Borussia Dortmund won their second game in as many attempts under newly appointed head coach Peter Stöger on Saturday, beating 1899 Hoffenheim 2-1 thanks to a late goal from Christian Pulisic.
Lineup: Bürki; Toljan, Sokratis, Toprak, Schmelzer; Weigl; Yarmolenko, Kagawa, Guerreiro, Pulisic; Aubameyang.
Stöger made no changes to his winning side from Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Mainz, which wasn’t particularly surprising given the personnel situation. Once again, Julian Weigl was the lone holding midfielder, while Raphael Guerreiro and Shinji Kagawa manned the half-spaces, with Pulisic and Andrey Yarmolenko staying on their sides of the pitch.
As against Mainz, Dortmund sat much deeper than previously this season and only engaged Hoffenheim on their own side of the halfway line. This allowed the visitors to amass a lot of possession but also invited them to making mistakes, one of which, by Florian Grillitsch, almost gave BVB the early lead through Yarmolenko after five minutes.
The Black and Yellows were more dangerous in the first 20 minutes of the game but lacked precision and composure, with the Ukrainian especially wasteful and showing a severe lack of instincts in his decision-making.
As Hoffenheim became more assured in their passing, they clawed their way into the game and identified Dortmund’s left side of defence as a potential weak spot. Between left-back Marcel Schmelzer, Guerreiro and Pulisic, the hosts left too much space open for Pavel Kaderabek to run into. Hoffenheim often switched play to the Czech Republic full-back.
On one such occasion Dortmund’s defence was completely out of order for the first time all game, with Schmelzer and Ömer Toprak advancing a bit too far out of position, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Jeremy Toljan playing the attack onside and the latter also getting boxed out by Mark Uth — who scored after a nice one-two between Kaderabek and Nadiem Amiri.
The lead gave Hoffenheim total security and Dortmund showed they currently don’t have the capacity to find solutions to problems by playing football. Effectively, the visitors dominated the game without much effort and, if not for a few individual lapses here and there, would have seen the game off into half-time easily.
As it was, Dortmund had one more chance a minute from intermission, with Pulisic picking up the ball in midfield, dribbling into the box and flicking to Yarmolenko, who, instead of laying off for his team-mate in decent shooting position, took too long a moment to try (unsuccessfully) sorting his feet.
Similarly to Tuesday, Dortmund came out of the half-time locker room with a bit more intent, even though Guerreiro, Pulisic and Kagawa failed to get shots off in the early goings. Hoffenheim almost shocked Dortmund in the 49th minute, but Amiri’s harmless shot went straight at Roman Bürki. Once again, a simple long ball shifting play towards the left side of their defence had left the hosts scrambling.
Dortmund plodded through the game without a sparkling idea and would probably have conceded a second goal eventually, but a moment of quick interplay between Kagawa and Yarmolenko brought the necessary change. The Japanese received Yarmolenko’s first-time layoff and moved past Stefan Posch with a quick move, only for the young defender to clumsily bring him to the ground.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang expertly dispatched the stonewall penalty and, suddenly, Dortmund were level with 28 minutes to go.
Both teams seemed content with the result — or physically unable to bring about a change in momentum — and the game looked likely to fizzle out after the equaliser. Hoffenheim were more dangerous without really threatening Bürki once, lacking precision and cohesion in attack much like Dortmund had in the first 45 minutes.
Dortmund, who had brought on Mahmoud Dahoud for Yarmolenko in the 71st minute, had one more go moments from the end of regular time: The substitute midfielder picked up the ball from a throw in and moved into open space with a suttle move, finding Kagawa with room to spare.
Dortmund’s No. 23 played a cutting through ball — that, in fairness, Steven Zuber could’ve picked out — towards Pulisic, who flew in from the right wing, neatly lobbed the goalkeeper with his right foot before finishing with his left in one (somewhat) fluid move.
It was the lucky punch to decide the game as Hoffenheim didn’t find the energy to equalise. Aubameyang and Dahoud could and should’ve added a third goal but missed the goal quite spectacularly, but the points were already won at that point.
Dortmund were lucky and perhaps even undeserved winners, with the individual quality of their players shining through in that one moment that can always make the difference. With both teams looking positively spent after roughly an hour at the end of a long 2017, a draw would’ve been fair — and still a good result for Dortmund.
Yellow Wall Game Ball: Christian Pulisic
All that glisters is not gold, and certainly not everything the 19-year-old USMNT standout attempted came off, but it’s not often you get to decide a game against a strong opponent in front of the Yellow Wall with only moments to go in the game.