Borussia Dortmund’s crisis continued after the final international break of the calendar year, with the Black and Yellows losing 2-1 at VfB Stuttgart, their third Bundesliga defeat on the spin. It’s the worst run of league games since Jürgen Klopp’s infamous final season in charge of the club.
Lineup: Bürki; Toljan, Sokratis, Bartra, Schmelzer; Weigl, Kagawa, Götze; Yarmolenko, Schürrle, Philipp.
Head coach Peter Bosz made four changes to the team that lost to Bayern Munich ahead of the international break, with Jeremy Toljan, Mario Götze, Andre Schürrle and Maximilian Philipp coming into the starting XI.
Ömer Toprak missed the match with knee problems, Gonzalo Castro sat on the bench, Christian Pulisic picked up a knock in the final training session and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was suspended for various instances of misconduct.
Both teams set up as had been largely expected. Stuttgart marked Dortmund’s three midfielders tightly and offered a compact three-man centre-back block that was supported by wing-backs when the need arose, while the visitors played in their usual 4-3-3 shape. Without Aubameyang, Schürrle led the line but often switched positions with Andrey Yarmolenko and, occasionally, Philipp.
Schürrle opened the game with a half chance but, before it could develop further, a comical individual mistake gave the hosts the lead. Marc Bartra and Roman Bürki didn’t communicate properly, with the Spaniard completely overhitting a simple back pass to his goalkeeper. Bürki couldn’t react quickly enough, letting the ball bounce to Chadroc Akolo, who found an open net for the easiest goal he’s ever scored away from his PlayStation.
Naturally, the early lead played into Hannes Wolf’s hands perfectly, even though Dortmund’s reaction was fairly positive. More than in recent games against opponents that set up similarly, BVB found ways to evade the man-orientated defending in the centre of the pitch, with Mario Götze particularly strong in this regard.
Early shots from Yarmolenko and Schürrle signalled their intent, and as the half went on Dortmund grew stronger and stronger. Götze pulling the strings and Toljan, who used the ample amount of space Stuttgart left open on their left defensive side fairly well, were the catalysts together with Yarmolenko, who gave Emiliano Insua and Timo Baumgartl fits in one-on-ones.
However, they struggled to convert dominance into clear-cut scoring chances, with the final ball too often missing, and were thus dangerous from distance only, with two Götze attempts probably their best opportunities until stoppage time.
A positive Götze run onto the end of a Toljan lob resulted in a penalty when Benjamin Pavard blocked the ball with his elbow. Schürrle saw his attempt saved by Ron-Robert Zieler, but Philipp reacted first and smashed home with authority, a superbly clean strike of the ball with his weaker left foot. The goal coming on the stroke of half time, Dortmund were deservedly level and had arguably put together their strongest half in over a month.
Dan-Axel Zagadou replaced Sokratis Papastathopoulos at half time, the Greek defender suffering from an apparent rib injury. Bartra moved to the right side of the centre-back partnership and, if one were to look for an explanation for his boneheadedness six minutes into the second half, well, there’s your straw to clutch at.
Inexplicably, the 26-year-old Spain international rushed deep into Stuttgart’s half to go for a lose ball instead of holding his position as the de-facto leader of Dortmund’s defence. When he, predictably, lost the final duel and was caught in no-man’s land, most of the damage was already done. It didn’t help that team captain Marcel Schmelzer, who had an altogether forgettable game himself, failed to pick up a runner sprinting down his left side of the pitch, of course. Stuttgart’s half-time substitute, Josip Brekalo, made no mistake with this golden opportunity of a present for the hosts, nutmegging Zagadou and Bürki with his shot — in fairness to the Switzerland ‘keeper, he couldn’t see the ball before it was too late.
Unlike the first half, Dortmund were unable to find an answer immediately after conceding, or, really, for the rest of the game. Wolf had changed up his team a bit to help out against Toljan and Yarmolenko, which robbed BVB of their most reliable avenue going forward, while Götze was more and more left alone by Julian Weigl and Shinji Kagawa. Weigl looked especially hopeless the longer the game went on, misplacing simple passes and committing largely unnecessary fouls at bad moments in the game.
The introductions of Mahmoud Dahoud (for Kagawa) and, curiously late in the game, Raphael Guerreiro (for Schürrle with seven minutes to go), didn’t change anything, as Dortmund mustered but one chance in the final half hour or so. Schürrle’s shot was no real threat to Zieler’s goal. Yarmolenko did have the ball in the net in the 71st minute, but it was correctly ruled that he had handled the ball before.
Not Dortmund but Stuttgart had all the chances in the world to ice the game but Berkay Özcan, Takuma Asano or Brekalo all failed to make the defeat even more severe for Dortmund.
Dortmund are hard to watch and it’s difficult to understand what exactly is happening at the club right now. The first half was fine, the second was unacceptable. Given how this was supposed to be a fresh start for the Black and Yellows, one cannot look into the immediate future and at fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur, Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen with even a sliver of confidence.
It’s not hard to predict that there will be some pressure on Dortmund to make drastic changes if those games go the way it right now looks they will, and we must be at a point where a dismissal of Peter Bosz isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility any longer.