Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Fortuna Düsseldorf: BVB’s Disappointing and Paradoxical Draw

Fortuna Düsseldorf earned an upset 1-1 draw on the road against Dortmund at a somewhat subdued Signal Iduna Park. Goals were provided by Jakub Blaszczykowski (’43) for the home side and the equalizer by Stefan Reisinger (’78) for the visitors. (The latter’s second goal in as many weeks)

During this Englische Woche, Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund will rue throwing away an opportunity to fortify their second place standing (Schalke 04 lost to HSV 3-1) and opportunity, at least temporarily, move a bit closer to Bayern’s top spot in the Bundesliga table. With a somewhat bare bones squad, Fortuna Düsseldorf boss Norbert Meier cooked up a clever strategy of ceding possession to BVB. Sure, the defending champs were a bit unlucky to only get a draw from this one; however, Meier did everything he could to create the only chance possible to take a point at Signal Iduna Park: neuter Dortmund by giving them too much of the ball.

Finally, for a night at least, Kevin Großkreutz’s name will be a curse word in the Dortmund. Poor Kevin, Dortmund-tatted calf and all, missed BVB’s last real chance to win the game.

Formations and Tactics

Not surprisingly, Kloppo rested three starters (Hummels, Gündogan, and Götze) with an epic showdown with Bayern looming on Saturday. Santana, Kehl, and Großkreutz stepped into Dortmund’s customary 4-2-3-1. Meanwhile, Meier made a number of changes (some because of injuries) to his side that beat HSV 2-0 last Friday: Balogun for Levels, Paurevic for Bodzek, and Reisinger for Garbuschewski. However, Meier kept his side’s usual 4-2-3-1 shape, too:

Very few would have predicted the draw, even with Dortmund’s diminished lineup. Indeed, tactically, Dortmund pushed into Düsseldorf’s territory in the second half, yet on average Düsseldorf marked well defensively, containing Dortmund in net in front of the  box, as demonstrated by Düsseldorf’s average position in the first half (note the moon-shaped double line of eight):

Both sides’ average position in the first half.

For the second half, Meier’s squad made adjustments to match Dortmund’s width, as well as push Dortmund’s midfield back and create more chances offensively, as Dani Schahin came on for the limp Ken Ilsö.

First Half

In a somewhat quiet Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund started solidly, albeit stolidly. They outshot F95 8-1. BVB also commanded a large swath of time on the ball with Piszczek, Subotic, Santana, and Bender touching the ball most. However, Düsseldorf’s deep moon-shaped net seemed to frustrate Dortmund when the home side penetrated the last third of the pitch. In these moments, BVB seemed to miss Götze’s generative creativity the most, as Reus and Lewandowski weren’t able to benefit from his mazy dribbles and passing around the box. And let’s face it: Gündogan + anyone else is stronger than a Bender + Kehl combo in the defensive midfield for Dortmund, as Illy brings quality passing-wise, rather than simply the high quantity of touches and passes from Bender and Kehl. The dangerous element of Dortmund’s pressing game was gone, as they resembled something else, something safer.

Finally, in the 43rd minute: Pisczczek made a “key pass,” Großkreutz assisted, and Kuba got the goal on a laser of volley. The game seemed over, given Dortmund’s possession stats and Düsseldorf’s depleted squad on the pitch.

Second Half

Dortmund’s greater possession of the ball continued unabated. The flashy Moritz came on for the stolid Kehl at 68′ and Perisic came on for Reus at 75′ to inject some freshness into Dortmund’s attack. (Schieber came on for Kuba at 81′.)

However, F95 made inroads, especially through their leftside of the pitch with van den Bergh, Bellinghausen, and “Lumpi.” And six minutes after Schahin came on for Ilsö, they were rewarded with a Stephan Reisinger header with Socceroo Robbie Kruse (the Bundesliga’s current hot thing) assisting with a cross at the 78th minute.

For the next quarter hour, Dortmund finally seemed dangerous, as they pressed toward F95’s box and lobbed passes in:

Dortmund’s passing in the last 15 minutes.

Dortmund got five more shots on goal in, as four minutes of stoppage time was given. However, it was Großkreutz’s agonizing miss at 83′ that was closest to putting BVB back on top;  his right-footed shot from the middle of the box was too high – Kevin collapsed on the pitch in disappointment. Drama ensued when Düsseldorf’s Paurevic hacked down Piszczek atop the box and received a yellow, then red card. However, Dortmund couldn’t capitalize with their numeric majority with so little time remaining, as Meier’s boys held the draw.

A (Paradoxical) Conclusion

The final stats should grab your attention. Dortmund put up Bayern-esque offensive numbers, yet looked pretty toothless while doing so:

  • Total shots: Dortmund 21, Düsseldorf 5.
  • Total passes: Dortmund 577, Düsseldorf 186 (!).
  • Touches on the ball: Dortmund 866, Düsseldorf 466.
  • Possession %: Dortmund 65, Düsseldorf 35.

Ironically enough, all this offense seemed to take Dortmund out of their usual running/pressing game. (In case you’re wondering, Dortmund and Düsseldorf had pretty similar distance-covered/running stats.) They looked insipid with the ball, since they are team built for running and turning out quick attacks after gaining possession. When possession is a given for Dortmund, they aren’t themselves – they are not Bayern, neither in their squad composition nor in their 4-2-3-1 formation. Ironically, Düsseldorf did to them what they did to Ajax a week ago in the Champion’s League. That is, F95 ceded possession to a side not used to gobbling up a large number of ball touches and passes. How do you fight a pressing side? Just give them the ball. At least this strategy was Norbert Meier’s answer. In some sense, 2011-2012 have been the years when we’ve been reminded, as soccer fans, that possession itself is meaningless without a nuturing context that it occurs in; that is, possession is not an unqualified good, but rather a contingent one. Besides, Dortmund’s systematic 4-2-3-1 formation is not built to evolve its identity in the course of a single game. In this sense, perhaps, Kloppo’s Dortmund, under the wrong conditions, becomes a stale side without ideas – a staleness that resides deep within the core identity of the hugely popular 4-2-3-1 formation, I would argue. It’s a formation that works best when something is happening to it, not when it must, ex nihilo, create the play.

To be fair, Meier’s strategy would’ve been disastrous, I imagine, if Götze had played, or perhaps even Gündogan. Meier wisely guessed that without these two players, Dortmund lacked danger. (For example, Dortmund’s offense largely ran through Piszczek, Subotic, and Kuba – with Bender feeding this side of the pitch, too – where it would stall in the final 2/3 of the pitch.) Also, credit and man-of-the-match status must be given to Düsseldorf keeper Fabian Giefer, who made six saves. So Düsseldorf’s draw cannot be attributed to tactics alone obviously.

However, Meier’s strategy was probably the only path Düsseldorf had to create any chance whatsoever to take a point at Signal Iduna Park. And it worked. Chalk it up to luck, which Düsseldorf was always going to need in this match anyway, but also chalk it up to Meier tactically neutering Dortmund by giving them the ball. Will other teams take note? Can a similar strategy be used when Dortmund is fielding its best starting XI?

In the meantime, Dortmund fans can curse local boy Großkreutz for that late miss. The Bayern showdown looms ahead.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. He writes for Howler magazine's website, as well as The Short Pass where he covers the USL and other topics. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and sports are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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