After last Saturday’s 0-1 der Klassiker loss, I was up for anything happening in Tuesday’s quarter-final Pokal match between BVB and Hoffenheim in the Signal Iduna Park. And what a care-free match it was. I watched the game with deflated spirits, tingling face, and aloofness (how’s that for breaking parallelism in a sentence?). I was ready for anything – my sporting psychology having taken a skeptical/pessimistic turn after der Klassiker and my doom and gloom over BVB’s cratered season.
Which is to say that I found Tuesday’s Pokal rumpus enjoyable.
Surely, Dortmund’s 3-2 extra time win over Hoffenheim was one of the Pokal’s best encounters. The match had it all: shooting galleries, quick transitional play – which is like sugar for the yeast on in the case of BVB and Hoffenheim both – sloppiness, chippiness, breath-catching, running, pressing, etc.
I needed this match after Saturday’s dour and listless der Klassiker. I needed a reminder about why I / we love BVB. Matching the match with a “what happens, happens” mindset certainly helps, too.
Dortmund played without Reus and Hummels, but, dare I say, they played much better without the two stars. Mkhitaryan took Reus’ place in the left attacking midfield, while Socrates filled in for the absent captain. Oh, and Erik “God bless him” Durm returned! And he looked sharp: movement-wise, stamina, decision-making. Loved him.
Back to Reus’ absence, I’m not going to assume a cause (BVB playing better in attack) with an illusory effect (Reus’ absence). Yes, Mkhitaryan performed well in attack, but I imagine Reus would have been equally as effective in attack, had he been available.
See, here’s the thing: Hoffenheim gave BVB plenty of room to run and plenty of opportunities to turn on the attacking machinery via fast transitional play. We know important fast transitional play is for BVB; we also know how sides HSV, Köln, and most recently Bayern de-fanged the Dortmund attack by preventing fast transitional play. In contrast, Hoffenheim were not nearly as successful in preventing BVB from feasting on its sugar. Again and again, BVB laced runs and passes around Hoffenheim’s defensive third, thanks to quick transitional play through the midfield.
And Hoffenheim returned the favor by hitting BVB, again and again, on fast counters. Indeed, Gisdol’s blue boys seemed to have no intention of fielding a deep box of defenders. Thank goodness. Consequently, Dortmund sparked some lovely attacking sequences, but Hoffenheim’s approach also freed up the likes of Roberto Firmino, Kevin Volland, and Aaron Beck to lead the wild rumpus through BVB’s half of the pitch. Firmino and Volland were especially lovely on Tuesday, activating saliva glands for the summer transfer window (sorry, Hoffy supporters!).
In the end, BVB created more shots, however, 24-9, as Hoffenheim’s shot attempts seemed to develop through the more classical counter-attacking sequences in all their transitional possessions. For me, a fantastic sign was seeing 17 of BVB’s shots occur inside the durned 18 yard box. Hallelujah. Aubameyang, Kagawa, and Gündogan all led the way with four shots apiece for Dortmund.
But don’t get any false ideas: Dortmund didn’t dominate this match any stretch of the imagination. Hoffenheim consistently developed threats after Dortmund scored (indeed, Hoffenheim led 2-1 for 30 minutes), and even looked like the more dangerous side as the standard 90′ ran out. This match really did embody all the usual clichés, like roller coasters. Like a suspenseful plot, the match kept posing the main question of conflict: what will happen next?
Thanks to the match’s own suspenseful logic and narrative, Sebastian Kehl’s Traumtor (Bundesliga.de had this nifty infographic about the moment) to win the match in the 2nd extra period (108′) was fantastically special. Kehl, a 69′ minute sub, is a satisfying hero, given that 2014-15 in his final at Dortmund – a long run for a player who debuted in 2002.
If only Dortmund could be playing eternal Pokal matches this season. Another wearying Bundesliga match lies ahead. The Bielefeld-biten Foals of Mönchengladbach await die Schwarzgelben‘s visit on Saturday. Technically, it’s a derby, guys. Come on, you know you can muster some excitement.
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