Legendary Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi once said; “The only way you can build a side is by getting players who speak the same language and can play a team game. You can’t achieve anything on your own, and if you do, it doesn’t last long. I often quote what Michelangelo said: ‘The spirit guides the hand.’”
When Marco Reus’ transfer to Borussia Dortmund was announced last year, many were quick to predict how well he would adapt to Jürgen Klopp’s style of play and system. They were right of course. Reus has very much continued the fine form he showed in his time with Borussia Mönchengladbach and slotted into Dortmund’s lineup seamlessly, again being one of the league’s standout players.
That’s not just because Reus is a Dortmund youth product but because he has some of the league’s best players around him. In particular, he has Mario Götze, with whom he has formed arguably the most formidable pairing in the league. German legend Franz Beckenbauer even went as far as to say the duo is the world’s best after their impressive display in the Champions League against Ajax Amsterdam during the group stage.
“With Marco Reus and Mario Götze they [Dortmund] have the strongest football pairing in the world. At Barcelona Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi are building a triangle,” said Beckenbauer. “But as a classic midfield duo there is nobody better than the prolific Reus and the strategist Götze. How they split Ajax apart in the Champions League impressed me.”
Sure enough, watching the duo play is eerily reminiscent of the likes of Iniesta and Xavi who have played with each other almost all their lives. The Dortmund pair’s chemistry, link-up and eye for each other’s positioning and movement is incredible considering this is their first full season playing together and it was on full display in the Champions League this season. Against Werder Bremen, Götze and Reus completely unraveled Thomas Schaaf’s defense. It was Bremen’s second largest home defeat in league history.
The two seem to get the best out of each by playing together and Klopp very much encourages the pair to play as close together as possible. Only halfway into the season, Götze has already reached a new personal record with his seventh goal of the season against Bremen. Reus too has increased his goal total in all competitions midway through the campaign. Reus and Götze are also responsible for creating the most scoring chances for Dortmund this season, a combined 63 in 18 matches.
Of course, Piszczek’s relentless energy makes it easy for Reus to abandon caution and drift centrally when he’s deployed on the right but the two always look for each other and when they find one another, opposing defenses are usually helpless. Dortmund’s attack as a whole has taken on another dimension with the two playing together. The team’s transitions are even quicker than they were last year and Reus and Götze’s constant interchanging make the team slightly more unpredictable.
Below is a graphic illustration of Götze and Reus’ distribution variation in a given match. The thicker the arrow the more frequent the passing to that particular player:
Dortmund had 31 more sprints than Bremen on Saturday and were simply too quick for the home side to handle. Reus and Götze exploited the space between defense and midfield brilliantly. The precision of their link-up and chemistry means that Dortmund don’t necessarily have to dominate possession or even create more chances because those they do create are put away to such great effect.
Reus’ greatest attributes are his dynamism and movement. What made him so effective at Gladbach was the sheer unpredictability of his positioning which made it difficult for opposing defenders to mark him. His lateral movement pulled defenders out position, and his dropping back in his own half forced entire backlines to adapt by moving up several yards to anticipate runs and passes. It’s also why Lucien Favre gave him such free range, more or less deciding to build the rest of the team around him. It’s also why Gladbach have struggled after his departure and Favre is still searching to find someone suited for the “Reus role.”
In that sense, Reus is the perfect foil for Götze who has one of the most brilliant football minds around. Watching Götze play you can sense that a million ideas are buzzing through his brain, and it takes an equally special player to be on the same page and execute those ideas. There’s a reason Götze looks for Reus as often as he does and vice versa. 31% of Götze’s plays against Bremen took place in the central part of Dortmund’s attacking third. More revealing though is the fact that over 25% of Reus’ plays took part in the same area of the pitch despite him starting out on the right. Every play is mapped out in their brains before they are executed on the pitch in an almost telepathic manner.
Under Klopp, Dortmund’s play has come to be characterized by extremely quick transitions and moving the ball up the field as fast as possible, but the interplay and variety provided by Reus and Götze adds another layer of sophistication and unpredictability that had previously not existed. It is perhaps no surprise then that Dortmund have finally reached their potential in Europe with Reus in the side, a factor that many have cited as the biggest difference maker between this year’s success and their last two outings.
Dortmund might be trailing Bayern Munich in the league but the club is benefiting tremendously for their magic duo. Sacchi was right when he drew an analogy between football and linguistics. Marco Reus and Mario Götze very much speak the same language, and if this season is any indication of their development and potential together, there is no limit to what the two can do going forward. They might not repeat their domestic success this season but the very best of this Dortmund side is yet to come.
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