Schalke 1 – 2 Borussia Dortmund – Derby win puts Dortmund within touching distance of title

With a 2-1 win over their local rivals Borussia Dortmund not only set a new single season record for most consecutive matches unbeaten (25) but also edged closer to a second consecutive league title. Schalke took a 1-0 lead early on in the 140th official Revierderby thanks to Farfan only for it to be canceled out by Piszczek minutes later. Schalke were made to pay for their missed opportunities in the second half after Kehl capitalized on a loose ball in the second half, effectively deciding the match. It is also the first time since 1997 that Dortmund have beaten Schalke twice in the league in one season.

Line ups and Tactics

Stevens made several changes after the bitter 4-1 loss in Nürnberg midweek. Escudero, Hoogland, Matip, Holtby and Höger all made way for Uchida, Metzelder, Moritz, Fuchs and Farfan. A makeshift backline was one of Schalke’s biggest problems against Nürnberg but many speculated that Stevens already had one eye on the derby. With Moritz partnering Jones, Stevens opted for steel instead of creativity hoping to stifle Dortmund’s energetic and industrious players. The shape remained the same otherwise.

Aside from replacing an injured Subotic with Santana and starting Bender over Kehl, Klopp kept his side the same after their huge win over Bayern on Wednesday. Bender might have been given the nod because of his pace, Kehl’s lack thereof perhaps considered a hindrance against quick players like Draxler and Farfan. Klopp did welcome Götze back though who is nearing full fitness after his long term injury. As a precaution he started on the bench. This is a season defining couple of weeks for Dortmund, playing the second, third and fourth placed teams right after one another. A win against Schalke would go a long way in a what still remains a relatively close title race.

Divergent tactics

Few sides in the league create more chances in the opening stages of a match than Dortmund. Because of their high back line and pressing, they are able to exert a lot of pressure on their opponent early on. That was the case against Bayern on Wednesday and again against Schalke. It took just 32 seconds for Dortmund to create their first chance. Lewandowski received the ball from Kuba before Schalke’s midfielders could intercept. The Polish forward laid the ball off to the oncoming Bender but Unnerstall read the play perfectly and came out to block his shot. Schalke dodged an early bullet and needed to learn from Bayern’s mistakes midweek and settle the game in midfield.

Instead of trying to retain the ball and match Dortmund in the center of the pitch, they took a different approach, albeit one not entirely unfamiliar to them. With Farfan on the pitch Schalke tried to stretch the game as much as possible and a large part of their attacks were directed towards Dortmund’s left side. A few minutes later Papadopoulos headed a Farfan corner just centimeters wide of the goal. Schalke’s strength on set pieces and in the air is well known throughout the league and that was visible early on in the game as well. In fact, the opening goal came after a Fuchs corner was cleared by Hummels to the feet of Farfan, who had pulled past Grosskreutz and released a shot from 17 meters out that found its way past Weidenfeller. It took a slight deflection off Kagawa but it was well struck by the Peruvian and gave Schalke an important early lead and something to build on.

Fuchs and Farfans' passing reflected Schalke's strategy throughout the game.

But because Schalke concentrated their play out wide (14 crosses compared to Dortmund’s 4) Dortmund remained in the game and the rest of the half was a back and forth between the two sides. Raul and Lewandowski had two additional chances before Piszczek eventually leveled the score. Following a corner of their own, Dortmund took advantage of a sloppy clearance by Fuchs and the ball fell to the unlikely feet of the Polish fullback who, with his unfamiliar left foot, hammered the ball into the net from an acute angle. Unnerstall could do very little about it and even Piszczek seemed surprised by his goal.

Schalke remained dangerous on set pieces though and won most duels in the air but they never got the grip on the game they would have wanted and thus allowed Dortmund to always remain in the game. Huntelaar was isolated for most of the first half (fewer touches than any other Schalke starter bar Metzelder), and like Gomez on Wednesday, struggled to get into the game. Normally Dortmund’s fullbacks would be more advanced than those of their opponents but because Schalke chose to utilize the flanks for most of their attacks Fuchs and Uchida were playing most of the game past the halfway and Piszczek and Schmelzer sat deeper than usual. Schalke’s three most involved players were in fact their wide players (Fuchs, Uchida and Farfan with 199 combined touches) This of course allowed Dortmund to play long balls behind them and with passers like Santana, Hummels and Gündogan Schalke were always caught up the field and rushing to track back. The score stood at half time and Stevens would later regret not changing things up a bit.

Kehl takes the sting out of Schalke

Stevens kept faith in his strategy and hoped his wide players would continue to stretch the play in the second half. For the most part it worked. Schalke started really well. Papadopoulos again came close on 50 minutes and Huntelaar was starting to find some space as well. The Dutch striker had two chances after the break but both his touch and timing let him down. Shortly after, Gündogan had a go himself but his shot from 16 meters went just wide. Nevertheless, Schalke were adamant to win this match and even their presence in midfield started to improve noticeably. Jones was putting in a shift for two, winning tackles, marking Kagawa and driving his team forward. Unfortunately the same could not be said of Moritz and Stevens ended up replacing him with Höger but to little effect.

And just as it looked like Schalke turned the momentum fully in their favor, Dortmund struck completely against the run of play. Despite the bulk of the chances falling to Schalke, Dortmund remained calm and continued to play their natural game, chipping away until Schalke ran out of steam altogether. Klopp had to replace Bender with Kehl at half time due to back problems but the chance did not seem to affect their play much. Patience would indeed turn out to be a virtue for the visitors. Ironically enough, it was former Dortmund player Christoph Metzelder who had a hand in their goal. A Schmelzer corner struck Metzerlder on the shoulder, bouncing into the path of, who else, Sebastian Kehl. The two veterans and former teammates would prove to be the deciding factors in the match. The goal took the bite out of Schalke’s momentum and put the visitors even more at ease, allowing them to comfortably see out the game.

The closest Schalke came was another missed opportunity by Huntelaar in the 78th minute but it was just not his day. Out of what seemed like desperation, Stevens brought on Pukki and later Marica but without much of a gameplan. Putting bodies into the box was simply not sufficient. It just opened them up more at the back and both Kuba and Santana could have extended Dortmund’s lead. Towards the end the game resembled a match between a veteran team against a slightly disjointed overzealous group of youngsters. Part of that had to do with Gündogan’s performance. The midfielder was the star for Dortmund in the second half. Despite losing his midfield partner at halftime, Gündogan’s composure kept things flowing for Dortmund and ensured that Schalke were always doing the chasing. He was strong in the tackle (won 16 of his duels), had more touches on the ball than any other player on the pitch, and completed a game high 42 passes. The performance was not surprising considering his form in the last two months and was eerily reminiscent of Sahin last season.

Slow and steady, Gündogan dictated the pace of the game with his passing.

Final Verdict

While Schalke’s strategy worked well at some points it was not a sustainable tactic against a side as versatile and industrious as Dortmund. There was not much between the two sides but Dortmund made better use of the ball and were less sloppy with their passing. Schalke’s direct wide approach limited their attacking options and build up play. The hosts suffered from the same problems they encountered in the Europa League against Athletic Bilbao, namely not getting enough players involved in the attacking third, often leaving it up to Raul to try and create most of the chances in the middle and to do most of the work. While Schalke’s direct approach has served them well this season it is far from sufficient against stronger sides, as Bilbao, Gladbach, Bayern and now Dortmund showed.

Schalke have already secured at least a chance to participate in the Champions League but their goal is no doubt to guarantee automatic qualification. With Gladbach breathing down their necks back to back losses have made the end of the season a nervy affair. Up next is a motivated Augsburg battling relegation.

Dortmund meanwhile have picked up 38 from a possible 42 points, the best for a Bundesliga side since the three point rule was introduced. This was perhaps the toughest week yet in Klopp’s tenure and Dortmund passed their test with flying colors, beating an in form Bayern and coming back against their local rivals. A win against Gladbach next week will seal the title and after their impressive Rückrunde one could even argue that this is an even better win than last year.

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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

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