These matches against Hertha have been difficult for quite some time now. And this one on Saturday evening was not any different. Nevertheless, Borussia Dortmund beat ‘The Old Lady’ 2-0, thanks to a good effort by the attacking department and a savvy veteran.
Lineup: Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Bartra, Zagadou; Sahin, Castro, Götze; Pulisic, Aubameyang, Philipp.
Head coach Peter Bosz decided to stick to the starting XI that dominated an overwhelmed Wolfsburg side a week ago, which meant that playmaker Mahmoud Dahoud had to sit on the bench once again. For him, Gonzalo Castro played in midfield alongside Mario Götze, both shadowed by Nuri Sahin. Centre-forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was once again flanked by Maximilian Philipp and U.S. sensation Christian Pulisic in Dortmund’s familiar 4-3-3 shape.
Hertha’s starting line-up did not surprise either. Instead of the 4-4-2 Pal Dardai used against Stuttgart at home the week before, he replaced forward Alexander Esswein with midfielder Niklas Stark, meaning the team from the German capital played in a 4-2-3-1, as Vladimir Darida moved up into the no. 10 position.
Right from the start, Borussia Dortmund established their aggressive counter-press, which involved Sahin being considerably present near the ball while both full-backs took risks leaving their opponents behind them frequently. The counter-press neutralised most of Hertha’s attempt to quickly attack after turnovers.
For the most part, ‘The Old Lady’ was sitting deep, keeping both Vedad Ibisevic and Darida behind the halfway line when defending Dortmund’s build-up plays. Hertha simply hoped for one of their quick attacks to cause a goal, as the Yellow Wall Pod panel discussed earlier this week.
The strategic approaches by both teams created an intriguing dynamic in the early phase of the match. Dortmund had to be aware of the threat Hertha posed, but also figure out how to get through Berlin’s deep block. A few individual efforts were the highlights of the first quarter-hour–like Castro’s move in the 13th minute when he first pulled the left-back and then made a run behind his back.
While Dortmund’s build-up mostly consisted of passes from left to right and right to left, the team showed progress when they created triangles on the wings, like prior to the first goal. Aubameyang managed to score inside the box after a beautiful cross by Sahin, which tells you how present he was at that point of the game. Young gun Dan-Axel Zagadou should also be praised for how he powered through his opponent before Sahin could pick up the ball and serve it to Aubameyang.
In the aftermath, Dortmund managed to get behind Hertha’s second line frequently, which let the affair look fairly lopsided for some time. The only negativity that came out of the first half was due to the fact that Sokratis had to be substituted. After 30 minutes, the Greek defender was the first to go into the book following a heavy touch and a tactical foul he thought he had to commit.
Some ten minutes later, Dortmund’s captain signalled the coaching staff that he had to leave the pitch looking dizzy. Ömer Toprak came on and replaced the Greek, while Lukasz Piszczek wore the armband going forward.
After the interval, Dortmund remained in charge, with Hertha seemingly out of answers. The second BVB goal put the home team en route to victory. It was the 57th minute when Philipp’s shot inside the box following a cross was blocked and Sahin nailed a beautiful mid-range shot.
In the last 30 minutes, Hertha made an effort to close the gap. Roman Bürki even had to save a few shots and the balance shifted slightly. But, overall, the lead was never in danger. And Bosz enjoyed the luxury of bringing on Dahoud and Shinji Kagawa in the second half.
As mentioned above, matches against Hertha can turn into ugly affairs. Bosz’s team, however, was fresh and made it look easy during some phases of the game. Overall, it was a mature and crafty performance by the men in black and yellow.
Most of the players can now enjoy the international break without any national team commitments, which allows Bosz to work on the finer points of his concept. Tactically, there may be still some bumps ahead before the build-up is perfectly working, but the creativity in the final third has never been gone.
Yellow Wall Gameball: Nuri Sahin
The old man–he is only 28, but you could absolutely think he is five years older–is out there performing like a young playmaker god. Who thought Sahin could only sit and deliver long balls across the field should watch this match. He was all over the pitch, forcing counter-pressing, winning duels in the final third and scoring a tremendous and important goal.
An honourable mention belongs to Dan-Hulxel Zagadou