Borussia Dortmund 2 – 3 Wolfsburg – Wolves take a bite out of Dortmund

In a frantic and tense match Wolfsburg inflicted on the defending champions only their second home loss in the calendar year to all but take them out of title race.  A contentious refereeing decision from Wolfgang Stark will overshadow much of this game as it got Wolfsburg back in the game following Marco Reus’ opener. Diego converted from the given penalty and the dismissal of Marcel Schmelzer put Dortmund on the backfoot against a Wolfsburg strong in defense and efficient in front of goal . The visitors went up through Naldo before the break before Blaszczykowski’s penalty canceled it out but a brilliant Diego took advantage of a tired Dortmund with a lovely ball to set up Bas Dost’s matchwinner.

Lineups and Tactics

After fielding a makeshift squad against Manchester City in the Champions League midweek, Jürgen Klopp restored his best eleven against Wolfsburg.  Kuba, Piszczek, Lewandowski and Götze were all back in the lineup to try and make up ground on a Leverkusen side that surpassed them in the standings. Köstner on the other hand saw no need for changes even after a disappointing “English week” and only replaced Olic with Josue.

On paper this should not have been a difficult game for Dortmund.  Wolfsburg have not been at their best in their last couple of matches and the rest to key players during the week should have given them enough energy to get a result at a Signal Iduna Park where they have lost only once in the entire calendar year.  Of course, things didn’t quite turn out that way in the end.

Match Analysis

Who knows how the match might have turned out had Schmelzer not been sent off and in a way it is difficult to argue hypothetically but there is no question that the sending off had huge implications on the game and Dortmund.  Everything seemed to go according to plan initially though. Although Wolfsburg started brightly Dortmund were in control and took the lead in the sixth minute from a direct Reus free kick, his tenth in all competitions this season.  There was a hint of offsides with Lewandowski appearing to have scraped the ball with his head but the goal was correctly given.

The fresh and well rested Lewandowski and Piszczek could have easily extended the lead in the following minutes but neither were clinical enough with their chances. Until the 30th minute Dortmund continued to batter a shaky Wolfsburg defense with Reus and Schmelzer and Lewandowski finding space too easily. Again, the chances went begging and so does the question, would the result have been different had Dortmund gone up two or three early in the game?  Because the next talking point proved to be a controversial and decisive one.  Diego chipped the ball to Vierinha from the edge of the box who pulled it back for Dost.  The striker’s shot was judged to have been blocked by Schmelzer’s hand.  The left back was sent off and a penalty to Wolfsburg given.

The replays showed two incorrect decisions.  First Vierinha being in an offsides position and second Schmelzer blocking the ball with his knee. Referee Stark was adamant in his decision though and ignored all protests.  Diego stepped up and converted.  The decisions put Dortmund in a state of shock and Wolfsburg took advantage minutes later.  Dortmund lost concentration for a moment on a set piece and left Naldo unmarked in the box to volley Wolfsburg into the lead from 14 meters out.  The game had been turned on its head in a matter of minutes and Dortmund never recovered.

Chasing a game with 10 men

Most teams struggle to chase a game with a full squad so to do it with a man down makes it all that more difficult.  That’s the scenario Dortmund faced in the second half where an already adventurous and attack minded Dortmund become almost suicidally so.  Klopp needed to make changes and take risks to get his team back in the game and did so at the break.  Perisic came on for Leitner.  Kuba slotted in at left back and Götze moved alongside Gündogan in central midfield. The sending off forced Gündogan to play much deeper than he is usually accustomed to as can be seen in Dortmund’s average positioning in the second half.  So important ot their build up it deprived Dortmund of a transition player and link up option against Wolfsburg’s strong central midfield.  Similarly, Götze’s increased defensive work prevented him from being more involved in Dortmund’s attacks.  Götze made 13 of his 15 passes (87%) before the red card in Wolfsburg’s half.  After the sending off that percentage shrunk to 60 by comparison.

Dortmund’s average positions in the 1st half
Average positions in the 2nd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so began Dortmund’s fight back.  Lewandowski’s shot in the 48th minute went wide.  Reus’ free kick in the 54th minute hit the wall.  Götze was just as unlucky in the 58th when his went off target.  Wolfsburg meanwhile pulled back and absorbed attack hoping to catch Dortmund on the break and they nearly did so in the 55th when Dost was through on goal alone but Gündogan saved just in time. It was remarkable to see Dortmund push up that high so early in the game though, something you do not see teams do very often, even when they are chasing a game.  In the 61st minute they were rewarded for it when Kjaer was judged to have pushed Lewandowski over in the box.  Kuba stepped up and leveled the game.  Klopp’s changes and Dortmund’s aggressive attacks paid off.

Dortmund did not lose this game on their own though and Köstner too did well to react to Dortmund’s changed in the second half.  Hasebe, who played out wide on the right in the first half slotted alongside Josue and Polak in a three man midfield in the second half which made it very difficult for Dortmund.  Dost and Diego played deeper and the team defended very well as a unit.  All that combined frustrated Dortmund but also set them up well to counter against Dortmund’s dangerously high and leaky backline.

Hasebe’s role in the 1st half out wide
Hasebe’ role in the 2nd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klopp’s team became more nervous and eager with every passing minute and the lack of precision in the final third proved it.  Every attack also drained them further and the more tired Dortmund grew the more dangerous Wolfsburg became on the counter. Diego took advantage of Dortmund’s high line to thread an inch perfect through ball to Dost who finished past Weidenfeller unchallenged.  Dortmund threw everything forward in the final minutes but Wolfsburg were equal to everything to see out the game.

Final Verdict

Dortmund are now without a win in three consecutive matches for the first time this season.  What’s more, Dortmund have already amassed three loses with the midpoint still a match away, as many as they did all last season.  It was also the first time this season that Dortmund lost a match after leading.   Dortmund outshot Wolfsburg 21:7 but still ended up on the losing side, not something Klopp will be too happy about and his decision to prevent any of his players from being interviewed after the match clearly hinted at that.  Stark’s impact on the game is not in doubt as he himself admitted afterwards and subsequently apologized to the club for his error but Dortmund’s relentless commitment to attack once again resulted in lapses in concentration defensively.

Wolfsburg will be delighted with their first win against Dortmund since 2009 regardless of how it came about.  Their ability to adjust after being overwhelmed in the first half hour is what ultimately got them the win.  Köstner regrouped and reshuffled his team well in the second half and his players did brilliantly with the few chances they created for themselves.

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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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