Preview: Borussia Dortmund – FC Bayern München

This weekend, the two best teams in the league will play against each other. On Wednesday night Bayern lost for their first home game of the season, while Dortmund won in Darmstadt and so the gap between them narrowed down to just five points. If the record champion loses in Dortmund, BVB would definitively back in the game for the league title. Author: Justin • Translator:

We again collected the most important statistics, analyzed the opponent and made five “bold predictions” for the game. We want to start with an interview. Our guest is Luca (@luc_bvb) of Yellowwallpod fame.

Hello Luca, first, tell us a bit about yourself and your club. How did you become a fan of Borussia Dortmund and what fascinates you today at BVB?

To become a fan of Borussia Dortmund was more or less a conscious decision. As conscious as a decision with eight can be. At that time (2001), I got increasingly interested in football and a certain Tomas Rosicky played for Borussia. I could not escape his magic and a little while later that feeling transferred to the entire team.

Since the time of Jürgen Klopp and now under Thomas Tuchel it was the style of football that fascinated me most about the BVB. What has kept me going during the less appealing years? Most of all the impressive stadium, including the fans, and probably a certain stubbornness about my initial decision.

Nowadays, the admiration for the Westfalenstadion has not diminished, but this aspect became less important to me, as the feeling grew that there is a certain contentmend now. Today, football itself is what interests me the most.

The season could hardly play out better for you. Did you expect such a performance before the season? Does it frustrate you that Bayern are still a better, or are you just happy?

No, for me a performance increase of this magnitude, and especially in the game with the ball, was not to be expected. I had a high opinion about Tuchel’s work in Mainz and also did not share the concerns that Tuchel would probably not fit in characterwise in Dortmund. Seeing how helpless BVB was 2014/15 in the game with the ball, this development was not to be expected. The joy of the Dortmund performance is definitely in the foreground. Before the season started I had not even remotely expected that we would be the leading team in the pack that follow after Bayern, let alone being a direct rival for them. Of course it is a fact that this Dortmund season would have been sufficient in many other seasons for more than just a second place. It’s annoying that this is not the case this year, but Dortmund has their share of it. Losing big against Bayern and one or two unnecessary draws and defeats – that’s simply not enough to compete with the current Bayern team.

The superiority of Bayern is frustrating indeed, even for the situation of the league, but I am well aware, that a lot of good decisions were necessary for it. For me, it makes it easier to accept and respect, despite all financial odds.

Thomas Tuchel stands for possession football. Under Jürgen Klopp BVB has not only practiced the “Umschaltspiel”, but has set new standards in Germany. Which style do you like better personally and why?

I would not make a strict separation. It is true that Tuchel has taught Dortmundern a clear plan for possession, however, if it is necessary he is also very pragmatic and willing to give away the majority of ball control to the opponent. The path towards a more controlled possession game and away from Klopp’s “full throttle football” is of course still clearly evident.

I find it hard to choose one of the two styles. I like both good “Umschaltfußball”, and good possession football. It only has to be good. I nevertheless try to answer the question. The absolute heights were under Klopp and his idea of football. For example, the 5-2 against Bayern, 4-1 against Madrid or 2-0 against Madrid with Manuel Friedrich, Milos Jojic and Oliver Kirch. These games are unmatched by Tuchel (yet?), but his game idea, however, is more suitable for the current Bundesliga. In this league that is so obsessed with pressing and “Umschaltspiel” it helps to have a clear plan in possession. One could summarize by saying that on average I like the football under Tuchel better, but the heights under Klopp are still unmatched.

Tuchel’s game style is very similar to Guardiola. Where do you see differences between the two philosophies?

That’s difficult. Perhaps Tuchel is more pragmatic and more willing to give up control over possession, but also Guardiola has already done that – even against Dortmund. It also looks like Guardiola has partially adapted to the “German virtues”. The difference here is probably smaller than you think. It is quite obvious that Tuchel has been inspired in some aspects by Guardiola. The differences seem marginal and are also dependent on the available player material. Tuchel prefers full-backs that give the game width and inverse wingers and with Guardiola’s Bayern it looks more the other way around. To me Guardiola’s biggest advantage over Tuchel are the adjustments during the game. However, that could be no question of philosophy but simply quality and possibly even experience.

Probably the greatest weakness of the BVB is it’s defence. Tuchel has to deal with similar problems as Guardiola in his first two years at Bayern. Is the sometimes inadequate protection against counter attacks based on the individual quality, or do see team tactical problems?

In the first half of the season that was clearly true, but in the second half it looks somewhat different. In seven out of ten games BVB keept a clean sheet. On the other hand the offensive was a bit impaired recently. The reason for this development is also part of the answer to your question: Tuchel tinkered with the system. The biggest problem in the first half of the season was that both full-backs pushed up extraordinarily high and wide and so enormously large spaces on the wings were created when possession was lost. Already during the first season half, the two full-backs were positioned deeper, but now there is often a new solution to be seen. In possession the right full-back (Piszczek) remains quite deep and forms a back three with the central defenders. The left central defender (usually Hummels) pushes far to the left. By this measure, the vulnerability against counter attacks on the wings has decreased, however, the distances in the offensive play are not as clean and it is easier to isolate the wingers. Especially the not overly pressing resistant Piszczek has to suffer and was especially “exposed” against Hoffenheim.

It seems as if the main reasons for the defensive vulnerability were tactically justified. On the other hand the bad form of Hummels was no help either. These problems now seem to belong to the past, unfortunately at the expense of offensive firepower, which was especially focused on the full-backs.

The first leg went pretty clearly to the FC Bayern. How large and especially in which areas do you see the distance between the two teams on a purely sporting level, and are you confident that you can continue to close these gaps in the near future?

Based on the teams in top form and with an uninjured squad, I see Bayern’s first XI a little bit ahead and incorporating the squads depths even a little bit more. The five points correspond to the distance I roughly estimated. A problem with the “fight” against Bayern is that they have not only assembled the best squad , but that they also work with the best trainer. Thus, it is difficult to close the gaps in any category. There remains the hope that perhaps a small window will open up under Ancelotti, but the loss of quality from Guardiola to Ancelotti is as low as possible. Dortmund’s future depends on the future of some key players.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the game against Hertha BSC  (picture: ODD ANDERSEN / AFP / Getty Images)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the game against Hertha BSC

(picture: ODD ANDERSEN / AFP / Getty Images)

You already mentioned it. Aubameyang, Hummels, Mkhitaryan and Gündogan are currently BVB’s four most important players. Would you agree with me? Please describe what makes these four players each so special and how confident are you that they also play for the BVB next season?

I would probably agree, but I would actually reverse the ranking. I also would like to put Schmelzer on a similar level, who unfortunately was injured in the first leg against Bayern.

Aubameyang distinguishes an incredible athleticism and clever movements and since he has discovered the lob for himself, his efficiency in front of the goal increased. He is not as complete as a striker as Lewandowski was for Dortmund, but his great strengths make it very difficult to defend him. He has a contract until 2020 and will almost certainly continue to play for Dortmund.

Hummels finally got back in form in the second half of the season and gives the team a lot of stability, offensively and defensively. Defensively his game is very risky, which sometimes also falls back on him when he is not in form. Currently, however, it is a pleasure to watch him early intercept ball after ball and then instantly follow up with a forward action. He is Dortmund’s first point guard and one of the most creative defenders. Hummels’ contract expires in 2017. If he does not extend, probably a sale is coming up. Hummels faces a fundamental decision: End of carrer in Dortmund or another experience abroad. He would like to play eight years in Dortmund, but also four years abroad, he said recently. A decision should be made soon and I have a good feeling it will be a contract extension.

In my opinion, the second most important player of the team is Mkhitaryan. The Armene combines athleticism, game understanding and technique as very few players. He knows how to create connections on the pitch and his diagonal runs with the ball are highly unstoppable. Mkhitaryan recently commented quite offensively about a contract renewal. He hopes Tuchel can convince him to stay and good negotiations are already ongoing. This indicates a contract extension and long-term stay at the club.

Finally Gündogan, probably the most important player in Dortmund’s squad. Gündogan combines tremendous quality in tight spaces with good defensive instincts and outstanding strategic skills. Players like him are very, very rare. Gündogan’s chances for a contract extension are probably the worst. Since the contract expires in 2017, you probably will have to let him leave this summer. A contract extension would be a surprise.

Especially Mkhitaryan has made a great leap forward under Tuchel. Is the possession game more to his likint than the “Umschaltspiel” of Klopp? Where do you see the reasons?

I see Mkhitaryans jump mainly in the scorer values. Creatively he was already similarly strong under Klopp, except for a period of weakness in the last season. At the end of last season (since the German Cup semi-final) Mkhitaryan was already getting stronger and stronger under Klopp. Under Tuchel he no longer has to accomplish many tasks and can focus more on his strengths in the last third. Under Klopp he “concurrently” tried to link defense and midfield, and midfield and attack, and in the end even tried to score it himself. With these changes and his improved confidence his development is probably explained best.

What’s the final score and where do you see big opportunities for the BVB? Can Dortmund celebrate on or even several titles at the end of the season? Where do you see your team at the end of the season in each competition?

After Bayern’s surprising defeat against Mainz and his own victory in Darmstadt, BVB will have some tailwind and the Westfalenstadion will provide an electrifying atmosphere again. A top game in which a lot is at stake. Incredible!

In the first leg Guardiola’s adaptations and enormous effectiveness secured the victory for Bayern. If Bayern will show a performance like in the first 60 minutes against Juventus, it will be very difficult for Dortmund. I see a chance that for the game probably all players will be available and that with Sahin another pressing resisant ball handler will be available. If Dortmund can constantly get out of Munich’s pressing and put Mkhitaryan and Co. in dangerous areas, it is difficult even for Bayern. However, I lack a little imagination for this scenario, so I’m going for a 2-1 for Bayern.

The largest title chance is probably in the Europe League, where they now compete against tournament favorites Tottenham. If BVB advances to the next round and it will be completely clear that Bayern wins the league title, I see good chances for the European title. I a little more pessimistic regarding a Cup victory. Firstly, in recent years and in Berlin and against Hertha we had enormous difficulties and secondly, we probably have to beat Bayern along the way to the trophy. So I predict at best one title, and that will most likely be the Europe League.

On the second page follows a preview, key statistics and five “bold predictions” to the game.



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