Five observations from the Supercup

Dortmund's depth impresses, Toprak resurfaces, the troubles with Götze and Bayern's old woes reemerge

In what was a thrilling, back and forth Supercup between Bayern and Dortmund, full of highlights (Neuer saves, Sancho runs, Guerreiro passes, Paco’s finishing, Toprak and Hitz’s miracle saves) and lowlights (Kimmich against Sancho, Neuer vs Paco, Lewandowski against Hitz), but BVB emerged victorious in the trophy that means everything and nothing. Although for precautionary and injury reasons only one of the new signings, Nico Schulz, got a start and we only saw a little of Benjamin Pavard, the fans still got an entertaining affair.

A sad Niko Kovac discussed how his “team played OK” and focused on his mistakes in concentration, naivety and quality. Lucien Favre praised BVB for defending patiently and compactly and was happy with creating 4-5 clear goalscoring chances, but was dissatisfied with allowing 65% possession to FCB. More interestingly, Favre stressed the importance of Raphael Guerreiro, who was rumored to leave all summer to PSG,etc but was vital to the win with his transition movement and passing, by saying “I hope Guerreiro stays”

(base formation and movements)

While winning or losing the Supercup likely does not mean all that much - just check Frankfurt last year - when it is Dortmund and Bayern, and particularly in light of last season’s title race at last it does mean some things. Here are 5 takeaways:

  1. Dortmund do it without new blood and Hummels-Bürki. What’s going on with Götze?

    Mats Hummels pulled out of training on Saturday, but could have played if this had been say the UCL final and there were similar reports on Thorgan Hazard as well. Preseason sensation Mateu Morey suffered a shoulder injury and Julian Brandt and Roman Bürki were also missing. What is more, Mario Götze remained on the bench the entire game, and was also absent from the locker room team photo after. He was also perhaps making fun of Favre’s clapping:

    All of this comes after contract talks have stalled: barely 27-year-old Götze is entering his TENTH Bundesliga season, but can leave next year on a free. He is making around ten million, Dortmund have offered around 7-8. In addition, there are not a ton of teams who can pay those wages for a guy who was still excellent for BVB, but with his injury history and metabolic disorder, is already a different player than he was in his early 20s. At the same time at large chunks of the Rückrunde, Götze was BVB’s best player, capable of playing anywhere from a no 8, 9, 10 spots with remarkable vision, excellent counterpressing and still the same great offensive contribution. However, if you are Dortmund, the worry is that with all the new signings there are cheaper alternatives for the four attacking spots: Brandt at 8-10, Hazard at wing/striker occasionally, Alcácer staying healthy and playing like he did Saturday, in addition to the fixtures Reus and Sancho. That still leaves out depth pieces like Bruun Larsen, Dahoud and Wolf or Sergi Gomez (and using Hakimi or Morey as wingers). In crude economic terms, BVB have ultimately paid 60 million (30m for signing plus 10m X 3 seasons) for a Götze who has failed to play more than 55% of available league minutes (1700 per season) since 2014\15 and is basically an extremely overqualified squad player.

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  2. Toprak on fire!

    Now 30, Toprak used to be one of the best Bundesliga defenders in Leverkusen, but has become kind of a punching bag among BVB supporters. Whether it’s his recent dedication to getting in amazing shape, (this could be just me noticing it now) and to his on fire Instagram account, Toprak looked like his old self on Saturday. 5 interceptions, 5 clearances, 3/4 successful/total tackles 2/3 aerials won, 1 blocked shot, 72 touches 52/55 passes and some epic moments saw him play perhaps his best game in a Dortmund shirt. What was noticeable for me, was also his quicker decision-making and more accurate passes even under some good pressure by Bayern:

    (both of these went to Guerreiro)

    Although Hummels and Akanji are still going to play the lion’s share of minutes at CB this season, based on a strong preseason and the Supercup Toprak’s emergence as a viable CB depth piece could be a huge boost to Dortmund, whose CB struggles in the spring were a major factor in not winning the title.

  3. Bayern’s transition defense is still in shambles

    The recurring theme/image of the match was BVB countering Bayern as Thiago failed to to get enough support from the 8s and the CBs. In addition, the Spanish genius was also making uncharacteristic mistakes in positioning\tracking and even had a couple ugly looking turnovers.

    so much spaaaaaace!

    Reus in transition in acres of space = problems

    (yeah, Thiago gets the blame for losing, but it’s not like he was getting any help here)

    The overreliance on Thiago to create something was a major issue last season, but preseason signs of Kovac and Flick addressing were promising as podcast guest Justin Kraft explained in his Supercup preview at Miasanrot.

    Given the above pictures of BVB boxing Thiago in, I suspect Favre’s game plan had something to do with those old demons resurfacing on Saturday. Leon Goretzka’s high positioning and failures to properly position himself to stop counters (see the second goal) and Tolisso’s issues\effort in backtracking (see Alcácer’s chance in the first minute) made Thiago as the lone pivot much worse.

    I’ll stop now, but note that we are in the first 10 minutes, still and somehow left aside the annual Manuel Neuer brainfart…..

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  4. Structural issues still trouble Kovac/Flick

    That aforementioned diamond on the wings creates better connections/attacking structure and should also lead to better rest defense for Bayern: Rest defense is the English version of the German word Restverteidigung which basically means two things: 1 the attacking team’s structure. A strong/connected/close structure allows you to defend/access/recover the ball quickly. 2. the word Rest refers to the rest of the players (who should not be resting at all) not involved in the attack directly. Here are two early examples that mostly resulted in turnovers/counters:

    In the second half, as we saw above on the first goal with Reus hounding Thiago into a mistake, those turnovers and the lack of structure was punished by a more clinical BVB side. Here’s the second goal with yet another structural\positional mistake:

    You can see that Bayern got unlucky just seconds before the 2-0 counterattack goal: Boateng beats Reus to the ball and passed it towards 3 Bayern players (who would’ve had a nice chance against BVB selling out to counter), but Davies (perhaps because he’s a LW popping up inside and needing to take an unexpected first touch with his weaker right foot?) couldn’t control it and the ball somehow ended up at Raphael “move over Aussenrist15” Guerreiro and Sancho did the rest.

    Last season Kovac’s Gegenpressing was one of the strengths of the Bayern side and on Saturday after the 15 minute mark, it did begin to take over this game: the visitors had 0 shots in the first 15 mins, but then rattled of 9 until halftime. Bayern were arguably unlucky\a great Marwin Hitz game - we all remember, but because of last season’s mistakes also quickly forgetn when he was one of the better Bundesliga goalies for Augsburg for a long time - from taking the lead and then it could’ve been different.

  5. Lessons learned:

    We happy, Dortmund?

    For Dortmund, there are hardly any negatives but if I had to nitpick I would go for perhaps Götze, some less than stellar Piszczek moments and the much-improved Weigl at times looking a little fragile in midfield. On the other hand, positivism abounds: beating Bayern without a slew of key players, with Sancho doing nothing aside from two insane runs resulting in two goals (“except for that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?”) getting great performances from squad players like Hitz and Toprak, are all excellent news for Watzke and co. By winning the Supercup on home soil, BVB have thrown down the gauntlet on the field as well, not just in their preseason title declamations.

    Bayern panic mode?

    The fallout on the Bayern side is predictable: Kimmich was self-critical (though not so much when it came to the horrendously unnecessary foul on Sancho out of bounds), Lewandowski wants what every Bayern fan wants MOAAAAR TRANFERS and players who can make an impact off the bench (is it a bad sign of depth when you have to nominate TWO backup GKs to have 7 bench players?), while Neuer somewhat downplayed the structural mistakes angle saying that “we didn’t have so many high-positioned midfielders, it’s not like Coco and Leon were up there next to Lewy”. I respectfully disagree with Herr Neuer and reserve my doubts about the feasibility of Tolisso and Goretzka next to Thiago. That’s a cascading problem: it also seemed like Boateng and Süle were uncomfortable with stepping up to support and leaving 65 yards of space behind them, which is understandable with Dortmund’s lethal combination play on counters Although to be honest, there were 4-5 counters that died out not because of Bayern’s transition defense, but just poor touches\passes on the part of Schulz, Sancho, Weigl, Piszczek, etc. I suppose the silver lining for Kovac is that he can solve these issues with Pavard\Hernandez and or switch back to a 4-2-3-1, which sure could use another defensive midfielder who can also progress the ball (sorry Javi Martínez, hello Marc Roca?)…

    At any rate, whatever goodwill the Bayern preseason had bought the team evaporated quicker than Jadon Sancho sprinting down the right side to score the second goal. Also, is there a chance Leroy Sané’s agent still hasn’t filed the paperwork, because if I were him I’d ask for 20 million more :)

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    That’s all for now, back with more on Dortmund’s title aspirations and a breakdown of their new additions later this week: