Both sides came into this match on the back of their first loss in the new campaign. Dortmund were downed by what has become their “bogey side”, Hoffenheim, while Nürnberg lost to the surging Hannover at home despite outperforming their opponent. Both looked to this match as a way to bounce back after what could easily be considered unnecessary and unexpected losses last weekend. The home side were still without first choice striker Lucas Barrios, relying on Lewandowski to deputize in his absence, but they did welcome back Marcel Schmelzer and Neven Subotic for the first time this season. The near record winning backline from last season was complete again. The rest of the line up remained the same.
Dieter Hecking’s Nürnberg meanwhile were still facing questions about how they would adapt in light of key departures over the summer. Could they cope with the losses of key players like Gündogan, who lined up against his former team today ironically enough, Ekici and Schieber, or will they struggle after last season’s impressive campaign? Veteran goalkeeper and captain Raphael Schäfer underwent surgery on Friday and will be sidelined for up to two months, paving the way for the 18-year old Patrick Rakovsky to start his first match. Hecking also replaced Mak and Esswein with Hegelar and Eigler after last week’s loss.
Dortmund lost to Nürnberg only once in their last 22 meetings (back in 2007) and kept a clean sheet in four of their last five encounters. In addition, Dortmund went into this match unbeaten at home in the last 17 matches, more than any other Bundesliga side, a good omen if anything. The last time Nürnberg managed a win in Dortmund was over 20 yeas ago so Hecking and his men had it all to do.
1st Half – Nürnberg make it hard for Dortmund to settle
The first half was surprisingly subdued, especially considering that both sides commit to a high energy brand of attacking football. Hecking set out more cautiously than usual, and understandably so given he was up against one of the league’s mot potent attacks. The strength of Nürnberg’s 4-1-4-1 formation is precisely its flexibility and ability to adapt quickly in and out of possession. The third band of players (the four behind the striker) dropped back alongside the anchor Simons to cut out any channels that Dortmund looked to exploit in this match. The tactic worked and it took Klopp’s players a good 25 minutes to get into the game. Götze and Grosskreutz had chances early on but none on target, Wollscheid and Simons equal to anything that the defending champions produced.
Rather than “parking the bus”, Nürnberg defended collectively and with a purpose. That being to intercept and cut out the passing patterns of Dortmund’s front four. Dortmund failed to get a single shot at goal for 20 minutes and did not get their first real chance until the 39th minute when Lewandowski was denied by rookie goalkeeper Rakovsky after being played through by Grosskreutz. Nürnberg’s five midfielders gave Dortmund little room to breathe and the more they strangled Dortmund the more Dortmund pushed up, and subsequently made themselves more vulnerable on the counter. Nürnberg’s best chance in fact came under such circumstance when Hegeler was played through catching Dortmund’s high backline. If it was not for an onrushing Weidenfeller Nürnberg could have gone into the break with the lead.
Nürnberg looked more assured than the hosts in the first half. Wollscheid had particularly good performance (won 15 of his 18 tackles in the first half) and as a team seemed to have a game plan laid out and followed it through effectively. Dortmund on the other hand were more scattered and their front four in particular were sloppy in possession with Kagawa rarely involved. Overall the front four gave the ball away a combined 17 times in the first half with Kagawa completing just 6 of his passes, telling of their inability to hold on to the ball for extended periods or involve their attack effectively.
2nd Half – Dortmund gets its groove back
The second half was a different story. It took Dortmund just five minutes to take the lead. Götze won the ball on the right, played a one-two with Piszczek to get by Pinola and cut the ball into the center where Lewandowski was waiting to put the ball in the back of the net. Suddenly Dortmund were brimming with confidence and visibly increased the tempo of the game. Bender and Schmelzer each had a chance around the hour mark while Lewanodwski arguably had the best chance to double the lead after a through ball from Kagawa put him one on one with the keeper only to be denied.
The game was suddenly a lot more open and Nürnberg had two good chances of their own from a Pinola shot and a header from a corner by Simons soon after Dortmund’s goal. Despite those chances it was Dortmund that took control of the game and pressed Nürnberg the way they have done so many times last season. Klopp inevitably replaced Kagawa with Blaszczykowski on 65 minutes. The Japanese playmaker still seemed to suffer from jetlag from last week’s international and it showed in his performance as he continued to be absent from the game. Götze’s increasing presence in the center of the pitch also paved way for the change and it was now his turn to dictate the match from the middle.
Perisic was brought on for Lewandowski with 20 minutes to go and nearly scored with his first touch after a great Piszczek run down the right allowed Blaszczykowski to send in a timed cross, only for Perisic’s header to bounce off the post. Interestingly enough, this was the first time that Perisic was used as the forward instead of out wide where he featured throughout pre-season. Dortmund’s pressure paid off on 80 minutes after Hummels won the ball and laid it off to Groskreutz who stormed forward and a released a shot from outside the box that was deflected past Rakovsky. The game was all but decided and despite Nürnberg’s strong first half Dortmund found their rhythm in the second and played up to their standards. Dortmund benefitted from Götze’s switch into the center, providing a focal point and a link up option for the rest of the team.
Dortmund are now undefeated in 18 matches at home but Klopp admitted after the match that his side had to work hard for it and recognized Nürnberg’s well organized defense. Dortmund had an uncharacteristic 120 misplaced passes and did not dominate their opponent like they are usually accustomed to. Hecking on the other hand was happy with his team’s performance despite the loss, saying that a home defeat to the defending champions is not a big surprise. In the end, both teams were vindicated in a sense. Dortmund is back to winning ways and Nürnberg continued to prove, even after a loss, that they are still capable of playing well after losing so many key players.
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