For the second round in a row, Borussia Dortmund had to endure the pressure of a penalty shootout against a Berlin-based team. The Black and Yellows beat Hertha BSC 5-3 and advanced to the quarter-finals.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel surprised with his lineup, or rather with the lack of surprises in his lineup. There were no changes from Saturday’s big Bundesliga win over RB Leipzig, the first time in the 43-year-old’s time at the Westfalenstadion that he’s gone with the same starting XI twice in a row.
However, the tactical set-up was a bit different to Saturday, with Lukasz Piszczek, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Marc Bartra forming a clear-cut back three and wing-backs Erik Durm and Marcel Schmelzer moving higher up the pitch. In turn, Raphael Guerreiro dropped a bit deeper and almost formed a double pivot with Julian Weigl, giving the team more presence in the centre during the buildup phase.
Those moves seemed to work out well in the early goings, with Dortmund looking fluid and active on the ball, even if they didn’t conjure up any real scoring chances in the first few minutes of the match.
The first of those fell to Hertha after nine minutes when Sokratis carelessly gave the ball away to Vedad Ibisevic. The Greece international thought about pulling the Bosnian’s shirt but thankfully changed his mind, deciding to instead chase the attacker down and rob him off a golden opportunity to open the scoring with a brilliant slide tackle.
A short time later, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had an even bigger chance to score for the hosts, with a brilliant dink from Ousmane Dembele giving him an open run on Rune Jarstein’s goal. Whether he was unsure whether to round the keeper or shoot past him or it was just an unsure first touch, the Gabonese bottled the chance.
Only a minute later, he forced the Norwegian goalkeeper into a fabulous save following a delicately paced through ball from Julian Weigl. It wasn’t a glaring miss the like previous opportunity, but a striker of Aubameyang’s calibre will feel as though he ought to put at least one of those away.
Hertha, meanwhile, struggled with inaccuracies in Dortmund’s half but had another superb scoring chance when Roman Bürki parried a header from John-Anthony Brooks towards Ibisevic, with the Bosnian missing an open goal from close range in the 26th minute.
However, two minutes later Salomon Kalou did better, scoring a nice volley goal from about seven yards. Dortmund will be disappointed to concede from the situation, seeing as Niklas Stark received the ball from a panicked Marc Bartra pass, was under no pressure in Dortmund territory and picked out Kalou. Also, the Ivorian’s run was not picked up by Piszczek, who seemed to be responsible for the 32-year-old.
The immediate reaction from the hosts was positive, even though nothing of substance came off it. However, as the first half went on, Dortmund reverted to pre-winter-break tactics of giving the ball to Dembele and hoping the young Frenchman would do something with it. More often than not, Hertha managed to intercept his final passes or to disrupt the timing of Dortmund’s attack with challenges.
Marco Reus was invisible throughout the first half on the left side of BVB’s attack, as was de-facto right-winger Erik Durm after a promising start.
Two half-time substitutions from Tuchel changed the entire complexion of the match. Matthias Ginter and Christian Pulisic replaced Schmelzer and Piszczek, with Durm moving to left-back opposite of Ginter and Dortmund going with a four-man defensive line.
Pulisic made an immediate impact on the right side of attack, providing an assist for Reus’ equaliser in the 47th minute. Bartra played a brilliant pass to Dembele, who hit the post but stayed alert to the situation, won the rebound and played the ball to Pulisic. The young American kept his calm and squared for Reus, whose emphatic finish left Jarstein without a chance.
Reus played a like a changed man after the interval and could’ve scored a second goal just minutes later, but his shot following good work from Dembele was deflected over the crossbar.
Aubameyang seemingly scored a second for his side that was correctly whistled back with Jarstein pinning the ball to the ground with one hand.
The pressure on Hertha kept mounting, Guerreiro firing a stunner from distance and forcing another excellent Jarstein save. The final chance in regulation fell to Dembele, the 19-year-old sliding an effort just wide of the far corner in the 82nd minute.
Extra time started with a new wrinkle, as the German football association has allowed a fourth substitution from this round moving forward in the cup. Andre Schürrle replaced Reus, who had picked up a knock in the final team training session, incidentally after a collision with Schürrle.
Ginter and Dembele suffered from knocks as well, with the Frenchman even leaving the pitch for about six minutes with cramps but coming back for the second half of extra time.
The 30 minutes went by without much happening, bar a bizarre sending off for Sokratis, who disagreed with the referee’s decision to move the ball back a few yards for a free-kick. After being booked, the Greek kept on yapping despite referee Deniz Aytekin signaling him that the slightest peep would result in a second yellow. Sokratis only missed one minute, but was unavailable for the penalty shootout.
Amazingly, Dembele took and expertly converted the first BVB penalty right down the middle. Fabian Lustenberger had smashed Hertha’s first attempt off the cross bar.
Vladimir Darida missed a tame attempt to the lower right corner, Bürki keeping it out with a strong reaction. Pulisic then had an even worse shot saved by Jarstein.
Alexander Esswein scored with Bürki deflecting the thumping shot into his net. Aubameyang smashed his penalty right down the middle.
Sami Allagui, who came on for the penalty shootout, had his poor attempt saved by Bürki but the Switzerland international again deflected the ball into his own net during the follow-through. Importantly, Gonzalo Castro, who had come on for Guerreiro late in regulation, calmly slotted his attempt into the lower right corner.
Kalou had to score to keep Hertha in it but, with the worst of a series of bad Hertha penalties, skied his attempt a few yards over the bar.
Dortmund deserved to go through and could, arguably should, have dealt with the match in regulation. Much like on Saturday, they missed an inordinate amount of good scoring chances that would have made for a much calmer rest of the match.
Losing Sokratis for the quarter-finals hurts, but for now the bigger problem is the fact that Dortmund had to make four injury-related substitutions one week ahead of the UEFA Champions League meeting with Benfica.