Borussia Dortmund are in a rough patch at the moment. If anyone needed final confirmation, a thoroughly deserved 4-2 defeat at the hands of promoted side Hannover on Bundesliga Matchday 10 provided the eye-opener.
Lineup: Bürki; Bartra, Sokratis, Zagadou, Schmelzer; Sahin, Castro, Götze; Yarmolenko, Aubameyang, Pulisic.
Following the easy 5-0 DFB-Pokal win over 3rd league side Magdeburg on Tuesday, head coach Peter Bosz opted for four changes, most of which were expected. Gonzalo Castro and Mario Götze replaced Mahmoud Dahoud, who didn’t even make the bench, and Shinji Kagawa, while Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came in for Maximilian Philipp and Alexander Isak.
This meant that Dortmund went with an unchanged back line for the first time in what feels like ages, with Dan-Axel Zagadou keeping his spot at centre-back after a convincing performance in the cup.
The game developed exactly the way pretty much everyone knew it would, with Hannover sitting back comfortably and going “route one” when they took it away from Dortmund. Long punts behind the last line of defence constantly put the visitors under huge amounts of pressure from the early goings.
The game started without clear-cut chances for either side and took a while to develop, with Hannover going in front after 20 minutes thanks to a questionable penalty. Roman Bürki had come off his line and got his feet tangled up with Felix Klaus, who, as replays showed, cleverly looked for contact. Dortmund’s goalkeeper, unable to vanish into thin air, will feel harshly done by. Since it wasn’t a 100 per-cent wrong decision, VAR review did not lead to the call being taken back. Jonathas dispatched the penalty without difficulty.
Dortmund tried to answer quickly, with Aubameyang just failing to get on the end of a Pulisic cross in the 24th minute. They did find an equaliser three minutes later, albeit out of the blue. Hannover failed to clear a corner and Zagadou, of all people, finished with a neat volley.
It was perhaps the strongest phase of the game for BVB, who should have gone in front through Andrey Yarmolenko eight minutes from intermission, but the summer signing inexplicably missed an open goal from less than 10 yards, blasting the ball over the bar with his right foot. It was the worst miss you will see all season, the kind of miss that only happens every other year, reminiscent of that legendary Jakub Blaszczykowski miss against Freiburg all those years ago.
Punishment followed swiftly when Ihlas Bebou restored Hannover’s lead in the 40th minute, as Dortmund gave the ball away from a free-kick and ran head first into a quick counter-attack. Sokratis looked especially indisposed trying to defend facing his own goal.
Kagawa replaced Castro to start the second half, the German having done absolutely nothing of note during his 45 minutes on the pitch besides losing the ball in the leadup to Bebou’s goal.
Dortmund came out of the locker room with purpose and clearly tried to score quickly, with Yarmolenko redeeming himself seven minutes into the second period. In a much more difficult shot than his horrendous miss, he took a wayward Salif Sane clearance first time after taking two or three steps backwards and slotted home into the bottom right corner.
The visitors for a short while looked to be able to take control of the game when another simple long ball undid them. Marvin Bakalorz lumped it forward to Jonathas, who was level with Zagadou and cleverly crossed the young Frenchman’s running path. The 18-year-old nudged the striker just enough to get sent off in the 59th minute. To that point, Zagadou had arguably been Dortmund’s best player on the pitch. To make matters worse, his foul didn’t serve a purpose after all when Klaus scored with a beautiful free-kick to once again put Hannover in front.
To their credit, Dortmund were still up for a fight and almost equalised through Pulisic, but, especially a man down, they also defended horrendously and basically begged Hannover to finish the game off. Bebou obliged four minutes from time. If not for a number of strong saves from Bürki, for example against a stupendous overhead kick from Martin Harnik in stoppage time, it could have been an even worse defeat.
Even if we’re ready to take the Leipzig defeat out of the consideration because it was down to individual mistakes more than anything, Dortmund’s worrying trend has become a real problem. This was another unacceptable showing from the team that will finally fail to brush away criticism with a view to the league table after the late Bundesliga kickoff on Saturday between Bayern Munich and Leipzig.
When every single team, even ones that have showed to be offensively challenged, such as Hannover or Frankfurt, can create a multitude of dangerous scoring chances with the simplest of football moves, it’s fair to wonder whether Dortmund are stupid or stubborn or both. With a difficult schedule ahead of them — as BVB will face Bayern, Schalke, Leverkusen and Hoffenheim until the winter break — Bosz and his team will have to let their play to the talking to convince us otherwise.
For results to get better again, the first order of business must be to solve the midfield conondrum, where Nuri Sahin has completely fallen off a cliff after a strong start to the season, Julian Weigl has showed significant adaption problems with Bosz’ system and all of Castro, Kagawa and Dahoud have been incredibly inconsistent — Mario Götze has been the best of the bunch without being more than solid.