Dortmund condemned Hannover to a fourth defeat in six games as Jurgen Klopp’s side moved four points clear at the top of the table. Die Borussen set a new record in the process by becoming the first ever top-flight side in Germany to win each of their opening six away games, and the win, with goals from four different players, also keeps Dortmund tens points ahead of the Champions League chasing-pack.
From the first peep, Hannover saw more of the ball, but only in harmless areas. Good Dortmund pressing forced hurried decisions, and prevented Hannover from doing much. Mirko Slomka had his side invite pressure near their own goal by getting Florian Fromlowitz to roll short. The idea was to entice the league-leading visitors higher up the pitch as a unit, Hannover then scooping a ball over the top for either one of their alert strikers to run with, or feeding a wideman to carry down the channel and get the Dortmund defence back-pedalling.
However, Jurgen Klopp’s side are as ruthlessly disciplined as they are fit. Dortmund harried Hannover into submission by hunting and biting in packs of three (particularly in the centre, where one of the deeper midfielders pushed up, and Mario Götze pushed in). Then, keeping their defence deep, they recycled possession and came forward themselves. And what a sight the stream of yellow shirts piling upfield is! Dortmund counter-attack with careless abandon, and are able to do so because neither full-back has a second thought about flying forwards. With the nominal attackers all still high after pressing the first ball, bodies abound for the carriers to either feed, or use as decoys.
Despite this being their 19th game of the season (a figure that excludes the international games most of the squad has also played), Dortmund are still in impeccable physical condition. Because they are so fit and agile, they can play on the same wavelength, and penetrate the opposition. Against Hannover, crossfield passes were arrowed with Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor-esque precision, and close-quarter triangles were anything but stodgy. In comparison, Hannover couldn’t cope with the pressure, and even when it wasn’t physically present, the very thought of it forced a succession of poor passes.
Nevertheless, Mirko Slomka’s team were always primed to attack, and Constant Djapka offered Hannover an extra outlet down the left. Alas, his colleagues rarely located him, and when they did, his delivery was panicky and tame. Dortmund used the space left by the Ivorian to accentuate the lethality of their attacks. More often than not, Lukasz Piszczek was released to hit the the byline – and as the home side soon discovered, even corking the Pole wasn’t enough to stop Dortmund. In the 11th minute, Konstantin Rausch was naive in attempting a give-and-go on the edge of his own box, the Dortmund droves pounced, and after semi-circling from inside the box to the D, Kagawa curled a left-footed strike into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal. 1-0!
Dortmund were tactically clever for the remainder of the first half. Post-goal, they dropped deeper, kept Lucas Barrios as the sole high-presser (save for the ball being near the halfway line, when the pack mentality was once again enacted), and indulged in a bit of time-wasting melina.
Slomka made one switch at the interval, retaining his 4-4-2, but swapping Norway’s Mohammed Abdellaoue for Finland’s Mikael Forssell. They were a far superior outfit thereafter, coming at their guests with more thrust, and less ‘do we?, more ‘DO!’ Although this kept Dortmund pinned back for longer periods, Klopp’s table-toppers remained a real force on the counter-attack, and continued to press high when and where they could.
The desire to hit their hosts on the break was encapsulated in the 72nd minute when Barrios was fed from the right by Piszczek to bundle into the net for 2-0. Dortmund could have added to their lead immediately when Karim Haggui elbowed Kuba off-the-ball, conceding a penalty, and earning himself a red card in the process. Although Fromlowitz saved Şahin’s weak effort from the spot, he could do little two minutes later when Dortmund’s two Polish subs combined – a deft one-two between Kuba and Robert Lewandowski seeing the former released, drawing a one-on-one save from the cocky custodian, only for Lewandowski to sweep in the loose ball. In added time, Antonio Da Silva picked off Hannover’s high-line from the quarterback position, feeding Kuba on the shoulder of the left-sided centre-back, and the Pole made no mistake this time when one-on-one with Fromlowitz. 4-0.
As Hannover discovered, you can throw on all the Scandinavians forwards in the world, but if you can’t pass under pressure, you won’t win the game. In that respect, it’s hard to tell how good this Dortmund team is. Ask yourself this… have they faced a top quality side yet? Because, let’s be honest, Bayern were off-colour when the sides met recently. If they play the way that makes them so good against top quality sides, will that side then make the kind of telling through-passes that exploit the space, and give Dortmund a rude awakening?
Not only did their free-for-all style lead to a lot of unplugged gaps against Hannover, but also, Dortmund made far too many silly mistakes. Lars Bender was clumsy in the tackle and the pass, while both centre-backs had their nervy moments. In attack, they were sometimes profligate – Kagawa, for example, missing two golden chances in the space of a minute midway through the first half. Dortmund won’t always have the luxury of picking sides off on the break in the second half.
Some dates for the diary? January 15, January 22, January 29, and February 5 – a quadruple-header of Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, and Schalke. If Dortmund prevail with dignity, fitness and momentum intact, they’ll be overwhelming favourites for the title. In terms of facing a true top quality side which will illustrate just how good they are? We’ll have to wait until the 2011/12 Champions League to see that – a competition Dortmund are all-but certain to be a part of.