vol 3: Ji kills Dortmund's title hopes, Lewandowski rubs it in

Headlines - Baum’s game plan and ex- BVB striker Ji Dong-Won sink Dortmund title hopes, Bayern rout Gladbach, become prohibitive favorites AGAIN

Borussia Dortmund’s already receding title hopes were dealt a devastating blow by ex- BVB striker Ji Dong-Won’s brace, as pesky hosts Augsburg held on to all 3 points. Dortmund’s spring hangover had arguably already begun against Düsseldorf on that fateful Tuesday night, December 19th, but with just 12 points in 7 games, it all means that Dortmund’s title challenge might already be over before March began. Especially, when coupled with Bayern’s 12 wins in their last 13 games (the close loss to Peter Bosz and BO4 being the only blip), it’s tough to see BVB bounce “back”, even if they are ahead on goal difference. For this week, rather than a comprehensive match analysis, I thought I would some pictures to walk through some of the reasons why Augsburg were able to beat die Borussen before breaking down Bayern’s 5-1 best performance of the season against their bogey team, Borussia Mönchengladbach. After that we briefly examine the Frankfurt - Hoffenheim derby that began quietly but exploded with such a bang that I’d rank it among the top 5 Bundesliga matches of the season. Finally, I touch upon the rest of the results and preemptively say goodbye to Domenico Tedesco.

As one of the league’s best-prepared coaches, that seems to step it up a notch against top teams, Manuel Baum was always gonna cook up something special for BVB. Let’s take a look at how they executed a successful match plan against Lucien Favre’s previously elite team that since mid December has a pedestrian record: 15 points in 9 matches on 15.78 expected points, a +5 goal difference matching an XG difference of +5.24.

  • Manuel Baum’s “Reus rules” stymie BVB

The use of second striker Michael Gregoritsch to drop back and switch off with Daniel Baier on Reus plus the support by Rani Khedira - afforded by BVB playing with one wide-drifting striker in Götze - was highly successful

Daniel Baier, the FCA captain whose on the field antics are a bit on acquired taste summed it up perfectly: “we made a lot from a little” and we’re not talking about the 127kms FCA ran, which were eleven more than BVB....

  • Unsung hero of the week: Ji Dong-Won only scores worldies against the best teams of the world per the fantastic Michael Yokhin, and is looking to extend his contract, plus Dortmund already had him on the books, so they should have known….

  • Poor halfspace occupation by Dortmund in 1h, late adjustments by Favre

    Reasons include: Jadon Sancho hanging out on the wings, Thomas Delaney spending too much time releasing his passes, and/or the attacking structure being just suboptimal, as in this case:

This sequence began with Delaney playing the pass just a little behind Akanji - note the red arrow and the shading of the pitch to see where the pass should have been to -. With a less than perfect pass, about 1-2 meters behind the ideal spot, Akanji needs to readjust and that gives time for Gregoritsch to cut off the passing angle to Sancho (who could be a little move inside in the halfspace, though perhaps Reus needed to be better positioned….)

Ideally, with that pass from Akanji, Sancho could turn and\or lay it off for Hakimi ready to sprint up the pitch and deliver a low, driven cross for Reus/Götze to hammer home. These little things don’t show up in the stat sheet - which BVB stuffed by the way - but given the game state could make all the difference, especially for someone as detail-oriented as Lucien Favre.

Unfortunately, just as Favre figured out that versus FCA’s often deep block 4-5-1, he didn’t need another defensive mid in Delaney and put in the attacking-minded Guerreiro alongside Götze (as another number 8) to occupy the halfspaces, Hakimi killed Dortmund’s chances with that fateful back pass to make it 0-2.

  • Off games for key players: Delaney’s lack of forward passing was approaching Sebastian Rode levels as Lewis Ambrose pointed out. Sancho, Witsel and Reus all had inexplicable poor touches resulting in turnovers. The enormous defensive errors leading to Augsburg’s goals by Zagadou (though Delaney switching off his marker and running towards midfield was enough to be out of the play) and Hakimi, whose performances recently and at RB have made the hilarious Stephan Uersfeld to quip that “slowly he is becoming affordable for BVB”, surely take most of the blame here.

  • Dortmund’s difficulties against low-block teams have been well-documented, but in the Hinrunde matches against Freiburg, Schalke and Mainz, BVB were able to get ahead and win. We already saw some difficulties early against Hannover (0-0) and a then very different Frankfurt (3-1 with 2 goals in the last 20 minutes on a Marius Wolf 7% shot and a Paco deflected shot from distance) before the rotated side deservingly lost against Düsseldorf. Hannover hanging with Dortmund for 53 minutes and Bürki, as he has done countless times this season, saving BVB was a warning sign, while Nürnberg and FCA both executed their game plans flawlessly. This sort of generosity towards bottom-dwellers was not lost on BVB expert  Lars Pollmann who noted that Dortmund managed just TWO points from FOUR away trips to Nürnberg, Hannover, Augsburg and Düsseldorf who until Fortuna’s recent ascension to 11th, were four of the five worst teams in the league. Hard to win a title that way….

  • At least, the unflappable Lucien Favre was finally annoyed with the proceedings, though his decision to start Delaney over the “finally emerging out of a two-season hibernation Julian Weigl”, as well as the wasteful Bruun Larsen over Guerreiro was at least questionable. In addition, the failure to integrate the likes of Dahoud, Pulisic, Kagawa and Philipp - in fairness neither of whom made it easy with their performances to get consistent chances - in light of the Reus injury looks to be a major problem that Favre has been unable to solve.

  • All of this means that Dortmund’s once nine point lead has almost evaporated (ahead thanks to scoring 2 more goals) and with an away trip to Berlin and hosting Wolfsburg, BVB could be behind on points before going to the Allianz Arena.

Bayern blow out Gladbach, become overwhelming title favorites

Bayern meanwhile continued their impressive run of 12 wins in their last 13 Bundesliga matches with a rout against “angstgegner” Gladbach. That’s no exaggeration, the 5-1 victory with FOURTEEN shots on target and NINE Yann Sommer saves means that Bayern actually underperformed the XG tally of 5.7 - the highest single game Bundesliga mark since OPTA began collecting it in the 2013\14 season. Doing this against their Bundesliga bugaboo, without Coman, Ribéry, Goretzka, Alaba and Robben, is mightily impressive and a clear sign that Bayern are now arguably even more so the title favorites than before: 538, which has never had BVB more than a 45% shot at winning the Bundesliga now has Bayern at 83%, which is actually higher than their preseason title chances of 82%.

The excellent football analytics consultant/pass map god 11tegen11 has projected a 73% chance for Bayern (were they to beat BMG) to lift die Meisterschale prior to the match, which corresponds to the latest betting market odds of 71-72% (2\5 odds are 1.4 or 71%). Euroclubindex, a wonderful resource for all sorts of leagues headed by Simon Gleave of Gracenote sports, and a bigger believer in Dortmund (63% just before the the winter break) has Bayern at nearly 85%.

How did Bayern get it done? Müller presses his socks off

It took a misplaced Alassane Pléa pass inside of thirty seconds for Thomas Müller to send in Robert Lewandowski 1v1 against Sommer and the ensuing corner - James to Javi is quickly becoming an automatic alley OOP-corner kick combo - for Bayern to take the lead in Borussia Park. Given the massive shots\XG\goals output it was Bayern’s defensive plan that was the key to beat the Foals: in particular, the pressing and effort of Thomas Müller. The recently much-maligned Müller is going through his third straight trying season - not quite an every game starter, goals are half of what they were during his heyday, while XG per 90 is down to 0.35-ish from 0.6 - but could some of that perceived decline be due to the unavailability of metrics good enough to judge his impact and what about his fewer goals being correlated to Lewandowski arriving? I mean all the Müller fans will think so….

Well, you are in luck, Raumdeuter fans: pressure regains, a brand new metric devised by the cutting-edge folks at Statsbomb is defined as the number of times per 90 minutes the team has won the ball back inside of 5 seconds with the player pressuring the opponent. Thomas Müller is not the most surprising name - that would be the frail-looking Ángel di María - on this list of defensive mids and some genuine studs (Dele Alli), but the man who is 29 games away from 500 matches for Bayern at age 29 (!!!) is helping his team with 5.3 recoveries. Here is some evidence from the 4th minute against Gladbach that caught my eye:

A throw-in to BMG and Müller presses Elvedi, who has to pass backwards to Sommer, instead of being able to switch to Wendt

Müller realizes that Yann Sommer, perhaps the best passing keeper in the Bundesliga (sorry Manuel Neuer, this is another belt you must vacate), will easily make the pass into the massive space on the left side.

No problem, Müller puts his head down and sprints across the pitch:

Two seconds later, Müller is on the verge of closing down Jonas Hofmann, as Javi Martínez instructs him.

By the time Hofmann receives and turn, Müller is in front of him and thus forces a back pass to Elvedi at CB:

Müller closes off the wide pass, while Martínez cleverly uses his cover shadow (black triangle) to block the pass to Hofmann in the left halfspace - thus negating one of the staples of Gladbach’s ball progression. Müller’s excellent defensive positioning, athleticism (Sommer chipped the ball to Wendt, who had to turn backwards because Müller was already there) and intelligence played a major part in Bayern’s superb pressing system.

Kovac’s superb press

For FCB, it was often a 4-4-2 midfield press that would, depending on the position of the ball send Gnabry, Müller or James as the second striker, with the central of these players blocking Kramer via their cover shadow while Thiago and Javi picked up Gladbach’s number 8s. Without central access, Sommer was forced to play wide to the fullbacks, who either couldn’t make the most of these passes, and\or were closed down by Müller or Gnabry. This is important, because it means that Kimmich and Rafinha did not need to press high and could stay with the dangerous Pléa-Hazard duo. This intensity and Gnabry’s excellent assist to Müller for the second goal meant that Bayern were two goals to the good, before Gladbach had their first shot. As a result, there was no longer a need to press high and Bayern retreated into a 4-4-2 mid - block and were able to run counters and or quick attacks when pressed or from restarts (see the 14th minute after the Lang offside chance, or Neuer’s 22nd minute left footed bomb to Lewandowski).

Gladbach emerge, but so does Lewandowski

Gladbach’s pressing at least was causing Bayern some troubles from the 16th minute mark, but Manuel Neuer, aside from a rare mistimed pass in the 21st minute dealt with these as only he can.

Ginter began to take more risks via dribble-penetration, Hofmann was more often available in the left channel, and Thorgan Hazard emerged on the left wing for some nice combinations with Wendt, or Lars Stindl, leading to Gladbach’s biggest chance in the 33rd for the German NT striker. The 30-year-old actually ended up scoring from an eerily similar, if not more awkward position, after a Gladbach throw-in and a Martínez misstep resulted in a counter going all the way.

Still, whenever Gladbach would make a mistake, Bayern were ready to pounce with Boateng’s wonderful lofted ball in the 26th (he would have two more in the first half in the 37th and 40th) and Thiago playing James in before a Gnabry shot in the 30th. Gnabry would later waste a massive 1v1 chance after a fantastic ball by Robert Lewandowski.

Lewy, unfairly criticized this season by “experts” such as Dietmar Hamman, was always available as an outlet for Neuer’s long balls, or to hold up the ball against the press. The 30-year-old Pole is putting up 1.6 key passes per game, reaching his Dortmund levels of 2013\14, and has 15 goals on 23 XG - nearly doubling up second place Marco Reus’ 12.96 - yet is somehow being raked through the coals in German media. Well maybe the six big chances and 3.16 XG in one game help...

At any rate, in the second half, after another defensive error by Elvedi, Lewy set up James, who wasted a not quite 3v1 chance, before taking a pass from Thiago and “dennisbergkamping” his way past Elvedi and Ginter for an out of this world finish.

Thiago puts Bayern in cruise control

Bayern were risk-averse in their build-up and kept the fullbacks back at times, while Gladbach defended in a mix of 4-1-4-1 and 4-4-2. Florian Neuhaus’ nifty moves at midfield were enough to get through Bayern, then his shake and bake on Martínez forced Boateng to block the shot with his arm. Wendt’s free kick whizzed past Neuer’s goal. Gladbach’s determined high press would get broken by James’ quick pass to Rafinha with the Colombian failing to convert at the other end. We’d be remiss if we somehow didn’t mention Thiago, whose control over the match was palpable throughout, but as the game went on, somehow grew even more.

With a second half passing map that would be considered an exceptionally good 90 minutes for most Bundesliga mortals, the Spanish playmaker showed that he was all over the pitch: he led Bayern in ball recoveries with 8, aerial duels won with 2, chances created (3), tackles won (4) and was second behind James in attacking third passes with 13. He even went on a “nobody believes us” rant on his way off the pitch, which given the preseason expectations and Bayern’s resources is worth a chuckle, though of course understandable as a (self) motivational ploy.

Hecking’s moves = Bayern stat padding

Although Hecking put on Raffael to add another striker, this mostly meant that Stindl played as the left-sided number 8. Gladbach at this stage where reduced to some semi-dangerous counters via Hazard or the newly introduced Zakaria - who would make a crucial block on Lewy in the 72nd - but with James dropping deeper in to the left halfspace were not able to press Bayern effectively. The fourth goal was a nice example and a throwback to the days where you used to not be able to press Bayern: the defensive midfielder Christoph Kramer was so far up on James, that when the Colombian was able to find Boateng, it left a chasm in the middle.

From then on, Boateng could pad his IMPECT numbers, bypassing five Gladbach defenders, and with Elvedi guarding who knows what (pro tip: stay with Lewy, even more pro tip: don’t clear the ball to Gnabry 5 yards from goal), it was 1-4, and firmly garbage time.

Kovac brought on Davies, Sanches and gave his Bundesliga debut to Woo-yeong Jeong, the 19-year-old Korean with 13 goals in 19 Regionalliga matches, who flashed a nice a shot in the 89th. Thorgan Hazard’s needless foul on Kimmich meant that Lewy would tie Luka Jovic on 15 goals in what was arguably the most comprehensive Bayern performance in the Kovac era.

Leipzig’s unconvincing victory, aided by a Hanno Behrens penalty miss in the 9th minute, meant that Gladbach ceded third place to RBL, capping off the worst day in BUSoDH (see blow) fan club history:

Best of the rest: Leipzig are third, Frankfurt and Leverkusen challenge for fourth!

In the weekend’s completely insane 39 shots, 17 on target, match, Frankfurt, initially ahead on a deflected Kostic free-kick, were comfortably losing to Hoffenheim after 65 minutes thanks to some Nagelsmann magic. When his number 6 Kerem Demirbay got hurt midway through the first, half the 31-year-old decided to bring on Luis Suarez Ádám Szalai, despite already starting with Kramaric, Joelinton and Belfodil in a 4-3-3. TSG were able to exploit the narrowness of Frankfurt’s 5-2-1-2 shape via the speed and dribbling of Nico Schulz and Joshua Brenet who went a combined 5 of 12 on take-ons. When Ishak Belfodil’s solo effort gave them the lead after an hour, Hoffenheim looked to deserve all three points. But, in case you haven’t been paying attention, this is not the season where nice things happen for TSG: remember the ridiculous Baumann\Rebic goal in the Hinrunde, the dumb mistakes in the UCL, all signs of a team that is taking draws and losses from games in which they are ahead in the game and on XG\chances. Case in point: Swiss defender Kasim Nuhu Adams was having a remarkable game - 12 ball recoveries, 6 clearances and the crucial switch to Belfodil for 2-1 - but, having already tripped Ante Rebic early in the first half, committed a crucial error when he brought down Sebastien Haller after a wonderful Sebastian Rode pass (one of several and some beautiful solo runs) put him through on goal.

Some might say that red card changed the game:

They might be right, as Hoffenheim’s 1.5 to 0.72 XG lead turned into a 1.76 vs 2.4 deficit when the final whistle blew. Blaming Nagelsmann for failing to adjust his tactics and playing a 4-2-3 with Joelinton next to Amiri as the double pivot would be logical, except for the fact that TSG, already playing Grillitsch at CB, were out of options: alongside Szalai and Reiss Nelson, the bench choices consisted of Nicolas Wahling, a 21-year-old winger\attacking midfielder, Moody Chana (not sure if that’s a real person or a FM generated name), a 20 yo CB, David Otto, the former U19 top scorer and eventual substitute Alfons Amade, a 19-year-old DM. Did I mention that all of them play for the reserves?

What followed was a nominal 4-2-3 that would end up being a deep block 6-2-1, inviting the Mijat Gacinovic/Seba Rode chance wasting\creation show.

Ironically, given the seasons Jovic-Haller-Rebic been having, neither really played well, with the Croatian being the best of the trio. Rebic was forced to yield his place after a first half injury to the Jovic, who appeared to disinterested and unfocused, missing two nice chances earlier in the second half. After 89 minutes and thanks to some insane Oliver Baumann saves, plus three misses my Mijat Gacinovic, Hoffenheim were still leading. That is until a marking mix-up from a corner (Szalai and Brenet were pointing at each other) saw Haller tie it, only for Frankfurt’s patience (SORRY!!) to pay off. Goncalo Paciencia (GET IT?)’s early season meniscus tear meant that he had only spent six minutes on the pitch against Hannover and Gladbach, but the son of Porto club legend Domingos Paciencia outjumped the cramping Joelinton to make it 3-2 in the 96th minute!

Europe getting farther for Hoffenheim and Bremen

The result crushed Hoffenheim’s faint European hopes, especially in light of a comprehensive 2-0 win by Leverkusen over Freiburg that was highlighted by Kevin Volland’s 7 shot 1.91 XG and Julian Brandt’s six created chances. The first goal came courtesy of a Charles Aranguíz long-range volley, but the second, Leon Bailey beating out Volland, was a delightful Havertz throughball followed by an audacious Brandt chip assist.  

Hertha BSC rode a strong game from Marko Grujic and a goal to cancel out the own goal from Niklas Stark to get to 35 points, just on the doors of the seven spot.

Wolfsburg and Werder did little to help their European dreams in a 1-1 draw that was probably slightly closer to a Bremen win, but Labbadia’s side still has 11 points from the last 5 matches, the third most behind Leverkusen and Bayern. For Florian Kohfeldt’s away side this was their 3rd consecutive 1-1 result and the 5th draw in their last 6 games, though at least they are unbeaten in 2019. The problem of course is that with Schalke on Friday, this is the easy part of the schedule where Bremen got 14 points in the first 8 matches and then comes the brutal ending that will have them face the top six plus….

Tedesco says goodbye to the ultras

It looks like the departure of Christian Heidel was as well-timed as ever. Schalke, who started the Rückrunde with an impressive 2-1 win over Wolfsburg, have now failed to win in six games. Losing to Düsseldorf is a no-no, losing 4-nil at home with a lifeless performance on the back of the 3-0 in Mainz that Domenico Tedesco called “the worst in his career” is appalling. It certainly feels like the end of the road for Tedesco, who less than a year ago was leading chants with the ultras and is now pleading\saying goodbye to them. Die Nordkurve actually was so displeased with the Schalke performance, that it forced a tearful Benjamin Stambouli to give up the captain’s armband to them! :”We are small players, Schalke is a huge club” There doesn’t seem to be a way back for the ever graceful Tedesco after this, and with ex-Stuttgart/Leipzig man Jochen Schneider taking the sporting director’s job, Schalke could and should be looking for a new beginning, perhaps with Bruno Labbadia, who is definitely leaving Wolfsburg at the end of the season. The latest reports suggest that Tedesco will still be in charge against Bremen on Friday, but with both Stuttgart (fueled by a pair of Ozan Kaban and Steven Zuber goals and Gonzalo “Trick or Treat” Castro corner assists) and Augsburg winning and gaining ground on the Royal Blues, the possibility of a relegation battle now looms even larger in Gelsenkirchen….

Thanks for reading,