Juventus is a damn fine football team. To me at least, this was the message from Tuesday’s 1-2 somewhat hopeful loss in Turn to the Italian Champions. Although the scoreline was close, BVB were simply outclassed by a more precise side when it matter most. However, the loss was useful for Dortmund, who picked up the talismanic “away goal” in Champions League knockout play. Thank you, Marco Reus.
All of which means there’s hope when Juventus pay the seething Yellow Wall a visit on Wednesday, March 18th in the return leg. Something as simple as a 1-0 result would send BVB through to the quarter-finals for the 3rd consecutive year.
However, beating Juventus, while doable, will be anything but simple. The Italian champions are formidable.
Here’s what we learned.
Midfield Muscle Missing
On Tuesday, BVB’s biggest need was midfield muscle – in the form of a bigger, stronger defensive midfielder – to check the movement, dribbling, and passing of Paul Pogba and, to a lesser extent, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal. Pogba was easily my Man of the Match. He assisted on the winning goal to Morata, but most importantly was a one-man wrecking crew in the midfield. His elbows, hips, legs, and seemingly every other limb knocked about half of Dortmund’s starting IX to the ground.
Indeed, the game’s most important moment might have been when Pogba knocked Lukasz Piszczek (out for about 6 weeks it was reportted) out with a strongman challenge (no yellow!) at 32′. Ginter subbed in for the injured Pole, which meant Socrates slid over from centerback to rightback. However, the Greek defender had to be subbed off at halftime for Oliver Kirch. In all, BVB trotted out three rightbacks on Tuesday night.
Anyhow, Pogba reigned supreme inside a long midfield swath, as his heatmap demonstrates:
BVB sorely missed the likes of Sven Bender (who is almost returned from injury) or even Sebastian Kehl (who was on the team sheet, but recently returned from injury) to challenge Pogba’s physicality and height. Nuri Sahin simply wasn’t the man to check the French box-to-box midfielder. Besides his physical dominance, Pogba displayed a high degree of accuracy in his passing (92%):
In general, BVB seemed overrun in the midfield, especially in defensive, but even in attack, as play was usually funneled toward either flank.
Don’t get me wrong, Dortmund’s attack wasn’t ineffective. In fact, both Sahin and Gündogan were excellent in accurately distributing the ball across the pitch. However, Juventus’ aggression kept Dortmund from building up play centrally. Instead, Juventus could target BVB ball receivers on the flanks and play for interceptions:
Precision, Precision, Precision
Given Klopp’s propensity for “high risk, high reward” tactic – for example, in the “activist” play of centerbacks Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels, and Sokrates – Dortmund were always going to have to play very precisely to leave Turin unscathed. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.
Carlos Tevez’s opening goal for Juve was enabled by BVB defenders being half a step late in recovering, and in Roman Weidenfeller looking helpless as he flopped toward Tevez’s shot. These sorts of small imprecise moments was exactly what BVB had to avoid in order to play its quick tempo game.
When Juve won the match on Álvaro Morata’s finish right before halftime, another set of small imprecise events was to blame. This time, Tevez penetrated Dortmund’s right flank (Piszczek, how we already miss you!), and BVB’s defenders each found themselves a step behind the Juve attackers, or found their hip twisting the wrong direction. The latter predicament seemed to afflict Hummels, whose body – in surreal fashion – slowed down before our eyes, as he futility swung a leg at the incoming shot.
Of course, Dortmund capitalized on a Juventus error – Giorgio Chiellini slipping down – when Reus scored the early equalizer; however, it was Dortmund who committed more small errors. Perhaps against another Bundesliga side these sort of slip ups cause no harm. Unfortunately, Juve plays a clean, technically proficient game. And, in a match as close as Tuesday night, small errors decided things.
There’s Hope, Kiddos!
Despite being down a goal, there’s hope for Borussia Dortmund, thanks to the crucial away goal. Gawd, I love the Champion’s League. In the past couple years, Juventus have folded somewhat meekly on the away leg during knockout play. However, this current incarnation of Juve is the best I’ve seen. Ex-AC Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri has sharpened the organization and purpose of his side. And Dortmund will have nab that winning goal without the flanking work of Piszczek, who Pogba knocked out for 6 weeks. So it’s more Socrates/Kirch/Großkreutz at righback. Hey, sounds just like last season.
But there’s hope. BVB will be home. It will be loud. Hopefully, Bender or even Kehl will be fit to complement Sahin in the defensive midfield. There’s hope.
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