BVB Bulletin: 16th Place Has Never Felt So Good

16th place in the Bundesliga table has never felt so good. That feeling of having two other clubs sitting directly below your club – nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goooooodbye VfB Stuttgart and SC Freiburg. Look out SC Paderborn and Hertha Berlin, you could be next if BVB beat mercurial Mainz 05 on Friday evening.

The relegation fight party has officially begun. But, I swear, I’m looking forward to striking the “relegation fight” bit out of the party in coming weeks. See, I just want my normal Dortmund back.

Is normal back for BVB?

One match does not a narrative recast.

Although BVB summarily spanked SCF 3-0 on the road, one match is just one match. In a past-tense sense, this win was immensely satisfying – Katharsis – as Dortmund actually scored three damn goals and otherwise shut SCF down. Given the previous weeks of futility and sterility, BVB looked unbottled in pressing and attacking. Klopp’s tactics called for aggressive pressing and numbers forward in attack. It worked, and helped me forget about the emptiness of losing to FC Augsburg at home just days prior.

However, in a future-tense sense, this win means … well, I don’t know. And neither do you, despite all our pop psychologizing and winning-streak casting. Obviously, BVB partisans like myself want the win to mean not only that Dortmund’s winning ways are back, but also that the club’s stylistics (aggressive pressing and overwhelming attacking interplay) are back, and that this win will spark some sort of catalytic psychological confidence boost. We just won’t know this for awhile – or perhaps not all, given how complex the interplay between cause, effect, and randomness are. Where does one of these elements stop and the other begin?

Take Dortmund’s first goal on Saturday. You’ve probably already seen what happened, but if not, here’s gist: SCF defensive midfielder (and former Nürnburger) Mike Frantz absolutely gifted Dortmund with a goal, thanks to his disastrous backpass, which Aubameyang scooped up like a through ball and dished Marco Reus, who scored the tap in goal.

Surely if the scoreline remained 0-1 in BVB’s favor, like this, until the final whistle, Dortmund supporters (myself included) are feeling uneasy about the cheaply-gained win. Instead, Aubameyang scored two goals and SCF never threatened.

An undeniably dominating win for die Schwarzgelb.

My favorite markers of dominance were the influencing roles that Shinji Kagawa, Ilkay Gündogan, and Marco Reus had in their passing, which created chances for others and motored ball distribution along without a hitch. Call it a triptych of Influencers. Their passing chalkboards tell the story:

Shinji Kagawa’s passing chalkboard stands out the most:

Shinji Kagawa's highly effective passing against SCF. (Courtesy of
Shinji Kagawa’s highly effective passing against SCF. (Courtesy of

For the Japanese international, that’s two chances created, plus an assist. Not to mention the wide range of influence in the attacking 3rd his passes had. Next, Ilkay Gündogan’s passing was influential and accurate:

Ilkay Guendogan's web of influence against SCF - not bad for a sub! (Courtesy of
Ilkay Guendogan’s web of influence against SCF – not bad for a sub! (Courtesy of

Gündogan had an assist, but also completed a number of long balls into the attacking 3rd. Finally, even though Reus scored the first goal, his passing work was probably more important in this match:

Marco Reus was a busy-bee, passing the ball around the final 3rd against SCF. (Courtesy of
Marco Reus was a busy-bee, passing the ball around the final 3rd against SCF. (Courtesy of

For Reus, that’s one assist and two other chances created. Moreover, notice that a large majority of his passing work took place around/in/toward the final 3rd. Influencer stuff, that.

These three chalkboards make me happy.

On the pitch’s other end, Hummels and Subotic continue their “activist” centerback work with movement deep up the pitch and a plethora of aerial longballs (seems like Klopp’s still committed to this creating-from-very-back strategy). Hummels and Subotic only completed just above 50% of their passes combined, but this rate shouldn’t surprise given the quarterback-style aerial assault they launch. Positionally, their heatmaps revealed a shifting strategy against SCF:

Subotic goes deep this week, while Hummels is more withdrawn than the previous two matches. (Courtesy of
Subotic goes deep this week, while Hummels is more withdrawn than the previous two matches. (Courtesy of

Hummels sat back a bit more this match, while Subotic roamed deep, creating a midfield launch point for his passes. I wonder if Klopp ordered this swift? Defensively, it makes sense, given Hummels’ superior recovery and chase-down abilities in making isolated tackles and marking attackers.

I just can’t take my eyes off Hummels and Subotic right now. My hunch is that BVB lives and dies by these men’s play more than anything else right now. I wonder how much longer their aerial longball assault will continue.

Finally, a heatmap-shout-out to newbie Kevin Kampl, who continues to win my weekly award for “Imperialist Tendencies on the Pitch.” The dude’s movement continues to be vaster than the British empire at the birth of modernism:

Kevin Kampl: on mission to touch every parcel on the pitch this season. (Courtesy of
Kevin Kampl: on mission to touch every parcel on the pitch this season. (Courtesy of

If the pitch is like the globe itself, then the sun never sets on Kampl heatmap empire. However, in evaluating the quality/efficiency of Kampl’s movement (for three matches now), I have no idea what to think. Sure, he runs the hell out of the pitch, but is it smart running? Gegen-pressing rennen? For now, the boy has gas to burn.

Let’s breath in and enjoy the win. And here’s to more “normal” on Friday night at the Signal Iduna against Mainz 05.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. 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 Howler magazine, 11Freunde, America Magazine, The Short Pass, Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, his former blog,, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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