Nürnberg 1 – 1 Borussia Dortmund – Hecking neutralizes Hummels and thereby Dortmund’s attacking game

The defending champions had to settle for a draw after a frustrating encounter down south with Nürnberg.  Pekhart and Kuba were the scorers in a hard earned draw for both sides.  Nürnberg’s sound defensive tactics proved very effective in neutralizing Dortmund’s normally dangerous attacks.  Despite the disappointing result though Dortmund extended their unbeaten run to 30 games in the league while Nürnberg continued their good start to the season.

Lineups and Tactics

Hecking made two chances following their impressive win at Hamburg on opening day, Mak and Pekhart replacing Frantz and Polter.  The Nürnberg coach was hoping to overturn his winless record against Dortmund. Klopp meanwhile kept everything the same, the only change being a fit Piszczek returning for Kirch and Perisic surprisingly starting over Grosskreutz on the left.  Nürnberg have turned into Dortmund’s favorite opponents, only winning one of their last 24 league matches and none while Klopp has been in charge.  Nürnberg attacked Hamburg last week but they were going much more defensively this time around and did so quite effectively to the frustration of Dortmund.

The Match

For much of the first half Nürnberg did very well to neutralize Dortmund’s biggest strengths.  Hummels’ distribution out of the back was rendered ineffective with Pinola and Chandler doing well to cover the channels and Esswein, Pekhart and Mak playing a much more defensive role.  In fact, Nürnberg took a page out of Augsburg’s playbook last year and man marked to perfection. The first real chance only came around the 20th minute when Kehl tested Schäfer with a half volley from outside the box but the Nürnberg goalkeeper was more than up for it.  As expected, Dortmund had the bulk of the possession but it was Nürnberg who got the first goal.  Kiyotake whipped in a corner in the 31st minute and Pekhart beat Hummels to head it into the far corner.  Set pieces have been a problem for Dortmund for some time and they again paid the price in this game.

Luckily for Dortmund they got a much needed goal back before the break because things would just get more frustrating from then on.  Schmelzer’s cross from the left wasn’t cleared and Lewandowski’s shot ricocheted off the post to an open Kuba to equalize. But because Nürnberg were defending in greater numbers Dortmund’s attacks were getting shut out one by one.  Dortmund turned it up a gear in the second half and Gündogan had a go against his former team right after kickoff but his effort wasn’t enough to beat Schäfer.  Hummels nearly made up for his poor marking on the goal with one of his own off a Reus corner but his header was cleared off the line by Pinola.  Schieber, Grosskreutz and Götze were all brought on towards the end to get the win but Nürnberg remained steadfast and held on to the result.


Above all, Nürnberg executed their tactical responsibilities to perfection.  Hecking’s “defend and counter” strategy might not have been the most exciting and it limited their chances to score but it was the right call in the end.  Both wide players doubled up on Dortmund’s wingers (Perisic only won 25% of his challenges for example) and Kuba, and later Schieber, Grosskreutz and Götze all struggled to break through Nürnberg’s back four.  Pekhart was also distinctly instructed to press Hummels in his own half and disrupt his long balls out of the back, something Hecking planned specifically going into the game.  As a whole, Nürnberg won 54% of their challenges and limited Dortmund to just 6 crosses, a third of what they are normally used to. Dortmund’s entire left side was rendered useless with Mak and Chandler winning a combined 25 challenges and Schmelzer misplacing more passes than any other Dortmund player.

Hummels’ passing is telling, only 6 of 39 made it past the halfway line and only 3 long balls were played, an unusually low number for him.

Dortmund controlled the game, created more chances and were probably the better team yet many will still regard this as a disappointing performance.  Their wide players weren’t effective enough and most chances had to be created through the middle by Kehl or Gündogan and Subotic had to resort to the playmaking duties out of the back.  The extent of just how well Hummels’ game was neutralized is astounding.  Usually the player with most ball touches in this game he was limited to just 50 (compared to 118 from his defensive partner) while 12 players won more challenges than him, another anomaly.  It was probably the best example yet of how to effectively deal with Hummels.

The question is whether Dortmund’s difficulty to create clear cut chances is a result of Kagawa’s departure and Reus’ integration period or Nürnberg’s good defensive performance, possibly even a combination of both.  Time will tell of course just how Kagawa’s departure affects not only Dortmund’s results but their style of play.  With Kagawa Dortmund had clearly defined roles last year.  Kuba stretched defenses, Grosskreutz pressed from both sides and Kagawa was given the playmaking responsibilities.  Reus is not exactly a playmaker or a winger.  His versatility and dynamism are his strengths but it might also impede the fluidity the side displayed last year.  Götze’s return also raises questions of how Klopp will use him and who will sit in his place should he slot back into the starting line up.

Final Verdict

Klopp’s post match reactions summed up Dortmund’s performance perfectly:

Our opponents made it very difficult for us.  They played well in one-on-ones and were effective in their man marking, especially at taking Mats [Hummels] and Reus out of the game.

Frustrating, yes, as also exemplified by Klopp’s criticism of the referee, but by no means a disaster. Dortmund remain unbeaten in the calendar year and earned a point against a very well organized side but Klopp will no doubt strive to be better.  Hecking can be satisfied with a well earned point against a team they historically have trouble with.  It’s also important because the team came under heavy scrutiny defensively after their German Cup exit and this game serves as a good blueprint of how to neutralize Dortmund’s build up.  Next up for Nürnberg is a game against another Borussia, this time in Mönchengladbach.  Dortmund will host Leverkusen.

Header courtesy of dw.de

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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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