Friday evening in Dortmund saw a crowd of over 80,000 on hand for the opening match of the 50th Bundesliga season. Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga champions the last two seasons, weathered a stubborn Werder Bremen effort to come out with all three points in hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Tactics and Formations
Coach Jurgen Klopp trotted out a generally familiar lineup, organized in a 4-2-3-1 setup, quite similar to what he often employed last season, with the exception of star newcomer Marco Reus playing behind striker Robert Lewandowski and Oliver Kirch, acquired from Kaiserslautern, starting at right back for the injured Lukasz Piszczek. Captain Sebastian Kehl was partnered in the defensive midfield with İlkay Gündoğan, while Neven Subotic paired off with his usual cohort, Mats Hummels, in central defense. Midfielder Mario Götze, injured much of last season, began the match on the bench.
For longtime Werder Bremen headman Thomas Schaaf, the starting XI was dramatically different from the past season. The numerous changes made at the club over the offseason led to the insertion of Theodor Gebor Selassie at right back, Eljero Elia on the left wing and Chelsea loanee Kevin De Bruyne up front. Seldom used Zlatko Junuzović, signed last winter from Austria Wien, started in the midfield while former backup goalkeeper Sebastian Mielitz made his debut as Werder Bremen’s number one keeper. With veterans like Claudio Pizarro, Tim Wiese, Naldo, Marko Marin and Tim Borowski no longer with the club, Schaaf has a very young squad lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Following all the festivities related to the opening of the Bundesliga’s 50th season, both teams were a bit slow and cautious in the opening minutes — no doubt in part because of the celebrations and the weight of being involved in such a momentous occasion. Dortmund’s Gündoğan and Blaszczykowski provided the first hints of danger near the 5th minute, while minutes later prolific striker Robert Lewandowski had a shot blocked. Dortmund’s continuing efforts in attack paid off in the 11th minute, when the indomitable Reus cut diagonally from left to right across the box before letting loose with a well-aimed low shot towards the far post that went in to give BvB a 1-0 lead, with Kuba earning the assist. Dortmund appeared to be off to the races.
But Schaaf’s young Werder squad kept their composure. The speedy Elia missed on one shot and then, in the 18th minute, forced a fine save from an alert Weidenfeller, with Austrian international Marko Arnautovic providing,on a right-footed stinger. Six minutes later Arnautovic hit Dortmund’s left post during a scramble in front of the net. Meanwhile, for all their attacking instinct and skill, Dortmund were unable to grab another goal. A setpiece attempt by Marcel Schmelzer was handled ably by Mieletz, while a free kick from distance by Reus flew just high over the crossbar. Werder Bremen grew more confident as they stayed in the game and their own attack started clicking a bit also. The half ended 1-0 in favor of the home side.
The second half began with both times efforting to score. Mieletz denied a dangerous Mats Hummels’ header, while the Bremen defenders did well to block shot attempts by Lewandowski and Gündoğan. Werder Bremen defender Sebastian Prödl’s header was slightly off target as Schaaf’s club looked more and more able to equalize. Schaaf, never afraid to do what it takes to win, subbed off defender Aleksandar Ignjovski for forward Nils Petersen in the 66th minute. Less than ten minutes later, Werder Bremen found its equalizer. Right back Selassie, who was so impressive for the Czech Republic during this summer’s Euros, did splendidly in heading a perfectly weighted short chip from Arnautovic, and the score was knotted with fifteen minutes remaining.
While Werder Bremen exhibited a great deal of perseverance and determination, Schaaf did not have the quality on his bench that Klopp could call upon. Klopp, who had earlier brought in Moritz Leitner, had the luxury to sub in Götze for Kevin Grosskruetz in the 78th minute. The young starlet made his presence felt just three minutes later, as he beat Mieletz to the near post after being setup by Lewandowski. Petersen had a great chance to equalize in the 85th minute from another fine Arnautovic cross, but the ball hit the knee of the former Bayern man and went harmlessly to the side of the near post. Mieletz made a fine save of a late rocketed attempt by Lewandowski to keep Werder hopes alive but stoppage time ended with BvB on top 2-1.
The Marco and Mario Show
Although midfielders Reus and Götze will feature on match highlights because of their goals, credit for the Dortmund win was earned by the entire squad. Kirch deputized decently at right back, while Hummels and Subotic nullified many of the 15 crosses Werder Bremen sent across the box. The sure-footed passing of the central pair is also worth noting, with Hummels completed 88% of his team-leading 67 passing attempts while Subotic completed an amazing 52 of 54 passes. Dortmund also play team defense, with attackers Kuba and Lewandowski leading their club winning 18 and 16 tackles respectively. While Lewandowski did not find the back of the net Friday, he impressed with his hard work with his back to goal, doing blue-collar work knocking down kicks effectively and running hard, with deceptive pace, to create scoring opportunities. Captain Sebastian Kehl, meanwhile, led his much younger teammates by example, covering the most ground of any Dortmund player.
For Werder Bremen, a fine effort went unrewarded, as they arguably deserved a point in this opening match. Certainly Werder fans must take heart from the work done today after the club lost its DFB Pokal match to Preussen Munster last weekend. Although outshot 19-11, the hustling club kept Dortmund from dominating possession, with Klopp’s men having the narrowest of advantages in keeping the ball,and with a little luck, would have earned a point. Arnautovic led the club with three shots, and did well playing provider. The maturing Prödl had a game-high 24 won tackles, while Selassie provided energy and completed 89% of his pass attempts. Junuzović led the club in the number of runs and ground covered, while Elia’s pace on the left bodes well for Schaaf’s offense this season. For Schaaf to take a squad undergoing such transition into a packed Signal Iduna Park and play almost evenly with the league’s two time champions says much for the sagacity of recent Werder acquisitions and also much about Schaaf’s coaching abilities.
In the end, the better team won Friday’s contest, but were forced by the visitors to work hard to earn all three points. After Reus’ early goal, one couldn’t help imagine a 4-1 Dortmund rout, but Schaaf’s young squad played with poise and didn’t fall victim to being awestruck by the champions gallery of star players. But although not the best performance in Dortmund’s portfolio over the last two seasons, Klopp’s squad once again demonstrated their heart and talent by coming back late to gain the win. Werder Bremen leave with many positives to build on during practice this week as they prepare to host Hamburger SV next Saturday, while Jurgen Klopp’s champions hit the road next weekend to face 1. FC Nürnberg .