For the first time in a long time, I am writing a preview after a … say it with me: “Borussia Dortmund … victory.” Yes, I know that word seems foreign at this point, but there is no motivator in the Bundesliga quite like a managerial change.
With the bodies piling up due to injuries and their backs firmly against the wall after a drop in the league table from first to eighth place in a span of only two months, Die Schwarz-Gelben were able to pull off a satisfying 2-0 road victory at Mainz on Tuesday. Why? Plain and simple, Peter Stöger was on the Dortmund touchline and NOT Peter Bosz.
Stöger is a fantastic hire and was my first choice this past summer to be honest, even ahead of Lucien Favre. Peter Bosz was admittedly, never on my radar. What Stöger lacks in offensive creativity or tactical genius, he more than makes up for with his pin-point organizational skills and ability to keep calm in the most intense situations.
Let us not forget, the historic chaos club known simply as “Der Effzeh” qualified for their first European competition in a quarter century last season thanks in large part to Peter Stöger. If Stöger can do this with Köln, let’s imagine what he can do with a far more talented BVB roster.
We already saw the “Stöger effect” in full force last week as Julian Weigl finally looked like the player we were used to seeing under Thomas Tuchel. Having completed 96% of his passes, Weigl seems to have immediately found extreme comfort at his position within Stöger’s tactical approach.
Much like Köln last season, Dortmund did not always look pretty in Tuesday’s win. However, when was the last time BVB held a clean sheet? Exactly. The Stöger concept works and while it may not always be the most attractive football on the planet, what matters most at the end of the day is the three points. Give me the full allotment of points and ugly football any day over the “highly entertaining” 4-4 “draw” Dortmund suffered in the Revierderby a few weeks ago.
Julian Nagelsmann and his Hoffenheim side, after being soundly knocked out of the UEFA Europa League, have been inconsistent in the Bundesliga the past few weeks as well. They defeated second-placed RB Leipzig 4-0 but also have defeats against Hamburg and Hannover in that same time span. Even with this, they are still very much alive in the race for a Champions League spot as the parity of the Bundesliga has clearly been on display this season.
Where Dortmund excels on offence, Hoffenheim is weak at defending. Nagelsmann’s lads are poor at preventing the opposition from creating chances as well as defending the wings and against set pieces. That being said, their biggest weakness may in fact be the individual qualities of their defenders as it pertains to stopping opposing players who are skilled with the ball.
Hoffenheim has most often used a 3-1-4-2 formation with forwards Mark Uth and Sandro Wagner leading the attack. Wagner does not concern me because, well, its Sandro Wagner, but Mark Uth is a talented player who needs to be on the radar of the highly-vulnerable Dortmund back line.
Nagelsmann likes to instruct his players to attack down the middle or on the left wing using primarily short passes. Hoffenheim excels at creating chances through their attackers’ individual skills, but can also be deadly from long distance.
One reason I believe Hoffenheim is perhaps slightly weaker this season over last is the poaching of star players Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Süle by the evil empire known simply as FC Bayern. Regardless, Nagelsmann still has his team right outside of the Champions League places and one spot ahead of Dortmund, just as they were for much of last season. To say this is a huge match would be an understatement.
This will be Peter Stöger’s first home match as Borussia Dortmund manager and he should receive a healthy ovation in front of the yellow wall. As far as how he will approach the match, expect much of the same as we saw in Mainz. He will likely opt for a 4-1-2-3 (which will simply be a variation of a 4-3-3 with CDM Julian Weigl simply playing deeper) with much of the same personnel as was seen earlier in the week.
Look for a more conservative approach by Stöger to that of his predecessor Peter Bosz. A deeper playing back line accompanied by a rejuvenated Julian Weigl will be aiming for consecutive clean sheets to close out the Hinrunde.
Midfield magician Mario Götze will not be available until after the winter break so expect to see Shinji Kagawa back in an attacking midfield role alongside the dangerous Raphael Guerreiro.
Spear-heading the Dortmund attack will again be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Christian Pulisic on the wings.
Stöger brings a calmness and organization to Dortmund that was severely lacking under Peter Bosz. BVB were starting to resemble recent Schalke sides who would resort to panic at the first site of poor form. What Stöger has been able to do is quietly press the reset button on the entire season, and the squad responded well to that this week. It remains to be seen if this continues.
Both Hoffenheim and Dortmund have much to play for. Momentum heading into the winter break as well as positioning in the table are some of the key motivators. Expect a competitive match with BVB again having most of the possession. Each side will have double-digit shots, however, much like in the match against Mainz, it is the quality of those shots that will matter most. Despite having 13 shot attempts, Mainz were unable to place a single one of those on goal, while Dortmund placed six on target, netting two. A concern remains the stamina of The Black and Yellows as they seem to lose steam in the final third of the match.
Ultimately I envision Peter Stöger making it a perfect two for two and winning his first match as BVB manger at the Westfalenstadion. It may not be pretty, but three points are three points. Dortmund outlast Hoffenheim to close out the Hinrunde in style.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 2-1 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
BVB: Bürki – Toljan, Sokratis, Toprak, Schmelzer – Weigl – Guerreiro, Kagawa – Yarmolenko, Pulisic – Aubameyang
Manager: Peter Stöger
TSG: Baumann – Posch, Vogt, Hübner – Kaderabek, Zuber – Grillitsch – Demirbay, Amiri, Kramaric, Gnabry
Manger: Julian Nagelsmann