear a ball, Shinji Kagawa didn’t go into a duel with full effort and no one covered Modeste’s clever run in the middle.
Cologne were absolutely deserved winners thanks to their strong second half. Dortmund, on the other hand, played probably their worst second half of the season considering their opponent.
We already touched on Park’s disappointing performance and Bürki’s mistake, but they weren’t the only two players who had their fair share in the loss. Midfield masterminds Ilkay Gündogan and Shinji Kagawa lacked intensity all game and were clearly outplayed by Cologne’s double pivot of Matthias Lehmann and Yannick Gerhardt. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was hardly present either and didn’t have a single opportunity to add to his impressive goal tally this season.
Large parts of the blame have to go to the head coach, however. The selection of Park and Hofmann after their bad showing in the recent UEFA Europa League loss against PAOK was strange, and deciding to bring on Ramos instead of Castro when his team could have used someone with the ability to slow down the game and keep the ball was baffling to say the least.
Most importantly, however, Tuchel failed to make any in-game adjustments when Cologne became stronger and stronger. Dortmund looked like they stopped playing their normal football after about half an hour and were deserved losers.
While that can’t take anything away from the brilliant Hinrunde they’ve put together, it does put a bad taste in the mouths of the supporters as German football embarks on its month-long hiatus they call the Winterpause.