Borussia Dortmund 3 – 1 Hamburg – Defending Champions kick start new season in style

It is Shark Week after all but not only on the Discovery channel, also in the Bundesliga.  Like a great white, Borussia Dortmund mauled their way to their first three points of the season at the expense of the newly renovated Hamburg.  Jürgen Klopp’s men were the dominant side in a richly deserved 3-1 win and put on a performance that signals a serious title defense to the rest of the league.  Their opponents meanwhile always looked second best and never got into full gear, always chasing the yellow and black ghost that eluded them for 90 minutes.

Dortmund were without Schmelzer, Barrios and Subotic, all three key players in their championship winning side last season but Klopp’s men did not miss a beat and bulldozed over Hamburg like a tank over a flower bed.  Löwe, Santana and Lewandowski deputized well and Dortmund’s high energy pressing and passing game made mince meat of a Hamburg side that is still being molded by coach Michael Oenning.  Hamburg already lost to Dortmund in a pre-season match and went into this game without Korean talent Son and a Guerrero who still did not look 100% match fit.

How both sides lined up with emphasis on Dortmund player key movements.

First Half – Dortmund strangle Hamburg

From the kickoff, Dortmund were all over Hamburg and barely allowed them time and space to breathe.  Dortmund’s relentless attacking with the ball and pressing without it overwhelmed their opponents for most of the half.  Hamburg looked disorganized and disoriented but that was in large part to Dortmund’s dizzying runs and passing, which ensured that Hamburg struggled to adequately cope defensively or possess the ball enough to launch their own attacks.

At the heart of Dortmund’s superb first half performance was the prodigious Mario Götze, who despite starting on the right, was all over the pitch. Götze was at the heart of most of Dortmund’s attacks and was the key link up player on the pitch.  His natural inclination is to play a more central role and due to Piszczek’s great ability to cover ground down the right flank, Götze enjoyed the freedom to cut in whenever he wanted.  He did just that on Dortmund’s first goal when Götze collected the ball in the middle and laid it off to an oncoming Grosskreutz on the left.  Hamburg’s defense had been caught sleeping with Diekmeier’s advanced positioning allowing Grosskreutz to be left unmarked.  That said, the goal was also testimony to Dortmund’s blistering counter attacking ability, barely leaving a second for the opponent to recover lost space.

Götze's variety of passing in the first half, he was everywhere.

Dortmund’s silky smooth football ballet continued and Götze’s eye for unlocking backlines caused Hamburg further headaches, almost setting up Kagawa for the second but the Japanese playmaker was unlucky to hit the post.  The inevitable happened though and Dortmund doubled their lead.  A brilliant combination play between Gündogan, Götze, Lewandowski and Götze again left supporters and pundits marveling at the confidence and fluidity of Dortmund’s game.  Lewaondowski’s back heel assist and Götze’s cool finish put a gap the size of the Grand Canyon between Dortmund and Hamburg going into half time.  Götze and Gündogan had two additional chances before the break but could not put them away.  It was a marvelous display of football from the defending champions.

Second Half – Hamburg’s problems and Dortmund’s defensive playmakers

Dortmund picked up where they left off in the first half.  Their relentless running continued to pile the pressure on Hamburg and kept them deep inside their own half.  Oenning brought in Jansen at half time to add another attacking option but the real problem for Hamburg was the inability to get out of their own half. It is easy to categorize this as a poor Hamburg performance but the reality is that Dortmund were so effective and executed their game plan so well that it was nearly impossible for Hamburg to get into the game.  That was evident in how isolated Hamburg’s strikers were. Petric touched the ball less than any other Hamburg player.  The busiest players were, you guessed it, Hamburg’s backline who had a total of 210 touches compared to their front four with 130.

Three minutes into the second half Götze combined with Kagawa to set up Grosskreutz for his second and Dortmund’s third. The tempo slowed a bit after Dortmund went up 3-0 but they were still seeing the majority of the ball and kept creating chances, albeit at a less frantic level.   Tesche came on for Kacar around the 70 minute mark and pulled one back after a scramble in the box.  The goal livened Hamburg up a bit but by then the game had been all but won.

Hummels and Santana's long ball distribution from the back.

Another feature of Dortmund’s play and an important element of their win was the backline’s part in their attacking game.  Aside the attacking responsibilities held by the fullbacks, Santana and Hummels are tasked with initiating plays and counter attacks as soon as they receive the ball, often bypassing the midfield and catching the opponent off guard.  Interestingly enough, Hummels and Santana had more touches on the ball than any other Dortmund players, and by a pretty large margin as well.  The center back as the de facto playmaker also allows the midfield to exert more pressure on the opponent and push them further back.  Santana and Hummels completed 88 and 74 passes respectively at a 90% and 84% accuracy rate.  Rather than looking at this as a long ball tactic, it should be considered as first line playmaking and additional option in Klopp’s arsenal of attacking options.  Of course, this requires players with precise passing ability and in Santana and Hummels, Dortmund have two of the best in the league.

Conclusion – Dortmund wins all the important battles

Jürgen Klopp and his side did not seem phased by the summer break whatsoever.  Simply put, Dortmund outplayed Hamburg in every important area.  Dortmund outpassed Hamburg (420 to 210 passes), outshot (16 shots to 7) and were less error prone.  Nearly 24% of Hamburg’s passes went astray and they had over 200 less touches on the ball than Dortmund, statistics that rarely if ever lend themselves to a good performance or result.  It was a rude awakening but also somewhat of an anomaly as few sides in the league will play with the intensity or unity of Dortmund.

Götze’s Man of the Match performance was always going to be hard to match but the loss does not reflect Hamburg’s campaign from here on out.  A lot of work is ahead of Oenning and one could claim they were unlucky to be paired with Dortmund on the opening day. He certainly has a sizable squad to work with the and the influx of young talent provides a good foundation.  The most important thing will be how he manages to motivate the players after a loss like this.

Graphics courtesy of

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari


  1. mario goetzes variety of passing and the distribution from hummels is incredible. viva la bundesliga!

  2. Cheers Samuel! I hope Dortmund keep this up, I really do. For the sake of the game and the Bundesliga.

  3. Thanks Gerry. Although I don’t think anything will get die hard Schalke fans to like Dortmund, even if they turn into the next Barca.

  4. Tim, Son got ill not too long before the match. Bit of a bug going around it seems. Butt and Neuer also apparently caught it and didn’t train yesterday.

  5. It’s of course very early days, but Dortmund looks like it has what it takes to prevail against the new and improved Bayern in the championship race.

    Makes me a whole lot more confident about bucking conventional wisdom and predicting a BvB title over a Bayern title. Though, conventional wisdom might be rapidly changing after such a grand opening game.

    I do hope Dortmund will make it farther as well than last season when it comes to Europe and the DFB-Pokal. Surely they can’t be as unlucky as they were last season?!

  6. Great analysis Cristian. Just a small detail, I think the one who setup Kagawa’s chance which result in hitting the post was Piszczek not Gotze.
    I am looking forward to read your future analysis, this site is rock.

  7. Thanks Cris..thoroughly enjoyed reading it.Like it or not, the fact is BVB are on to keep blowing us away with super-performances like tonight.

  8. Cris, your recap of today’s match is as brilliant as Dortmund’s play. How can anyone except the most die-hard Schalke fan not love this team, their style of play, their teamwork, fluidity, elegance and pace. And another thing I love — the Dortmund players get bumped and shoved but keep their feet even while in or near the box….I guess they know they are so good they don’t need to dive to get a PK or FK.

    All of us who have waited for the season to begin received a Grade A treat today. And I loved Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen doing the commentary for GolTV in the U.S. The only negative about the contest is that we still have no clue about the quality of the Hamburg side — I don’t think there are a handful of teams on the planet who could have had a chance against Jurgen Klopp’s BvB club today. Absolutely brilliant performance.

  9. Cristian – Was Son injured last weekend? The kid was on a tear during pre-season. I’m getting ready to watch the replay.

  10. worries about Dortmund without Sahin and Barrios? not a chance! wonderful display against a decent mid-level Bundesliga side. I know it’s only game one, but…

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