November 18, 2017

BVB Bulletin: Dining on Paderborn, Picking up Tuchel

What a week for Borussia Dortmund. After Jürgen Klopp’s announcement on Wednesday that he’s stepping down, the season’s narrative only lengthened this week as BVB beat relegation-threatened SC Paderborn 3:0 at home, then announced the hiring of Thomas Tuchel as the new head coach.

BVB 3-0 Paderborn: Was Anything Else Possible?

Football, errr Sport itself, is mysterious. After Saturday’s win against Paderborn, the conventional narrative runs like this: Of course BVB won, because the boys were playing for Kloppo, the crowd wouldn’t let them lose after the Kloppo news, and BVB is going to be trying harder now – you know – for Kloppo. Yes. Perhaps?

But shouldn’t Saturday’s result have remained the same, regardless of the Klopp news? I don’t know. Dortmund’s season has been so unpredictable. Yet football matches, like tosses of dice, are independent of one another, and theoretically independent of narrative itself. Therefore, news from Wednesday of a coach stepping down shouldn’t affect/determine what happens on the field of play on Saturday. (Can you imagine Mats Hummels “trying harder” because he wants to for Klopp? Blehghghgh.)

But re-live Saturday’s match – the emotional atmosphere of the Signal Iduna, god-knows-what running through the players’ minds on both sides, and how do we really know that the narrative we – i.e. media, supporters, etc. – craft around football seasons doesn’t, in someway, meddle with business on the pitch? We don’t, I contend.

On the various cause and effects, I am agnostic.

Yet I believe there’s a complex dynamic between the course of individual matches and the sweep of a whole season. For one thing, players don’t live in hermetically sealed bubbles free from media narratives or their own psychology. For another thing, tendencies from the playing field pile up across the season, fueling our narratives for better or worse.

Perhaps I’m just being a typical pattern-hunting human being, confusing correlation with causation and randomness with pattern or signal with noise, but even if I admit my shortcoming, I’m still not convinced that Saturday’s outcome at the Signal Iduna could have been anything else other than a 3:0 BVB win.

As for the match itself, Dortmund crept into the 2nd half scoreless, but not for lack of trying. BVB rained in attempt after attempt, forcing blocks and saves. Despite the blank scoreline, Dortmund looked like and played like the much better side, as well as being flattered by Paderborn’s inability to create anything offensively.

In the second half, Dortmund began getting results befitting their superiority. Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck with an Auba-assisted (cross) header at 48′ (is Mkhitaryan capable of scoring goals in which he’s not barreling 60 mph into the post or net?). Seven minutes later, Matthias Ginter fed Auba, who pirouetted beautifully around defenders and slipped in an against-all-momentum shot. Somersault and Superman posturing celebrations followed. Finally, Mkhitaryan assisted Kagawa, who burn in a long distance shot. 3:0 to die Schwarzgelben Jungs.

Dortmund looked good during the match, partially because they were simply the better team and partially because Paderborn let them look good. SCP granted BVB space for running and attacking. I don’t think a more balanced heatmap of play exists for BVB this season:

Borussia Dortmund's heatmap against SC Paderborn (image)
Dortmund was active and dominant across the entire pitch. (Courtesy of WhoScored.com)

Erik Durm was excellent, again, on the right flank, while Schmelzer played – perhaps – his best match of the season. Meanwhile, the experiment with Ginter in defensive midfield continued, as he played opposite Gündogan. Mkhitaryan took Reus’ slot on the left, as Kagawa took over the central attacking area. Kampl, Immobile, and Dudziak all appeared off the bench.

I hesitate to say more about the match. What is there to say? Here’s what I mean: Dortmund outshot Paderborn 22 (8 shots on target) to 2 (zero shots on target). BVB enjoyed 56% of the possession – just the right amount to pelt Paderborn with shots, but not too much, indicating the kind of disciplined space-negating defense we’ve seen many sides kill BVB with this season.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the match was the standing ovation given to Klopp by the Dortmund faithful.

BVB Win the Tuchel Sweepstakes

We were given about half a week to speculate on who would replace Jürgen Klopp. On Sunday, BVB announced the wait was over, as Thomas Tuchel will step in as coach on July 1st. The club shared the news in a customarily terse announcement – I mean, what else should a club say at this time, amid wrapping up the season’s “business end”? In its press release, Dortmund explained that Tuchel’s official introduction will happen later and that “[u]ntil this time, neither party will make a public statement on the matter.” Finally, BVB gently pleaded “for understanding” until then.

The details are sparse: Dortmund signed the 41 year old Tuchel to a three year deal, which begins a week after the official calendar for this season ends (July 1st) when the new coach will finally be off Mainz 05’s books. In quick fashion, BVB nab Germany’s most-coveted coaching prize. Tuchel is concluding his sabbatical year after stepping away from coaching Mainz 05. In his final season at Mainz, Tuchel’s side registered a successful finish (7th place), qualifying for a Europa League play-in. Under Tuchel, Mainz’s best season was the 5th place finish after 2010-11, including a stunning string of seven straight wins to open the season (including a win against Bayern).

Thus far, Tuchel’s Bundesliga coaching career spans 182 matches with a winning % of 40% (72 wins, 46 draws, and 64 losses). However, even more than his results, Tuchel is known as one of Europe’s coaching tactical stars, experimenting with a wide range of formations, in-match switches, and innovative blocking. On the surface, Tuchel is a great hire for his tactical innovation alone, given the complaints about BVB’s one-dimensional play under Klopp this season. Tuchel’s side are anything but one-dimensional.

The writing was on the wall for BVB signing Tuchel when HSV abruptly stopped talking to Tuchel last week. From a strategic perspective, locking up Tuchel this early give Dortmund’s staff and players time to plan for the future, while avoiding any broader public comments by the club and newly hired coach keeps the focus on this season, as Stefan Buzcko observes in his ESPN FC column.

Given the speed by which Dortmund inked Tuchel, it’s difficult to imagine that any other coaches were serious candidates. On one hand, Stefan’s observation about BVB’s hiring speed comforts me – modern footballers live in seemingly locked-in cycles, triggered by any number of ramifying effects. The coaching gives Dortmund’s footballers time to decide what comes next. On the other hand, BVB’s hiring speed worries me. First, I’m not even sure Tuchel is the best man for the job. For example, the likes of the Yellow Wall podcast crew didn’t include Tuchel in their top picks.  Second, I’m nervous about all the rumor/crap stuff – stuff like talk about Tuchel’s bristling at always being in Klopp’s shadow, talk about his ego, talk about the sour way he left Mainz, talk about his personality. Of course, I’m not position to really think anything about these rumors, but I can’t simply ignore them.

But here’s the funny thing: Tuchel would have been my top pick for the job. Heh heh. I know. I loved his Mainz sides in 2010-11 and 2014-15. Besides, he looks like Dostoevsky. And all that tactical nous/innovation is sexy as hell right now.

Anyhow, the Tuchel at Dortmund story only just opened. We haven’t gotten past the first paragraph yet. Too much, much too much, is still coming. And believe me, as the summer rolls around and the 2015-16 season looms, I’ll have plenty more to say.

Right now, however, we’re on the final chapter of Klopp’s story. It’s been a long and uplifting narrative. Let’s see how it ends.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. He writes for Howler magazine's website. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and coaching the U8s are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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