Borussia Dortmund kept their hopes of retaining the 1. Bundesliga title alive with a win in tremendously difficult conditions at Freiburg. A snow downpour for the duration of the game – plus a good coating that had fallen before proceedings began settling strongly – made the match a bit of a farce, but BVB coach Jürgen Klopp won’t mind, as his team are now nine points behind league-leaders Bayern Munich (who have a game in hand at home to Bayer Leverkusen tomorrow).
All afternoon, the weather conditions played havoc for defenders and attackers alike in gauging where the ball was going to land at any given point, if it moved at all. But, Freiburg and Dortmund both had spells where they adapted, putting their opponents under pressure, and it was the hosts who had the much stronger first-half, with anaemic Dortmund barely troubling home goalkeeper Oliver Baumann. However, after the break, the visitors – playing three days after a famous win in the Champions League against Real Madrid – looked slick and strong, and took the lead in the 53rd minute when Neven Subotić headed in a Marco Reus free-kick.
Seven minutes from time, Mario Götze sealed the three points against a Freiburg side who didn’t create enough chances in the second-half, and failed to convert those they did during the first 45 minutes. Despite today’s home defeat, something Freiburg don’t experience very often, coach Christian Streich will still be satisfied with the start his side have made to the 2012/13 season – 11 points from their opening nine games. They go to Borussia Mönchengladbach next weekend, while Dortmund host Stuttgart.
Freiburg (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Baumann; Jonathan Schmid, Matthias Ginter, Diagné Fallou, Mensur Mujdža; Karim Guédé, Cédric Makiadi, Julian Schuster, Daniel Caligiuri; Max Kruse; Erik Jendrišek
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Roman Weidenfeller; Łukasz Piszczek, Subotić, Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer; İlkay Gündoğan, Sebastian Kehl; Reus, Götze, Kevin Großkreutz; Robert Lewandowski
Freiburg got us underway with a gaudy pink ball on the icing sugar-dusted pitch. The opening few minutes were unsurprisingly laboured with the falling snow making visibility difficult, and the pitch rendering the ball slow and erratic in the bounce. Both sides did try a bit of one-touch pass-and-move football, but the conditions really did make it nigh-on impossible to penetrate the opposition by playing in such a way.
As we neared the ten-minute mark, Dortmund had adapted to the conditions much better, with Freiburg -whose players, early on, found it difficult to string passes together, and struggled against the visitors’ pressing – happy to sit off and hit their guests on the break. Klopp’s side had given Freiburg one or two nervy moments, but had been guilty of being a bit too intricate in and around the box, meaning Baumann – who came into the game having kept more clean sheets than Weidenfeller this season – enjoyed a quiet, albeit presumably very cold, start to the match.
Despite the fact they’d paid to watch a farce of a game (and one in which their team had struggled to enter the final-third of the pitch in the opening 14 or so minutes), Freiburg’s fans were making a good noise at the Mage Solar Stadion – something of a fortress for the home side. In the 15th minute, they were finally given something on the pitch to get excited about, when the busy Caligiuri – brother of Mainz’s Marco – won a corner. Caligiuri himself connected at the near post with Schmid’s delivery, only for Götze, on the post, to clear his header, albeit back into the proverbial mixer. There, Jendrišek was free to launch another header at goal, but this effort came back off Weidenfeller’s other post. A close shave for the reigning champions.
By the 20-minute mark, Freiburg’s attackers had begun swapping positions, with Guédé, Kruse and Jendrišek each taking turns as line-leader, support-striker, and right-sided midfielder. Since their two headed chances, the hosts had grown into the game; Streich’s brand of energetic, numbers-committing attacking football rattling Dortmund once or twice, if not resulting in any real chances on goal in a ten-minute period of particularly decent pressure. Dortmund, just about, remained in the driving seat, but the closest they’d come to scoring was a Schmelzer free-kick, which Baumann caught with relative ease. Given the conditions, the match had turned into a real physical slog, and with the energy the away side had exerted in their midweek Champions League victory over Real Madrid, it was not hard to see why they were struggling to create chances when red-shirted players appeared to be ubiquitous.
Added to that, other players, such as Subotić, really didn’t seem to be in the game mentally during the first-half. On one occasion in the opening 30 minutes, Dortmund nearly paid when the Serb centre-back dawdled on the edge of his own box; on another, his needless handball allowed Freiburg the chance to curl in a free-kick from just off the D (Fallou narrowly failed to connect with the subsequent delivery). It wasn’t just in central defence where Dortmund were lagging, though, as Freiburg were doing most of their attacking down the flanks, where space was being offered to them far too frequently by the narrow visitors.
Although, as we went over the 35-minute mark, Dortmund as a team had run one kilometre more than their hosts, Freiburg had been much wiser in their movements. They were still the ones creating chances as we neared half-time, ignoring fancy footwork and defence-splicing passes to make good use of their energy down the channel, before delivering a cross at the earliest opportunity. BVB, meanwhile, were set up to make use of their playmakers, Götze and Gündoğan, but both were on the fringes of the game in the first-half: swamped, cold and unable to adapt to the conditions.
As we entered the final few minutes of the first 45 minutes, the pitch was now ‘only’ about 80 per cent covered in snow, despite the white stuff still falling fairly heavily. Dortmund finished the half as the stronger side, showing the urgency and desire to get on the ball they’d lacked for a good half-hour. However, despite winning a corner, and Gündoğan getting the space to shoot from range on 44′, Baumann remained untroubled, concluding one of the quietest halves of football he’ll probably endure this season.
Formations that started the second-half
Freiburg (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Baumann; Schmid, Ginter, Fallou, Mujdža; Guédé, Makiadi, Schuster, Caligiuri; Kruse; Jendrišek
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Subotić, Hummels, Schmelzer; Gündoğan, Kehl; Reus, Götze, Großkreutz; Lewandowski
Neither Streich nor Klopp made a personnel change for the second-half, which started on a pitch that had undergone 20 minutes of snow-clearing – a bit futile given that it was still hammering down – and red-dying of the penalty box lines. Within a minute, we’d had the game’s best chance – some quick thinking and football between Reus, Götze and Großkreutz saw the former released inside the box to the byline. He pulled the ball back for Piszczek, only for the Polish right-back to drag his shot wide of goal.
Dortmund continued to attack, with Freiburg playing like they’d spent the interval sleeping, before being woken up by the referee’s peep to get the new half started. In the 51st minute, Götze missed a sitter, blazing over from seven yards out after some intelligent play by Groβkreutz. But, the deadlock was broken by the visitors just two minutes later. About 40 yards out from goal on the away side’s left flank, Götze won a free-kick after what appeared to be a fair challenge by Makiadi right in front of referee Marco Fritz. Reus expertly swung the set-piece into the box, where Subotić, now switched on, back-headed the ball into the bottom right-hand corner for 1-0!
Freiburg responded positively to falling behind, with Jendrišek very nearly levelling the scores in the 56th minute after a free-kick fell at his feet in the six-yard box (Weidenfeller was sharp in coming off his line to block the attempt). However, by the time we’d reached the hour mark, Dortmund had – no pun intended – managed to weather the storm, quashing the hosts’ momentum, and making proceedings more even again. Streich made a substitution, replacing Jendrišek with Vegar Eggen Hedenstad. The Norwegian went onto the right side of midfield, with Kruse and Guédé forming a bank to make the Freiburg system 4-4-2 (before Marco Terrazzino replaced the latter in a like-for-like switch in the 68th minute).
But, the game had really petered out by the time we reached the 75-minute mark, with Dortmund in control, albeit with neither they nor Freiburg having any efforts on goal to speak of bar Piszczek running onto a scooped through-ball and volleying wide in the 74th minute. Caligiuri picked up a yellow card in the 72nd minute for dissent, joining Ginter and former Freiburg player Kehl in Fritz’s book. Klopp, despite his side’s energy-sapping match against Real Madrid in the week, only made his first substitution in the 80th minute, replacing Reus with Julian Schieber (like for like).
Dortmund sealed the three points in the 83rd minute, with Freiburg paying the price for holding a poor defensive shape (something that had blighted them since the start of the second-half). A quick turnover on the left flank saw the ball hurriedly fed to Lewandowski, dropping from a position just off the D. Freiburg’s defence, sitting very narrowly, all swarmed around him, only for the Pole to flick through to Götze; darting into the box and free on a disguised burst. The young German international made no mistake with the finish, giving his side a 2-0 lead.
Götze was replaced for the closing stages with Ivan Perišić, while Streich tried to inject more drive into his midfield by bringing on Johannes Flum for Schuster. Makiadi went close with a free-kick which Weidenfeller parried, and at the other end, Schieber wastefully shot wide in a one-on-one situation. Injury time flew by with little goalmouth action, the only event of significance being Moritz Leitner replacing Gündoğan for a 60-second stroll. The latter, like his team, hadn’t put in their best performance of the season, but as that footballing cliché notes, the mark of champions is winning when you haven’t played well.
Formations that finished the match
Freiburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Baumann; Schmid, Ginter, Fallou, Mujdža; Hedenstad, Flum, Makiadi, Caligiuri; Kruse, Terrazzino
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Subotić, Hummels, Schmelzer; Leitner, Kehl; Schieber, Perišić, Großkreutz; Lewandowski