Observations From Málaga vs Dortmund

This piece originally appeared on www.sabotagetimes.com.

Dortmund Did Not Play Like Champions League Winners

While it would be churlish to write them off entirely – no side ever won the tournament with their quarter-final display, after all – Dortmund revealed enough chinks in their armour to raise doubts as to their capability to go all the way this season. Jürgen Klopp’s men have won legions of fans through tactical innovation but this was a night that arguably highlighted more weaknesses than strengths.

The pressing game, so often their most potent tool, didn’t quite work. While Málaga only completed 74% of their passes to Dortmund’s 77%, Manuel Pellegrini’s men repeatedly found space between Dortmund’s defence and midfield. Better sides would have found a way to convert these territorial openings into clear cut chances and goals.

Critics have correctly highlighted Manchester United’s lack of presence between the first and second bands as a reason for their repeated failure in Europe and it may be that Dortmund are eventually undone by a similar refusal to adapt to the demands of the tournament. Playing an aggressive 4-4-1-1 with a view to outscoring your opponents 80% of the time is fine in domestic competition, but the step up to continental level brings with it the need for greater control and care in the middle of the park.

Profligate Finishing Accentuated Tactical Shortcomings

It goes without saying that if Dortmund had taken one or two of their many chances then the above criticism would be less pronounced. Their finishing on the night was dreadful, with presentable chances spurned by Mario Götze (twice), Robert Lewandowski and Julian Schieber.

Several commentators remarked at half-time that Málaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero was having a good game but the truth is less that the Argentine was playing a blinder in a technical or positional sense and more than Dortmund simply kept arrowing their shots directly at his midriff – or straight into the stands.

Fortunately for Klopp and company, nights like this are few and far between for their forwards. The return leg at the Westfalenstadion will see them create as many chances as they missed in Málaga and the odds of another merciful showing are close to zero.

Despite Defensive Solidity, Hummels Was Missed

By most metrics, stand-in centre-back Felipe Santana had a good game at La Roselada: he made five tackles, two interceptions and a colossal ten successful clearances. Based on his statistics, WhoScored rated him as Dortmund’s second best player and the third most impressive performer on the pitch overall.

However, Santana’s lack of ability on the ball highlighted how important Mats Hummels is to Dortmund and what a big loss the ball-playing defender will be if he moves to Barcelona this summer. Santana completed only 70% of his passes and only one of eight attempted long passes, where Hummels completes an average of over 80% and five long passes.

This hurt Dortmund in two ways: most obviously, it surrendered possession and the initiative to Málaga; more importantly it placed greater pressure on the distribution of the other centre-back, Neven Subotić, who is used to playing stopper to Hummels’ passer. With two stoppers in defence it is not really surprising that Málaga struggled to create real openings, but neither should we be shocked that the control so often exerted by Dortmund was conspicuous in its absence.

Chelsea Should Move Heaven And Earth To Sign Lewandowski

Aside from a glaring miss at the start of the second half, Dortmund’s number nine was probably the best player on the pitch over the course of the game. It was not a perfect display by any means – in addition to that missed sitter, his touch let him down on a few occasions and he completed less than 80% of his passes – but what was evident was his ability to do a modern striker’s job extremely well.

Time and again Lewandowski received the ball with his back to goal, laid it off and made an intelligent run either to receive a return pass or to create space for those offering support. His final tally of seven successful dribbles would be an astronomical figure even for someone like Lionel Messi or Franck Ribéry, let alone a number nine playing in a 4-4-1-1. Furthermore, his four chances created saw him set up more shots than any other player on the pitch.

Indeed, were it not for an uncharacteristic string of profligate finishes, Lewandowski’s display would have been up there with his career highlights. Chelsea have a clear and obvious problem up front and with Dortmund understandably keen not to lose their top scorer on a free to Bayern in 2014, a summer deal could probably be arranged with surprising ease. The Blues would be mad not to at least try.

İlkay Gündoğan > Jack Wilshere

Admittedly, this comparison is not really fair: Gündoğan plays a different role to Wilshere, in a better team and is a year older than Arsenal’s finest, but it is inevitable that England’s latest great white hope is going to have his arse handed to him on a plate in a World Cup quarter-final by a player that the Red Tops and talking heads tell us wouldn’t get into the England team.

Just so we get this out of the way now rather than then, when things will be rather too emotional and messy to point this out: if the two ever step onto the same pitch in international competition there can only ever be one winner. Gündoğan may be the less famous of the two but he is the better player.


About robbro7

I mostly write about football but occasionally go off on one about music or film too. I talk about Argentina a lot. If you have any questions or want to get in touch, tweet me @robbro7 or send an email to robbro7 [at] gmail [dot] com.
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