BVB, in their worst form of the season points-wise, must find a way to secure a crucial three points in Lower-Saxony and keep Bayern at an arm’s length.
In a span of two games, Borussia Dortmund has managed to squander a five-point lead in the Bundesliga and now sit level on points with hated Bayern München as we enter match day ten, only ahead due to goal differential. A 0:2 lead at Eintracht Frankfurt was thrown away late in the game last weekend as BVB let SGE draw level, dropping two points in the process. For Frankfurt it felt like a win, for Dortmund, it was more like a chilling defeat.
It is Peter Bosz’s responsibility as manager to fix these late-game mental breakdowns by the team. Perhaps Dortmund are not title-contenders and they simply over-achieved the first seven match days. Before the season started this was undeniably considered an “Übergangsjahr” (transitional season) for Die Schwarz-Gelben. Perhaps these last few games are who BVB really are. Whatever the case may be, if a side is truly aiming for silverware at the end of a season, then a match against a promoted side is just the type of scenario where points being dropped is not an option. Will the real Dortmund please stand up?
Here is a scary stat in the spirit of Halloween: Hannover 96 have only conceded three goals thus far from open play, all of which occurred during counter attacks. They lead the Bundesliga in that category. Meanwhile, Dortmund are the top performers in the league when it comes to goals scored from open play. Something has to give.
I have been admittedly jaded since the Freiburg match. The key to beating or stifling Dortmund is actually quite simple, ask Christian Streich. The Black and Yellows seemingly possess the ball for 3/4 of every match yet, can go on long periods of not being able to put the ball in the back of the net. BVB pass the ball endlessly among each other waiting for space to open up, looking for passing lanes in the opponents’ box, only to find ten parked defenders standing in their way, relentless and tightly compressed. If Hannover scores an early goal we should be very worried.
In order to survive in the Bundesliga after promotion, the first rule is: “Man muss defensiv sicher stehen,” you have to be defensively sound. Hannover has done that extraordinarily well. They have allowed the fewest goals in the Bundesliga so far this season (Bayern, BVB and Hannover have all conceded seven goals). A 1-0 deficit against Hannover 96 in the year 2017 can be deadly. The Dortmund midfield must be on their “A game” if the side is going to have a positive result at the end of the 90 minutes.
Something Peter Bosz will be aware of is the fact that Die 96er are highly susceptible to conceding goals from distance. Of the seven goals scored against them, almost half have come from outside of the box. While I would not expect to see Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang attempt anything more than his usual three-meter shot, I could certainly envision Maxi Philipp or Andrey Yarmolenko releasing a zinger from afar.
Two players to watch out for in particular as a Borussia Dortmund defender are Hannover’s Martin Harnik [Ed’s note: Harnik is probably out with illness] and Jonathas. The duo has been responsible for much of the Lower-Saxons’ offence up to this point with Harnik tied for the third-most goals in the Bundesliga this season (five) and Jonathas tied for second in assists (3).
The 96ers play with width and consistently attack down the right flank or up the middle. BVB centre-backs Sokratis and Dan-Axel Zagadou will need to display good communication and on-pitch awareness in order to limit Hannover’s chances, especially with Bosz’s love of playing with a high defensive line. Marc Bartra as the right back genuinely excites me after watching him play recently and of course, Marcel Schmelzer will be Dortmund’s anchor on the left.
If Dortmund’s three up front (Aubamayang, Philipp/Pulisic, and Yarmolenko) are to break through they must get past Hannover’s extremely disciplined defence led by Salif Sané and Waldemar Anton. Both players are ranked in the top ten in the league for total defensive challenges with Sané winning 70% and Anton 63%. More impressively though, Sané has won 79 out of 98 aerial challenges, placing him as one of the best in the Bundesliga in that discipline (81% won).
Momentum is damned-near everything in sports. Dortmund had it, and they lost it. Now they must regain it. Did they over-perform in the first seven weeks of the season? Perhaps. Many clubs get off to a great start only to start fading towards the end of the Hinrunde. Hannover 96 themselves have been guilty of this on more than one occasion in the past decade.
Another positive for BVB is that they are starting to get healthy. Mario Götze says he is back to 100% fitness, Julian Weigl is back, and Andre Schürrle and Raphael Guerreiro both made their returns in the mid-week 0-5 DFB-Pokal win in Magdeburg.
Dortmund do not need to over-complicate things. They simply need good communication, awareness, and always try to be in an advantageous position on the pitch, regardless of who has possession. If BVB play to their strengths then they are capable of beating any side in Europe. If things do not go their way in the first 45 minutes then Peter Bosz must make good tactical adjustments. His sometimes stubborn demeanour will only harm the squad on Saturday if they fall behind. Bosz knows what Hannover are going to do, they do not hide from it. The question is, will Dortmund be static and rely on the same old approach, or will they be a dynamic side that will tactically outmanoeuvre The Lower-Saxons, keeping them guessing and on their heels for 90 minutes? Let’s see who the real Dortmund is with their league lead on the line, and with Bayern visiting RB Leipzig. To me, this is a must-win game in every sense.
PREDICTION: Hannover 96 1-2 Borussia Dortmund
H96: Tschauner, Korb, Anton, S. Sané, Albornoz – Schwegler, Bakalorz – Bebou, Klaus – Harnik (?), Jonathas
Manager: Andre Breitenreiter
BVB: Bürki – Bartra, Sokratis, Zagadou, Schmelzer – Castro, Sahin, M. Götze – Yarmolenko, Aubameyang, Philipp
Manager: Peter Bosz