It happened like this. About eight black and white striped defenders shifted around. Attackers in mostly yellow darted at the defender’s shape, sliding off it, like water off a rock. The attackers tapped the top. Then the sides. Finally, in frustration, the attackers sent a light pass to a fellow attacker inside the defenders. Quickly, the black-white defenders nabbed the ball, which was sent back into the midfield. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat. Rewind and repeat.
Rewind and repeat.
Dortmund’s disastrous Champion’s League match on Wednesday against Juventus mostly followed this dismal and impotent pattern. At the match’s beginning, BVB needed only a goal to grab the upper hand in this knockout round finale. Three minutes later, after Carlos Tevez scored an eerily unsettling goal, BVB still only needed two goals to take the upper hand.
By the end, the 0-3 loss was BVB’s worst in the Champion’s League for a long time. The match was terribly unbalanced, as Juve were clearly the better side throughout. The much better side. For Dortmund, the loss has to be humiliating, not only for the scoreline (1-5 aggregate), but also for the limpness and fecklessness the lines of their “attack” proceed down.
Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri presumably borrowed a page from HSV and Köln’s anti-Dortmund manual. While Juve didn’t lob longballs out of the box when clearing BVB’s chances (like HSV and 1.FCK), their play resembled that of these Germany clubs in a crucial element: conceding just over 60% possession to Dortmund and assembling a rectangular defensive box in their own half.
The result? Dortmund struggled for ideas in breaking through the defense. In these past three matches (in additional to earlier Hinrunde matches), we’ve learned that BVB have little creativity and innovation in slower build up play. Unlike, say, Bayern or even Barcelona, Dortmund have no alternative attacking ideas when it can’t create counter-attacks off opponent turnovers. For example, Bayern have Ribery and Robben to slice through opponents from the left or right during slower build up play. In contrast, Dortmund flail around, passing futile balls into the box.
Anyhow, Allegri’s plan worked brilliantly. However, unlike HSV or Köln, Allegri has the services of Morata and Tevez at forward. And what a difference these guys make.
Juventus’ plan was glass clear: four defenders in a deep back line; a midfield diamond of Claudio Marchisio (bottom), Roberto Pereyra (top), Paul Pogba (left), and Arturo Vidal (right). Although superstar Pogba left early with a hamstring injury – replaced by former VfL man Andrea Barzagli – his absence didn’t matter. Allegi’s diamond contracted, collapsed, or morphed as need, stifling the passing and dribbling space of BVB’s attacking midfielders. All four diamond-dwellers were superb. (UEFA’s formations presskit gives you some idea of what these shifts looked like.) Furthermore, once Juventus won the ball off BVB, the Italians always looked to quickly play the ball up to Morata or Tevez, who are, dear Lord, world class counter-attacking outlets to have.
Indeed after Tevez’ shocking opening goal from a standard attacking set (Weidenfeller seemed wrong-footed by the ball’s tricky swerve), Juventus scored twice on the counter after 70′. Each time, they gouged BVB through yards and yards of open acres. UEFA’s goal sequence charts make the truth abundantly clear:
Back in defense, the Italians effortless absorbed BVB’s attack, pushing the attackers around (even without Kagawa, BVB were easily out-muscled it seemed). Reus, Aubameyang, and Mkhitaryan (Kuba came on for him later) were mostly anonymous. Gündogan lacked passing outlets. And Kampl movement and switching with Reus failed to produce anything.
Deeper in the midfield, Bender was a ghost (Ramos subbed on for him), while Smelzer’s sloppy passing work on the flank seemed to have him subbed off for Kirch at halftime. Ugly, ugly.
For BVBers, the match’s only highlight happened before the opening whistle when the Yellow Wall hoisted up a dazzling tifo:
All else was humiliating for Dortmund, who only created nine shots (only two of these were on target), or what I should call “shots.” These attempts were feeble and never posed Gigi Buffon a serious risk.
Ugh. Ugly. Ugh.
I should probably apologize for my tone in this bulletin. I’ve actually edited out some harsher stuff that I really wanted to say. I’m pissed. I’m mad. I’m curling a lip incredulously. The match was grotesque, hideous, embarrassing, maddening. BVB was summarily trounced.
And I’m confused. I’m wondering where the narrative sits now, because I’m cautious not to narrative-cast too early. So even after both HSV and Köln shut down the Dortmund attack, I wasn’t worried, because matches are independent from one another (really, I swear). Except maybe sometimes they’re not, like when opponents slap down the same game plan (i.e. conceding over 60% to BVB). I’m human, I’m a pattern-hunter. And I see a damn pattern here.
So where are we with BVB? I thought we’ve already been through this ” in the belly of whale/dragon/wolf/hell/insert-your-mythical-archetype-here” stuff. I mean, wasn’t February all about the dark night of the footie soul?
And yet here we are. It’s dark again. And football sucks. The ball is round. And Dortmund can’t attack a back four of kittens right now. So where are we?
The cloudy waters of a Hannover trip await on Saturday. I’m sure we’ll know nothing afterwards.
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