A 1:1 draw at Hoffenheim saw Borussia Dortmund relinquish the Bundesliga lead on Wednesday evening.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel opted to give two of his star performers of the season so far a breather, sitting both Ilkay Gündogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to start the game. Gonzalo Castro, with his first start in the league for the club, and the fully recovered Marco Reus took their places. In his pre-game interview with German broadcaster Sky, Tuchel forthcomingly made clear he was fully prepared to sub both midfielders on, however.
Without two of the team’s most important players in possession, Borussia struggled mightily to get things going. Passmaster Gündogan was missed in buildup, where a lot of vertical passes had the attacking players chase down low percentage balls. Mats Hummels seemed especially impatient in his buildup play and lost his team posession a bunch of times.
Defensively, BVB seemed to lack a bit of sharpness as well, often times allowing Hoffenheim to run at an exposed backline. Without putting too much pressure on Roman Bürki’s goal the hosts deserved their lead just before halftime. After winning the ball in midfield it was Chilean forward Eduardo Vargas who played a very tidy cutting ball just outside the reach of Marcel Schmelzer. Sebastian Rudy kept his cool in front of Bürki and slotted the ball in.
2nd half adjustments
Tuchel kept to his word and brought on Mkhitaryan to start the 2nd half, replacing Hofmann who had a forgettable evening.
Hoffenheim had the prime opportunity to effectively kill the game in the 51st minute, when Vargas intercepted a horrible backpass from Matthias Ginter and curled the ball onto the woodwork. A minute later Gündogan came on for Marco Reus who didn’t look his best after his injury timeout. Gündogan’s introduction allowed Castro to get into more advanced positions on the field where he looked more comfortable.
Both substitutions worked for Borussia. They looked much sharper, more composed on the ball and started creating goal scoring opportunities – the first of which was the equalizer.
A diagonally chipped pass by skipper Mats Hummels, staying true to the winning formula for BVB of late, found Castro. The 28-year-old showed impressive awareness, opting to let the ball bounce of his chest instead of attempting a header at goal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the recipient of Castro’s chest pass and drove the ball into the net from short-range. The Gabon international set a Bundesliga record with his goal: he’s the first player to score on each of the first six matchdays.
After the goal, Dortmund had Hoffenheim somewhat on the ropes but failed to create enough clear cut chances to score the winner. Castro had a shot saved by Oliver Baumann after a brilliant pass from Mkhitaryan, and the subbed on Adrian Ramos failed to really connect his weaker right foot with the ball after some fine work by Mkhitaryan and Gündogan with four minutes to go.
Borussia were robbed of the biggest goal scoring opportunity of them all in the 59th minute, when Hoffenheim defender Jeremy Toljan blocked a Castro cross with his arm. It has to be said, however, that the incident went largely unnoticed during the game. Even the TV broadcast didn’t pick it up until much later, with the first replay shown in the 80th minute. Be that as it may, it was an obvious penalty not given for some reason, so naturally there’s some grieve over a bad refereeing call possibly “ruining” Borussia’s perfect start to the season.
All in all, however, Hoffenheim probably did enough to deserve the point. They defended pretty well and had, without question, the man of the match on their side in Niklas Süle, who fended off countless attacks with great positioning and strength.
Borussia, meanwhile, overcame a bad 1st half with a reasonably satisfying 2nd one. The game goes to show that, even in a deep squad, some players just cannot be replaced.
16 points in six games still represent Dortmund’s best ever start to a Bundesliga campaign, so there’s no real reason to complain. You just can’t win ’em all.