Borussia Dortmund – VfL Wolfsburg: Late Game Heroics From Alcácer Keep Dortmund Up Top (2-0)
Despite a disappointing match in terms of goalmouth action and creativity, the individual quality of Dortmund’s players saw them through against a dogged and committed Wolfsburg side. Hero of the day? Paco Alcácer.
Tactical analysis and match report by Carl Carpenter.
A victory over middle-of-the-pack Wolfsburg was an absolute necessity for Borussia Dortmund. In recent weeks, dropped points by Dortmund combined with Bayern Munich’s return to indomitable form made the Bundesliga title chase a tie game. Both Bayern and Dormund were on sixty points entering this round of play.
For Wolfsburg, the season has been one of extreme highs and lows: their inability to stop conceding goals (exhibited by their goal difference of only +3) being one of their largest handicaps for European qualification. However, their attacking talent and an industrious style of play can create issues for any side in the league.
As ever this campaign, Lucien Favre set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Following the international break, Favre was able to call upon the services of Paco Alcácer again, up front. Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney provided a strong spine for the club’s considerable attacking talent to get forward and create chances, with much of the team’s attacking creativity in central portions of the pitch coming from Mario Götze.
Wolfsburg and manager Bruno Labbadia opted to employ their traditional 4-3-3 formation which very much suits the team’s fluid, possession-based ethos. Weghorst up front was flanked by Felix Klaus and Mehmedi, and supported in midfield by the creative Yannick Gerhardt and Arnold: the two of them capable of picking out the final ball around the goal. Joshua Guilavogui, by no means a slouch with the ball at his feet, sat deeper and gave balance to their midfield.
Dortmund’s shape in possession against Wolfsburg’s 4-1-4-1 shape. Guilavogui screening in front of the back four.
A First Half Devoid of Quality
Dortmund began the match, as expected, as the main protagonists in regards to ball possession and attacking intent. The home side moved the ball as quickly as possible, trying to get their wide players in one-versus-one opportunities with the opposition. Wolfsburg settled into a 4-1-4-1 shape, with Guilavogui protecting the space in front of the back four. Die Wölfe sat in a middle block defensively A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. and had a clear strategy: force the ball into wide positions, jump the player in possession and try to counter from there.
Surprisingly, Dortmund were unsettled by this, and for much of the half were forced into sterile possession at the back or playing balls into central areas which were not viable options.
In terms of clear chances, there was very little to talk about in the first 45 minutes. Dortmund’s best chances largely came from the ball-playing ability of their defenders Abdou Diallo and Manuel Akanji. While Wolfsburg made things difficult in central areas, whenever they were able to pick passes between the lines they created dangerous situations in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal.
Going the other way, Dortmund were at their most vulnerable when Wolfsburg countered at speed. Weghorst and his ability to link up play with the players who made runs beyond him created dilemmas for Dortmund’s defenders. Should they stay with him and leave the rest of their back four man-for-man, or let him run free and create? While Wolfsburg were unable to exploit this in terms of shots on goal, it provided a few nervy moments.
Alcácer Saves The Day After Another Bad Half
Somewhat surprisingly, Dortmund did not make any half-time adjustments to try and counter the threat of Wolfsburg. For the neutral, unfortunately, this made the second half similar to the first stanza: lots of possession for Dortmund outside of Wolfsburg’s defensive organization. Not a lot of excitement.
It is always a question if you can truly state a team dominates a match if they just have possession without actually creating a lot of action in front of the opposing goal. In this case, there is also an argument to be made that Wolfsburg dominated the match despite not having the ball, because they were the team largely deciding what happened on the field.
Fact of the matter is, Dortmund did not play with that extra edge, that has become so synonymous with their football for much of the season. While Wolfsburg hassled and harried them, Dortmund’s lack of cohesion in the final third was as a result of their own issues.
Unfortunately, Dortmund’s inability to make life uncomfortable for Wolfsburg was hampered by an injury crisis that unfolded over the course of twenty minutes. Left back Diallo was forced off early on in the second half. His replacement Achraf Hakimi was taken off himself in the 74th minute, meaning Jacob Bruun Larsen had to fill in as fullback again. As a result of these injuries, Favre was only able to make one change which was unenforced (Mahmoud Dahoud for Götze on the 80th minute).
As the match looked to be heading towards its inevitable conclusion – a goalless draw – a rare penetrative run through the heart of the Wolfsburg defense lead to a free kick on the edge of the box for Dortmund. Paco Alcácer – so often the savior for Dortmund this campaign thanks to his historic conversion numbers – stepped forward and thundered a free kick past the wall and goalkeeper Koen Casteels, who probably only heard the ball as it went in.
This was, needless to say, a massive kick in the teeth for Wolfsburg and as the game entered stoppage time, they threw everyone forward to try and nick an equalizer (which they probably deserved, as this game did not deserve a winner. However, brilliant work from Jadon Sancho going the other way picked out Alcácer on the penalty spot, and he sealed all three points with his second goal of the game.
For the neutral, this match will certainly not be one which lives long in the memory, but the title race is well and truly back into the hands of Borussia Dortmund. Combined with Bayern Munich’s draw at Freiburg on Saturday, the three points will be massive for Favre’s men. The fact Bayern dropped points again mainly because of poor finishing and Favre’s teams historically overperform in this regard may make the Bundesliga title race interesting until the very end. Guess what match will be played next week? Dortmund – Bayern at the Allianz Arena. Make sure you watch that one.
Dortmund’s performance will worry some: a lack of creativity and ideas in the final third for much of the match leading to stale possession. However, as mentioned previously, this is the business end of the season and points are all that matters. Injuries on Saturday will not have helped Dortmund to change the tide of the match, but positives signs are there that (similar to Bayern over the years) in games were the match plan isn’t entirely working as expected, the individual quality of Borussia will see them through.
Wolfsburg will understandably feel massively deflated that their strong performance was not at least rewarded with a point. Labbadia set his team up extraordinarily well and forced the opposition into areas where they were comfortable. Going the other way as well, they provided a huge threat when Dortmund were disorganized and had their finishing and final ball been better, they could’ve left Signal Iduna Park with a huge result. Wolfsburg made only one major error in the match, and they were punished. This has seemingly been the story for much of the campaign, and may be the reason why they fail to qualify for Europe this season.
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