Borussia Dortmund capitalised on yet another mistake-ridden defensive performance by Wolfsburg to move up to second place in the Bundesliga. Felix Magath started the match with an extremely defensive line-up in a bid to crowd out Dortmund’s midfield-based passing game, and despite these tactics working perfectly in the opening ten minutes of the match, a mistake at the back allowed Dortmund to score, forcing Wolfsburg to come out and play, thereby leaving themselves open to the magic of Shinji Kagawa and Mario Götze – both of whom gave attacking-midfield masterclasses. The 5-1 defeat leaves Wolfsburg in 14th place with the second-worst goal difference in the Bundesliga, and you can’t help but feel that if it was anyone but title-winning coach Felix Magath at the helm, the board’s trigger finger would be getting twitchy.
Wolfsburg tried to be too clever from kick-off, allowing Dortmund to press in numbers and win the ball just off the D. The sheer congestion in the area caused possession to be squandered, allowing Diego Benaglio to sweep up and release Patrick Ochs to run down the right. The former Eintracht Frankfurt man exposed the hosts’ sluggishness in getting into shape and reached the final-third, as Wolfsburg had the hosts briefly on the ropes. Two testing crosses and corner-kicks followed, but Dortmund got off scot-free.
The three or four minutes that followed the visitors’ early pressure were pretty much event-free, with Dortmund feeling their way into the game by way of ball retention/aimless passing, with Wolfsburg sitting off, keeping their shape, and leaving Ashkan Dejagah and Mario Mandžukić to do the pressing whenever the man on the ball was about ten metres away from crossing the halfway line. When yet another Dortmund foray forward broke down in the congested centre of the pitch, it was left to the Croatian attacker to carry the visitors’ counter all by himself down the left wing. Despite Magath’s system displaying its benefits right away via the ease with which his players had kept Dortmund’s at bay, this moment encapsulated just what a hard task Wolfsburg would have in getting numbers to support Mandžukić in the home side’s half.
As we approached the tenth minute, Jürgen Klopp had instructed his team to start mixing things up positionally in a bid to draw Wolfsburg out, or the rigid, narrow midfield bank apart. A triangle involving Marcel Schmelzer, Sven Bender and Moritz Leitner saw the former released diagonally into a small pocket of central space in the second-third area of the pitch. He was stopped pretty much instantly, though, by Jan Polák’s tactical foul. Alas, the subsequent free-kick came to nothing, as Klopp’s side continued in their lethargic on-ball manner (and they were unlucky not to fall behind from the away side break that followed, as Chris headed a free-kick straight at Roman Weidenfeller).
Dortmund were hauled out of this affliction, however, in the 11th minute. A bit of give-&-go football on the right-hand side of the pitch – with young Leitner at the heart of it, and Kagawa making the key pass – saw Götze released to run into the box. Despite leaving Polák and Josué to eat his dust, Wolfsburg looked as though they had adequate cover to narrow the angles for the imminent shot. Yet, at least three defenders stood still, seemingly petrified, allowing the 18-year-old to pick his spot in the bottom corner and make it 1-0!
Wolfsburg’s misery continued, with Polák picking up a yellow card two minutes later; he and his colleagues now firmly on the back-foot. Magath placed rather than sealed a lid on the tin marked ‘defensive tactics’, as his full-backs at last tried to integrate themselves into the visitors’ until-then numbers-lite attack. Despite this sounding like a criticism, it isn’t – I think Magath got his tactics spot on in the closing stages, and his side might have continued to frustrate Dortmund were they not so prone to gifting goals through bizarre mistakes at the back.
As we went beyond the 20-minute mark, Dortmund looked settled and calm. They exerted little energy and concentrated on ball possession. Whenever there was a turnover, they kept their defensive line as high and as narrow as possible, making it extremely difficult for the visitors to instigate a quick counter. Similarly, when Benaglio tried to launch a break via a quick overarm throw, there was always a player in yellow borderline-legally blocking his path. Chance wise, Dortmund didn’t really threaten Benaglio’s goal in the 15 minutes played in the wake of the home side going 1-0 ahead, save for Schmelzer’s spectacular 25-yard volley which the Swiss shot-stopper athletically beat away, and a few squares across the six-yard box which had defenders and goalkeeper alike scrambling.
Even when Wolfsburg tried a bit of route one football when clearing their lines, the defence had been pushed back so deep that Dejagah and the midfielders behind him had also had to fall back nearer to Benaglio, meaning that once again, the only man to feed on the break was Mandžukić, who always had two or three defenders to contend with, even if he was able to start one of his pacey runs from before the halfway line. Christian Träsch tried to drive his side on in the 29th minute by playing a one-two with Dejagah, and bombing on to take the return pass in the final-third. However, Dortmund pressed so diligently and intelligently that Dejagah barely had time to think, and, calm as you like, possession was transferred back to the home side.
As we went beyond the half-hour mark, Wolfsburg were playing in more of a 4-1-3-2 formation, as Magath tried to impose his system on Klopp’s. Dortmund’s coach had also tinkered, briefly moving Kagawa out to the right flank and Götze into the centre (Josué spent the few minutes this switched lasted for trying to breathe down the youngster’s neck). But, Magath’s desire to play a high-line with players clearly no good at playing it nearly allowed BVB to double their lead in the 31st minute, as Kevin Großkreutz jogged on to Robert Lewandowski’s delightful headed through-pass, only to slot his effort just wide of the post. Two minutes later, Mandžukić went an inch or two closer – firing a speculative shot from range off Weidenfeller’s right-hand post.
This chance was something of an anomaly, however, so with seven minutes to go until half time, Magath attempted to inject some life into his midfield by replacing the yellow-carded Polák with Alexander Hleb. The change saw Wolfsburg alter their formation again, a 4-3-1-2 now being deployed. Dortmund continued to exert the majority of the pressure, though, even if all they seemed to be able to do with their hold on possession in key areas of the pitch was win corner-kicks – all four of which Wolfsburg dealt with very well during the first half.
Although the technically-gifted Dortmund XI found it easy to gain territory because of the way they quickly move the ball from right to left, every sideways-looking pass gaining them ten yards or so, there was still something missing in the final-third. However, as touched upon earlier, Dortmund’s pressing had stopped Wolfsburg from stringing together a series of passes in the opposition half, and this well-timed and furious pressing proved decisive in the 44th minute when Bender surged at and robbed the dithering Josué, slalomed his way through several challenges, before laying in Lewandowski to run at the two, nigh-on halfway-standing defenders. The Pole drew both across, before shifting the ball diagonally to Kagawa. The Japanese star calmly carried it towards the D despite having a few men in white pounding after him, and finished with a cool head to give BVB a deserved 2-0 half time lead!
Neven Subotić, who picked up a knock towards the end of the first half, was replaced by Felipe Santana for the second half. The Brazilian’s defensive colleague, Schmelzer, so nearly made it 3-0 one minute in, firing a daisy-cutter free-kick just wide of the post. Despite this looking like it would be the hosts picking up from where they had left off at the end of the first 45 minutes, the five minutes that followed saw Wolfsburg do some attacking. Yet the away side failed to even test Weidenfeller in this ten-minute spell, most of their forays forward ending in weak crosses or wasted free-kicks.
The danger for Wolfsburg, of course, was that Dortmund’s crop of attacking world-beaters were now looking to play against a dodgy bunch of defenders on the break. Magath continued to go for the jugular, though, replacing Ochs with Rasmus Jönsson. This switch gave Wolfsburg more of an attacking, ball-holding presence on the right, and ensured that the game became far more oepn. After Schäfer’s paucity of imagination saw him send a weak long-ranger into the hands of Weidenfeller, Kagawa timed a burst down the right and reached the box with ease after receiving the pass. He pulled the ball back to Großkreutz, but the young German couldn’t finish due to the box being packed with sliding white-shirted players.
From this chance, Wolfsburg themselves broke down the right, with the resurgent Dejagah showing good determination to get on the ball, and then duping Mats Hummels into an air tackle. The German international’s moment of madness meant that there was a huge tear in the Dortmund defence, and so Dejagah had a range of options when reaching the box. He pulled the ball back for Träsch, who, despite initially taking a heavy touch, managed to square for Hleb (and was aided in doing so because those BVB players who had got back had used all their energy to try and close Träsch down). The Belarussian passed the ball into the net, making it 2-1!
Excited at getting themselves back into the game, Wolfsburg took leave of their defensive senses, and allowed the home side to restore their two-goal cushion just two minutes after it had been reduced to a single goal. It came after Götze’s right-footed outwswinging corner was flicked on towards the back post by Łukasz Piszczek, where Bender, standing all alone, headed in for 3-1!
Five minutes later (66′), it was 4-1! Dejagah lost possession on the edge of Weidenfeller’s box, and Schmelzer wasted no time in feeding Kagawa, who was standing just in front of the centre-circle. Spotting Lewandowski gaining pace as he came up alongside him, the Japanese international played a sumptuous through-pass with his right foot’s little toe, giving the Polish striker the luxury of running straight onto it without breaking his stride. Benaglio rushed out, but it counted for nothing, as Lewandowski calmly scooped the ball over him to give the home side a three-goal cushion!
As good as Kagawa’s pass and Lewandowski’s finish were, you couldn’t help but feel that if only someone had gone across to shut down Götze before he went on to make it 1-0, this would have been a different game entirely. After going a goal behind, Wolfsburg were forced into taking risks against a side with players on the pitch capable of picking them off. With 19 minutes to play and the points all-but sealed, Klopp felt that the time was right to replace Leitner with the more experienced veteran Sebastian Kehl. Three minutes later, Klopp seized on the opportunity to give Lucas Barrios some game time, bringing him on for Lewandowski. The inspirational Kagawa put a chance on the Paraguayan’s plate in the 77th minute, but the normally sharp Barrios could only miskick the ball.
However, Götze reminded his South American colleague how to finish one minute later, after Piszczek danced and jinxed his way infield towards the D from the chalk. Jogging with his right hip pointing at Benaglio’s goal, the Polish right-back gave the crestfallen visiting defence the eyes before slipping in Götze with his right foot’s little toe through the right side of the D – the 18-year-old breaking the limp offside trap with ease. Taking his time, Götze eventually slotted into the net with his right foot for 5-1!
Barrios went on to waste several more chances after that (with Kagawa spending the closing stages making through-balls for fun), cutting a frustrated figure as neither he or his colleagues could put the home side in sixth or seventh(-goal) heaven. Due to international fixtures being pencilled in next weekend, Dortmund aren’t in action again until November 19. Klopp will be smarting at the timing of this break, because it could halt his side’s momentum going into their next game – a potentially season-defining trip to Bayern Munich. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, host Hannover on the same day, knowing that if they lose, they could very easily end the day in the relegation zone.