Defensive Gladbach and careless Dortmund matchup makes for no classic

Sunday’s Borussia Mönchengladbach -Borussia Dortmund match harbored high expectations on many levels but in the end failed to deliver anything resembling a classic match. Although the fixture marked Marco Reus’ return to Borussia Park after his summer move and there were expectations of a result for the Foals with Dortmund having both their strikers suspended, what resulted turned out to be a poor game overall, ending in a 1-1 draw.

The first surprise of the afternoon was Jürgen Klopp’s decision to play Götze up front instead of Reus, a move which tactically might make more sense but definitely not in practice, since Reus’ instinct is definitely more lethal and striker-like than Götze’s silky moves. Moritz Leitner was the man chosen to play in Götze’s position.

The other involved Lucien Favre’s starting XI. Luuk de Jong was dropped to the bench after the midweek defeat against Lazio in favour of Mike Hanke, and Oscar Wendt filled in for the injured Juan Arango, while Lukas Rupp once again started on the right wing for the suspended Patrick Herrmann. However, the biggest surprise was the inclusion of youngster Amin Younes, who’d only made his debut from the bench a week earlier against HSV. This was a very defensive 4-4-1-1 formation that was inviting Dortmund to come at them despite their absences up front, what some deemed a very defensive formation when perhaps the match was there for the taking more than ever.

After their loss to Lazio and subsequent elimination from the Europa League Thursday, a competition which has definitely negatively influenced their performance in the Bundesliga this year, one could think that Gladbach could go for broke and try to secure a Europa League place for next season, since their summer spending and wages paid will be hard to maintain without European revenues next season. Still, Favre chose the defensive option.

Dortmund’s bright start resulted in ter Stegen bringing down Götze on the half hour, with Götze himself duly dispatching the spot kick. The goal did no justice to Dortmund’s dominance in the game as Gladbach were struggling to string passes together. Had Dortmund had their firepower from the start, the game would have probably been over before half time but Götze isn’t the reference up front that Lewandowski is and that presence definitely went amiss. The option on the bench was young Hungarian striker Bálint Bajner, who had made the bench from the B-team, so it was by no means a guarantee. Klopp could have been more incisive and played Reus up front and Götze inside left with Schmelzer pumping up the left wing, since Gladbach’s Lukas Rupp at right midfield was hardly causing any problems. Still, Götze’s game was excellent and he did bring calm and composure to the team – only that he was playing in an unusual position for him and natural instincts don’t change regardless of where you play.

The message in the Gladbach dressing room at intermission must have been inspirational as Gladbach came out firing in the second half. And the gamble paid off for Favre as Amin Younes scored his first senior squad goal from a shot that deflected off Piszczek. A lucky break that should definitely have sparked Dortmund but they weren’t able to turn their dominance into goals. Their 58% possession and their effectiveness reminisced of Barcelona’s performance in midweek against Milan: a lot of the ball and no end product.

It’s clear now more than ever how important Robert Lewandowski is to this team and with recent comments from his agent that he has allegedly made his mind up to leave (reading between the lines) pose big problems for Dortmund if they cannot replace him with an adequate player.

Moritz Leitner was another player to keep an eye on, but he failed to impress. He was subbed off with 20 minutes to go and hardly had an impact on the game. His performances when starting matches have not been of the standard once expected of the former Augsburg and 1860 München man and speculation is mounting on the future of the 20-year old with Mainz and Hertha Berlin reportedly interested in a summer move for him. His performance against Gladbach definitely did not do him any favours in the eyes of Klopp or the fans.

While Favre’s men may see Sunday’s result as a point gained considering their winless run since their 2-1 home win against Fortuna Düsseldorf in late January, it’s reasonable to wonder if Gladbach could have pressed Dortmund a bit harder and earned a victory. A point at this stage of the season really doesn’t help much.

Meanwhile Foals’ supporters can justifiably question the quality of expensive summer signings De Jong and Xhaka, both of whom started from the bench  Gladbach need to start pushing for a European spot or they might be forced to start selling star players such as Herrmann and ter Stegen to balance their books in favour of being able to afford keeping De Jong, Xhaka and Domínguez.  If there was any game for them to step up in, this was it, and considering Dortmund’s absentees I personally feel that Favre made the wrong team choice despite the result as this was a game to attack Dortmund and go for the jugular.

Had Peniel Mlapa and Sebastian Kehl had their shooting boots on, the outcome and analysis of the game would have undoubtedly been different but since they both agreed to scuff sitters at the death, with the former Hoffenheim man criminally wasting a one-on-one with Weidenfeller and the BVB captain shooting high from inside the area when it was easier to score. Still, it was an excellent metaphor for the game – two teams that had the chance to take all three points but didn’t seem to want it.

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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