December 12, 2017

BVB Bulletin: Synchronized Euphoria and Schadenfreude after the World’s Strangest PK Shootout

The moment was insta-meme fodder: Kloppo sprinting liking a bloody NFL linebacker on the kill to bear-hug his Aussie keeper and Pokal hero, Mitch Langerak. Klopp’s angled run is a purposeful high-knee spring, his lefthand a blade slicing air, his hood bouncing, his start explosive. At the end, he does a little head turn, like a busted shoplifter. Who is this sprinting man? What possesses him? are two of about a million questions you could ask at this moment.

Like a gorilla entering a basketball game, Pep strolls into the frame. For a split second, the Spaniard is anonymous – an accessory to Kloppo’s madness – like the gorilla-suited participant. Then suddenly, Pep is visible, as he hitches his stride, unsure of Klopp’s next move (handshake? smelly, slobbery man hug? beeline forward?).

https://vine.co/v/eW3IAPw3X0Z

Just as quickly as Pep awkwardly broke his stride, he resumes his trajectory onto the ruffled grass, as if planned all along, stealing a glance at the streaking Klopp-bear.

As a metonym of Tuesday’s Pokal match – which Dortmund won 1-1* in the strangest penalty shootout I’ve ever seen – the video says a lot. First, the target of Klopp’s sprint: Langerak. If the match had a hero, it was Mitch Langerak, who point-blank stopped a Lewa winner on his leg, who knocked the same player out with a concussion (an ugly moment though), and who (Schadenfreude!) saved a Mario Götze penalty. Second, the euphoria signaled by the running of Klopp and his trailing assistants – BVB has just won in the Allianz Arena, mere days after Bayern clinched their 25th Bundesliga title. Third, to risk the silliness of belabored symbolism, Pep’s casual trajectory is open-ended (unlike Klopp’s purposive run) – where will he go next? That it, despite the loss, Bayern still have the far larger prize of the Champions League title to play for. The walk goes on.

But right now, there’s much to celebrate for BVBers, and perhaps, Bundesliga neutrals: Bayern’s hex on Bundesliga silverware is broken. At least, another club will win the Pokal this season. The Bundesliga deserves a sigh of relief. Moreover, for us BVBers, the celebration is fueled by euphoria and Schadenfreude. Hey, I’m taking all the joy I can plunder from this win.

The match itself will certainly be remember for its still images, rather than the actual play. A veritable gallery was churned out:

  • The impossible-ish angle of Lewa’s opening goal.
  • Marcel Schmelzer’s hand, unmistakably in union with the ball in Bayern’s box.
  • The ball across the goal line – redemption from last year’s Pokal semi! – on Auba’s equalizer.
  • Philipp Lahm, flat on his ass after sailing his penalty.
  • Xabi Alonso, flat on his ass after sailing his penalty.
  • Mario Götze’s penalty, lodged in Langerak’s gloves.
  • Manuel Neuer’s set jawline after cross-barring his penalty, killing Bayern off.
  • Kloppo sprinting like hell to Langerak.

A match of images. Because BVB didn’t really win this match, as much as they discovered themselves as survivors, the product of pluck, luck, Peter Gagelmann, and slippery footholds.

Again, in a messy match with few singular performers, Langerak stands out as the hero. However, even his performance wasn’t exactly earth-staking. Of Bayern’s 6 shots on target, Langerak blocked 2. In two nerve-wracking moments, Lewa hit the crossbar twice (Neuer also hit the crossbar during the penalty shootout). However, it was Langerak’s point blank leg-save on Lewa toward the end of regular time and his save on Götze’s penalty that earned Langerak man of the match honors. Messy matches like this one come down to such razor-fine moments.

As for the run of play, Bayern played in “home game” fashion with a possession-minded 4-3-3 setup (sometimes 5 at the back or in midfield). Pep’s strategy on Tuesday sharply contrasted with his brilliantly defensive 4-4-2 setup during the away leg of der Klassiker just weeks ago.

From Bayern’s perspective, the direction of play resembled a “V” shape with the central defensive 3rd forming – via Medhi Benatia or Jerome Boateng – the base of operations. Bayern’s play mostly channeled up their left flank with the Juan Bernat vs. Erik Durm match up featuring heavily. Play then shifted to Bayern’s right flank as Mitchell Weiser was shuttered by Marcel Schmelzer.

Ironically, Bayern’s possession-heavy play seemed to benefit BVB by giving the latter club purpose. For Dortmund, the plan looked simple: hang slightly back in defense (no high pressing mostly), contain Bayern with a crooked back 4 or 5, and wait patiently for counters.

On the whole, Bayern averaged about two touches for every BVB ball touch. (Courtesy of WhoScored.com)
On the whole, Bayern averaged about two touches for every BVB ball touch. (Courtesy of WhoScored.com)

While Bayern enjoyed 60%-70% of possession, BVB looked happy to settle in and mildly chase Bayern’s ball handlers around a bit. Until the latter stages of regular time, Dortmund’s countering chances were infrequent. However, this style of play really seemed to suit BVB, who weren’t frustrated with futile build-up play as they have been so many times this season. Furthermore, the relaxed nature of Dortmund’s play meant that legs were relatively fresh during extra time.

As the match wound down, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Kevin Kampl subbed on, which seemed to open play up for Reus, who’d been closed down for most the match. After Aubameyang’s equalizer, Dortmund enjoyed longer and more menacing stretches of attacking play.

Lest I fall to hindsight bias snares, I need to remind you – and myself – that much of this match was decided by pure and simply luck. For example, on another day in another setting, Schmelzer’s hand meeting the ball could have led to a match-killing penalty. Or Auba’s goal could have been disallowed (Neuer slapped the ball out after it had crossed the line) with no goal line technology. Or BVB could have conceded a goal in extra time once Kampl was shown red and sent off for a clumsy challenged. Or Lahm and Alonso could have not slipped on their asses during the penalty shootout.

The match was mostly a lottery. And the fickle gods, whoever they are, smiled on Dortmund – but only barely.

Bayern supporters could blame everything or nothing for the loss, while BVBers could do the reverse for the win.

Because who else but lottery winners in football receive the luck of their illustrious opponents missing ALL FOUR penalties? Gawd, I love sport. Let me count the ways … Fußballspielen and other professional athletes rehearse and drill their craft so precisely in order to control for, or eliminate (the hubris!) the unexpected through the algorithms carved deep from thousands of training hours. So when four straight penalties are missed, it’s truly remarkable, or as Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht would label it, in his schema of seven atheletic-aesthetic “fascinations,” epiphany breaking through the run of play. Four missed penalties in a row. And by Bayern nonetheless.

Did you know it was possible?

I didn’t know this possibility was possible.

And the resulting possibility: Kloppo’s BVB get one more trip to Berlin for the Pokal final. VfL Wolfsburg await.

Wir fahren nach Berlin!

https://vine.co/v/eWLAAhDqMAt

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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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