Thursday’s game at PAOK Saloniki followed a script all too familiar for Borussia Dortmund, as the team had to scramble for a draw after going down 1:0 for the third game in a row.
Thomas Tuchel opted for a whopping eight changes from Sunday’s draw against Darmstadt. As we wrote earlier, Hummels, Sokratis, Gündogan, Kagawa and Aubameyang got to stay at home as Tuchel gave them a rest (turns out Aubameyang suffers from a cold as well). Only Mkhitaryan, Weigl and Reus kept their spots in the starting 11.
Despite Aubameyang’s absence, Tuchel decided not to give Adrian Ramos a first start of the campaign. Adnan Januzaj and Maro Reus took turns in the position up front. Behind the de-facto striker, Henrikh Mkhitaryan played in the no. 10 role, with Hofmann and one of Reus and Januzaj to his flanks. Gonzalo Castro and Julian Weigl formed the double pivot.
The entire defence was changed from Sunday, with Lukasz Piszczek returning to the starting lineup after his muscle injury suffered on international duty a month ago, and Neven Subotic returning from back problems. Park Joo-ho gave Marcel Schmelzer a breather on the left and Sven Bender got a rare start at centerback, a position he seems more comfortable with in Tuchel’s “new” BVB.
Roman Weidenfeller was in goal as per usual in the Europa League.
Good start and a goal out of the blue (stop if you’ve heard that before)
Dortmund started the game well enough, with lots of possession and absolute control over the very defensive minded hosts, who built a wall in front of their goal, often shaping up in a 5-3-2 formation.
Despite a positive start, where Gonzalo Castro looked best for Borussia, the team failed to create meaningful chances. Jonas Hofmann saw a shot from range go just above the crossbar after just two minutes, and Hofmann’s low cross was defended brilliantly by former Wolfsburg centerback Ricardo Costa (with an assist from the lousy pitch that gave the ball a good wobble) just before Marco Reus would’ve reached it.
After 34 minutes, it was PAOK who got on the scoresheet first, with their first effort in Dortmund’s half. Neven Subotic made a wrong split-second decision when he tried to play former Nürnberg forward Robert Mak offside which left the Slovakian an open run at Weidenfeller’s goal. Mak smashed it under the crossbar, making it the 7th time Borussia have gone behind this season.
Lucky equalizer jumpstarts unlucky final charge
Dortmund didn’t look like the goal affected them mutch. They still controlled the opponent for the most part, although PAOK looked somewhat dangerous whenever they actually tried to go forward. Borussia just suffered from a lack of ideas and subsequently chances to go level.
The game changed for the better when Schmelzer and Ramos were subbed on in the 65th minute. Schmelzer looked especially lively and gave the team a lift as he positioned himself much higher on the pitch than Park, who replaced Weigl in defensive midfield from then on.
Schmelzer assisted the equalizer scored by Gonzalo Castro seven minutes later, although not even Castro himself will claim he actually tried to score there. He tried to play a ball to Hofmann who didn’t touch the ball as it wobbled into the net. PAOK’s keeper Olsen didn’t cover himself in glory in the situation, as a misunderstanding with one of his defenders made him look rather silly.
The goal was the starting point of a much more decisive final period of the game from Dortmund’s point of view. A Schmelzer cross, deflected by a PAOK defender, forced Olsen to his best parry of the game in 86th minute. Two minutes later Park almost recreated his last minute magic from the game versus Krasnodar, as his low driving shot was just a whisker away from being another match-winner.
In the end, a 1:1 draw away from home was probably a fair result, as PAOK defended well enough and Dortmund were just not good enough between the 30th and 70th minute or so. There were some encouraging performances, namely from Castro and Bender, and some rather disconcerting ones. Marco Reus and Neven Subotic had an especially rough night. Reus’ spot for the clash against Bayern München on Sunday should be in real jeopardy if this game is anything to go by.
With the point won in Greece, Dortmund lead group C ahead of FC Krasnodar. With two games against Qäbälä on the horizon, they are in very good shape to win the group.
Considering all the changes made in the name of “Belastungssteuerung”, that’s really all you could ask for.