May 27, 2017

Borussia Dortmund off to best Bundesliga start in over a decade

Borussia Dortmund’s 1-0 win against Werder Bremen was the first time since the 2001/02 season that they have won their first three league matches.  That season of course Dortmund were crowned champions and going by how their campaign started this year they will be right in the mix to compete for it again.  Robert Lewandowski’s match winner proved enough against a stubborn Bremen. Dortmund outshot and outplayed the visitors for the most part but made Jürgen Klopp’s team work hard for the win.

Klopp was without Gündogan for this match who was still nursing a back injury.  He was replaced by Sebastian Kehl.  Sokratis and Aubemayang also made way for Subotic and Kuba.  With a schedule that is only going to become more congested, Klopp is expected to rotate a lot more frequently this season.  His opposite, Robin Dutt, did his fair share of rotating as well.  Surprisingly, the rumored to be leaving Arnautovic started instead of Elia and the young talented Yildirim replaced Elia.  Dutt fielded a 4-3-3 with Hunt and Arnautovic interchanging as the central striker.

Dortmund dominate but Bremen hold

After a good 15 minutes for Bremen defensively, the first half turned into a flurry of Dortmund chances.  By the break, they had outshot Bremen 18-3 and were unlucky not to be up by at least one or two goals.  Always pushing his team to attack fast and early, Klopp had his back line at the half way mark of the field for much of the game, constantly pushing Bremen back into their own defensive third.  Both Mkhitaryan and Reus made several good runs but the final touch or teammate to play a ball into was missing.

The problem for Bremen, whose improved defensive performance comes at the immediate expense of attacking bite, was that once they forced turnovers from Dortmund took too long to initiate their attacks and thereby allowing the home side to win it right back.  The numbers bear out this dilemma as well.  Bremen actually won the majority of the duels in this game (56%) but most of them came deep in their own half and in the end were outshot a staggering 32-7.

A lot of Bremen’s difficulties were of course down to Dortmund’s characteristic gegenpressing or the pressing against space, which Klopp admitted after the game was “the best playmaker there is.”  Schmelzer and Grosskreutz in particular did a good job ensuring Bremen could not make use of the wide areas to bring the ball out when the center was congested. And as a result, both of Bremen’s fullbacks (Selassie and Cladirola) misplaced more passes than any other Bremen player attempting to play the ball out of the back.

Marco Reus the difference maker

Going into this game Reus had already scored six goals in seven games against Bremen and he again proved to be the difference.  Other than assisting Lewandowski’s match winner, Reus had eight attempts on goal and created another five for his teammates.  Where Bremen did well to keep a lid on Lewandowski, Mkhitaryan and Kuba they struggled against the pace and energy of Reus.

With Mkhitaryan still adjusting and Gündogan missing, a lot of the creative work fell on Reus’ shoulders but fortunately for Dortmund he delivered.  The fact that they still managed to create over 30 attempts on goal despite missing Gündogan speaks volumes of Dortmund’s drive and individual initiative.  Before the game Klopp said that Dortmund could very well play even better without Götze and if Mkhitaryan adjusts the way the club expects him to we may very well see that happening.

Slow Starters Dortmund and Silver Lining for Bremen

For Dortmund, 12 of their 14 goals in competitive matches have all come in the second half so far this season.  Whereas last year they scored more goals in the opening 15 minutes than any other team in Germany this year they are taking a bit longer to convert all their chances.  To their credit, Bremen were extremely well organized in the opening 20 minutes and made it difficult for Dortmund to break into the 18-yard box.  That said, Dortmund lacked a bit of the penetrative punch they showed last year and that’s probably where Mario Götze’s departure will affect them the most. In the short term anyways.

Bremen too can hold their heads up high though.  While they were outplayed last week when they beat Augsburg they showed an impressive amount of resilience and defensive awareness against Dortmund.  And following Lewandowski’s goal, they did well to press for an equalizer in the last 15-20 minutes. Things are definitely appearing to be clicking into place at Bremen, even if the players are still adjusting to a new way of playing and system.  The outlook is nowhere near as bleak as it was last year.

For now they will be enjoying their 450th home win in the Bundesliga while Bremen rue their seventh straight loss at Dortmund.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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