As more injuries to star players mount, Borussia Dortmund still present a lineup that on paper, is a top-four Bundesliga side. The question remains: Can the damage done during the Bosz era be reversed?
Dortmund’s futility this season is one for the record books. They are the first Bundesliga side to go winless in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League while also becoming the worst third-placed team in the history of the competition. And yet somehow, APOEL were worse, even with being level on points. Translation: Borussia Dortmund will play European football in the spring of 2018 albeit in the Europa League. This accomplishment is both depressing and impressive.
Cast all of that aside. Visiting the Westfalenstadion on Saturday are the 17th-placed side in the Bundesliga, the once proud multi-time German champions, Werder Bremen. Bremen’s only two wins of the season have come in the previous three matches. Why, you ask? There is only one answer to that question and it is simple: Max Kruse.
Max Kruse has scored almost as many goals by himself in a span of three matches as the rest of Bremen’s roster scored in eleven. (Kruse-4, Bremen-5). This includes a wonderful hat trick performance in a 4-0 win against Hannover 96. Kruse also elevates the play of his teammates, Fin Bartels in particular. Bartels has looked like a different player since the return of Kruse last month.
Bremen’s 2016-17 “Rückrunde Wunderspieler” Thomas Delaney has taken a step back this season in his play. With Kruse back on the pitch expect him to also resurface as a reliable Bundesliga player.
Bremen’s defence has performed slightly better than in years past, but is still barely worthy of German top-flight status. If BVB were able to score four goals against “Die Blauen” then it would be of little surprise to anyone if we were to a see a similar effort from The Black and Yellows on the weekend.
Bremen could line up in their preferred 3-1-4-2 formation and will undoubtedly be heavily reliant upon the goal-scoring ability of Max Kruse. That being said, it should make Dortmund’s job in defence quite simple: Key in on Max Kruse. For a BVB back line under immense pressure to turn their form around, this could be a task easier said than done.
Bremen’s style of play includes playing with width, attacking down the right wing and taking a lot of shots. With many shots also comes just as many missed chances for this side. Bremen are one of the worst in the league at chance conversion. They excel at dispossessing their opponents, though, very little tends to come from it. Werder struggles to defend against shots from distance and their defenders can be easily overwhelmed by players with great ball skills. This side, although maintaining a consistent starting XI with little rotation, can become easily frustrated and disorganized. This allows the opponents to have their fair share of chances at catching Bremen off-guard with a quick counter-attack.
That being said, Werder Bremen may be the perfect opponent for BVB at this time. As a result of many injuries and a lengthy poor run of form, Peter Bosz, notorious for his stubborn ways from a tactical approach, finally switched from the failed classic Dutch 4-3-3 formation to a 3-4-3, giving Die Borussen a numerical advantage in midfield. Though the results have been mixed, it does appear that Bosz’s players have responded to it positively overall.
The issue for Dortmund now appears to be more of “who is available to play” rather than “how are they performing.” In addition to Marco Reus and Lukasz Piszczek, Mario Götze, Gonzalo Castro, and Maxi Philipp have all been hit with injuries. Philipp could be out for the rest of the season while Götze and Castro could be back around the start of the Rückrunde.
Sokratis and Marcel Schmelzer have both looked out-of-form for much of this season. Dan-Axel Zagadou appears to have lost the confidence of Peter Bosz at centre-back, and with rightful cause. The young Frenchman has played poorly in recent weeks. Marc Bartra is being asked to play out of position and Raphael Guerreiro will again start in midfield as opposed to displacing Schmelzer at left-back. In other words, Dortmund has few options at the moment in both their back line and in midfield as Peter Bosz will have to play the best players who are available.
The individual quality of Dortmund should overwhelm Bremen as Christian Pulisic, Andriy Yarmolenko, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co. should maneuver their way through the Bremen defence with relative ease. If BVB can manufacture two goals at the Bernabeu then there is absolutely no reason why they cannot do the same at home against a relegation candidate. Expect both sides to showcase an aggressive approach in attack, though, if Bremen has paid attention this season, they will have seen that it is much easier to defeat Dortmund by parking the bus and launching quick counters.
In what may come as a surprise, I am predicting Borussia Dortmund’s first league win in over two months. Despite Bremen’s recent success (having won two of their previous three matches) even the most pessimistic of BVB analysts will find it hard not to predict a victory for the home side, especially against an opponent that lives and dies by one player. If Dortmund lose at home to Werder Bremen then they may as well cancel the season until further notice. This is a massive opportunity to restore some confidence in a side that desperately needs it.
Peter Bosz’s new-found love for the 3-4-3 and his players’ effectiveness on the wings will provide enough of an advantage for the side to celebrate their first league victory in over two months. Expect a flurry of goals and perhaps even a lead change or two. In the end, BVB simply have too much firepower, even with a depleted roster. In a match that will likely lack any and all defending, Borussia Dortmund will outscore and outlast Werder Bremen.
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Werder Bremen
BVB: Bürki – Sokratis, Subotic, Schmelzer – Pulisic, Weigl, Sahin, Guerreiro – Yarmolenko, Aubameyang, Schürrle
Manager: Peter Bosz
BRE: Pavlenka – Gebre Selassie, Veljkovic, Moisander, Augustinsson – Bargfrede – Eggestein, Delaney – Bartels, Junuzovic – Kruse
Manager: Florian Kohfeldt