Borussia Dortmund started their UEFA Champions League campaign with a hefty defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, losing 3-1 at Wembley stadium. Despite dominance on the ball throughout the match, the visitors were deserved losers — yet still, they were also unlucky.
Lineup: Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Toprak, Toljan; Sahin, Dahoud, Kagawa; Yarmolenko, Aubameyang, Pulisic.
Two necessary changes — Ömer Toprak and Jeremy Toljan for the injured Marc Bartra and Marcel Schmelzer — were followed by three voluntary ones by head coach Peter Bosz, giving Dortmund a different look from the first few matches of the campaign. Andrey Yarmolenko replaced Maximilian Philipp to give his full BVB debut on the right wing. Interestingly, Bosz also opted to switch out his two central midfielders, with Mahmoud Dahoud and Shinji Kagawa coming in for Mario Götze and Gonzalo Castro. The Dutchman explained his choices with the busy match calendar in the coming weeks and earlier injuries this season, but it still looked a bold call especially to take Götze out after Dortmund’s No. 10 had started so well into the new campaign.
Spurs came into the game with a clear game plan that worked close to perfection right from the start. They settled in a relatively deep block while their attacking players pressed occasionally, hoping to hit Dortmund on the counter not through winning the ball high up the field as much as by BVB running out of passing options. With a centre-back trio of Toby Alderweireld, Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, this playing style is not that difficult to come up with, to be fair.
Four minutes were all it took for the hosts to profit from their strategy, when Lukasz Piszczek’s pass was intercepted in Spurs’ own box. Harry Kane received the ball and lumped behind BVB’s last line of defence to regular Dortmund killer Heung-min Son. The South Korean breezed into the box, shook Sokratis Papastathopoulos with a shoulder drop and fired into the near corner of Roman Bürki’s goal. The Switzerland international clearly anticipated a cutback pass and failed to narrow the angle down sufficiently, making him ultimately responsible even though Dortmund were caught out as a team in the move. It showed the pitfalls of Bosz’s aggressive positioning of his midfielders, with little cover behind the likes of Nuri Sahin.
The visitors were largely undeterred and continued going through their possession game without finding any openings, until Yarmolenko decided to just have a pop from distance. The Ukrainian winger played a somewhat fortuitous one-two with Kagawa and curled a beautiful shot into the far corner of Hugo Lloris’ goal, scoring 11 minutes into his full debut for the Black and Yellows.
Unfortunately, it again took only four minutes for a goal that looked very similar to the first one, with Spurs superstar Harry Kane scoring next to the same near post Son had used to start the game. Having beaten Sokratis in a one-on-one and then disposed of Sahin — which could, but not necessarily should have resulted in a BVB free-kick — the England captain scored with a thumping effort Bürki again could’ve done better against, even though it wasn’t as clear a mistake as the first goal.
The rest of the first half went on rather uneventfully, as the hosts were content to drop deep and let wave after wave of Dortmund attacks break well outside their penalty box. BVB did well to dominate a team like Spurs the way they did but, much like in the game against Freiburg on Saturday, failed to crack a deep block open, relying on chance and long attempts to create danger on Lloris.
Spurs opened the half with two strong opportunities to score a presumably decisive third goal, but both Son and Kane missed after being played onside by Sokratis.
Perhaps the decisive moment of the match happened in the 55th minute: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had a torrid time battling away against Tottenham’s three-headed centre-back monster all game, scored a perfectly fine volley off a free-kick only for the goal to be waved off for an alleged offside position. On replay, it was more than obvious how bad a call this was, with Aubameyang not even level with the last defender.
Now someone explain HOW is Auba offside pic.twitter.com/n4ROG48OHw
— Nicoleta Coșoreanu (@nicoleta206) 13. September 2017
Only five minutes later the game was over when Kane scored his second, receiving first the ball from Christian Eriksen and then a deflection from Piszczek, taking Bürki out of the equation this time around.
Dortmund’s will was broken, with only one chance to get back into the game falling their way with 20 minutes to go. Aubameyang took a rebound off a corner kick first time and forced a decent stop out of Lloris.
Kane was close to a hat-trick and his Spurs had a few more half chances, but the game largely fizzled out. Vertonghen saw a harsh and entirely unnecessary second booking in stoppage time for catching substitute Mario Götze in the face, but it was far too late for Dortmund to take advantage.
Dortmund deserved to lose the game even though they dominated the proceedings for basically 90 minutes and were robbed off a perfectly legal equaliser early in the second half. Their naive defending in too high a line against a strong counter-attacking side as well as their inability to break down Spurs’ defence ultimately made them second-best on the night. Bosz will have to allow some second-guessing of his decision to make so many changes before the game, but it’s probable only Götze would’ve made a difference and Dortmund are playing it smart with him coming off a long absence.
Yellow Wall Game Ball
Jeremy Toljan was Dortmund’s best player in the first half and wins the game ball by default despite having many difficulties in the second period.