When commitment is not quite enough: three takeaways from Borussia Dortmund v FC Bayern
In what was a thrilling encounter at the Signal Iduna Park, the Bavarians were on top for long spells, but were undone by two sucker punches in the second-half.
In the ongoing debate about Bayern’s regression in recent weeks, some commentators – including myself – have cast their eyes on some of the players. For all of the growing media hysteria, there has been a corresponding lack of commitment on the pitch.
Despite the final result, this evening’s performance in Dortmund appears to have reset the benchmark. There was a real uptick in the team’s passion and desire, and for the first hour it really looked as though Die Roten were going to claim all three points.
It was not quite enough in the end, but everybody was willing to put their hands to the pump. The most infuriating thing is that if this Bayern team had showed the same level of commitment in less high-profile matches, we would not be in this position right now.
This comes with one obvious caveat. Despite my continued support for Niko Kovač, he was clearly outfoxed by his counterpart Lucien Favre as the contest started to heat up. Mats Hummels was allowed to remain on the pitch for far too long, and there is no obvious reason why James Rodríguez was left warming the bench.
Bayern’s defensive frailty has been an issue for a long while now, and Dortmund would take full toll tonight in a frenzied second half. This is something that will always be difficult for any coach to fix. If a player cannot keep up, they cannot keep up.
Yes, there was plenty of commitment. But it is also clear that a number of the Bavarian back line are no longer up to the task, especially against a team blessed with pace and movement like Dortmund.
Hummels was continually found wanting, and was an increasing liability as the match went on. Even when he was on the ball, one sensed that a mistake was around the corner. It is not what one expects of a world-class centre-back. Hummels was subbed out after 65 minutes, but by that time the momentum was already with the home side.
Dortmund’s winning goal was symptomatic of Bayern’s weakness at the back. When Axel Witsel found Paco Alcácer in acres of space, Jérôme Boateng was nowhere to be seen and Javi Martínez had nothing left in the tank.
I will be honest here. In recent weeks, Franck Ribéry has been beyond awful. Some of his displays have left plenty to be desired. But today, with Bavarian backs against the wall, he came to the party.
The Frenchman was all over the pitch today. He initiated attacks and created opportunities, and had one excellent effort that forced Dortmund ‘keeper Marwin Hitz into making an excellent save.
Even more notable was his defensive shift, where he went beyond the call of duty. When the team started to wilt late in the second half, Ribéry maintained his high work rate. Even right at the end, he was there at the back to take the ball away from Alcácer when Manuel Neuer was stuck in the opposition half.
The downside of this story was that the 35-year-old showed up a number of his younger colleagues. Overall, there was a lot more commitment from the team. But not quite enough to make up for the defensive frailty and an inspired opponent.
If Ribéry continues to throw himself into the fray in this fashion, there is no reason why he cannot keep going. On this showing, he still has plenty to offer. If he wants to.