A tale of two Frankfurts
From the beginning of the match, it felt like this was Dortmund’s to lose and we as fans just had to wait and watch. The 4th minute series in Frankfurt’s box saw BVB squander away an early threat with (yet again) too much passing, but how upset can one be with 86 minutes left to play? You can be in an age of foolishness or you can be in an age of belief...and early pressure and chances are not to be dismissed. In the 8th minute, Lewandowski executed a sublime turn and run and his pass to Mhikitaryan came close but did not lead to a score (the devil’s advocate could complain “he held too long instead of one-timing” but that would be trivial). The match was only eight minutes old and Frankfurt didn’t so much as catch a glimpse of Weidenfeller’s hair due to BVB’s electric pressure.
Mhikitaryan quickly and beautifully demonstrated how the day would go shortly after that shot not one minute later when he ripped the ball from Jung and dribbled into the box. His patience in letting attackers fill space, his pace leading up to the play, and his ever-so-slight pause before threading the needle with his pass to Aubameyang was EXACTLY the kind of play and quick thought we have need from Henrikh. Even my horrible exploits as an amateur player help me really appreciate the run up, the drop in speed, and the precise pass– that simply is not something any player could execute with composure and only 10 minutes after the kickoff we have a 1-0 lead backed by pressure. We’re off!
The first 20 minutes were full of absolutely relentless Dortmund pressure. It was great to see Aubameyang digging out challenges in the defensive third along with a locked down center of the pitch courtesy of the rest of the squad. Eintracht Frankfurt was responding to the pressure by passing errantly without any real chances, except for a few rushed shots from terrible angles. The match started out so convincingly on the defensive front that I arrogantly scribbled “looks to be a clean sheet today” on my notepad and noted the time.
The effort didn’t wane and on the 20th minute, the last two players to score off of set pieces in the previous two matches (Friedrich and Auba) combined for yet another set-piece goal as Manuel flipped a header towards Aubameyang. Again, he was parked on the far post and was exactly where he needed to be to drill home his second goal of the match in front of the Südtribune.
Following the Aubameyang goal, Dortmund made what appeared to be a visible downshift. The pressure didn’t lose its efficacy, but the pace did slow down overall. Chances came near and far, but halftime definitely felt like a short break before 45 minutes to seal the formality of victory.
The second half started off and with a very generous and admittedly questionable penalty call. Lewandowski drilled the elfmeter home for a 3-0 lead, and if any doubt was in one’s mind about the outcome of the match, it was quickly removed by the 46th minute. A close call on Schmelzer’s header on the line and a dribble happy Großkreutz blocked shot could have easily made the score 4-0 or 5-0. The second half was a demonstration in confidence and professional patience. Not one shot on target was allowed, and the team had simply had to focus, get the job done, be smart and go home.
Of course, the story of the second half cannot be written without commemorating the debut of Serbian 21-year old Milos Jojic. As the winter acquisition warmed up, I know I was not alone in eagerly awaiting his premiere. Following one of the most beautiful displays of fluidity in recent games, Sahin crossed the field with an arching pass to Großkreutz. Kevin executed a marvelous give and go with Lewandowski with his shot blocked by Trapp, only a roving Jojic was waiting– he had no choice but to sink his first goal in his first game on his first touch in a BVB trikot after mere seconds on the pitch. The celebration gave me goosebumps with his smile, the team’s reaction, his touch of the badge, and his straight run to Klopp to give the man a hug. There is a long road ahead of him, and I won’t say that this goal solidifies him as an all-time great, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a beautiful moment to witness.
The pessimist could focus on things like the scoreline being a few turns away from ending at 7-0 or 8-0 or the drop in intensity after 30 minutes, but that really is a desperate attempt at being contrarian for no reason. While the belief in your own perfection creates complacency (and I doubt anyone would assert this was a perfect performance), it feels good to breathe deeply and watch your team suffocate an opponent from the outset in a match they should win. The best part is, we all still know there’s room to improve. We can take solace that this didn’t feel like a one-time performance and it’s an overwhelming difference from struggling to inspire and create in frustrating draws and losses against Hoffenheim, Leverkusen, Hertha or Augsburg. Hell, even the victory against Napoli, while resolute and hard-fought, cannot be described as “comforting” as much as it can be called “relieving.” Nothing against those teams, but BVB did themselves no favors in those matches and they’re clearly turning the corner. It just remains to be seen how far they go from here.
Perhaps it’s my positional favoritism as an amateur central defender, but the best take away isn’t the debut goal by Jojic, the second Aubameyang brace of this calendar year or Mkhitaryan’s third straight match of convincing consistency- all of those are great, so please don’t get me wrong. I cannot over-emphasize how important it is for BVB to have the same defensive four for three matches in a row and to have them formidable and organized. Piszczek and Schmelzer were at their collectively most aggressive, and to watch them strengthening around a very solid center of Sokratis and Friedrich. Before the season, if we would have been told BVB would play most of this year without Subotic AND Hummels, I doubt anyone would have expected this result, regardless of who BVB were playing. I know it’s not revolutionary sporting analysis to say “Sokratis is a crucial defender this year” or “Friedrich is improving beyond expectation.” However, to see the unit develop and grow more consistent is valuable-not just in locking down opponents, but it takes the immediate pressure off of Hummels’ return. It allows Großkreutz to play higher up which gives us rotation to allow Reus the rest he desperately needs. A trustworthy backline in the face of a borderline laughable season of injuries can keep the momentum going in the Champions’ League, the Pokal and into the CL places for next season.
So, my friends, we shall enjoy the coming week. We can hang our hats (and scarves) on a lot. We can find relief that after a run of nothing going for us, perhaps things are going the other way in 2014. There is one match at Imtech Arena that, by all accounts, should give us a chance to rest and refine before the journey deep into the frozen Russian tundra. The confidence is growing at just the right time. Perhaps a Spring of Hope can be upon us after our brief Winter of Despair.
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Piszczek, Friedrich, Sokratis, Schmelzer – Sahin, Kehl – Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Großkreutz – Lewandowski
Subs: Jojic for Mkhitaryan (68th), Hofmann for Aubameyang (71st), Schieber for Lewandowski (81st)
Eintracht Frankfurt: Trapp – Jung, Madlung, Anderson, Djakpa – Russ, Lanig – Aigner, Meier, Weis – Rosenthal
Subs: Kempf for Anderson (33rd), Schröck for Weis (54th), Oczipka for Djakpa (73rd)
Goals: 1-0 Aubameyang (10th), 2-0 Aubameyang (21st), 3-0 Lewandowski (47th, Penalty), 4-0 Jojic (68th)
Referee: Sippel (Munich)
Bookings: Sahin - Kempf, Russ, Schröck
Attendance: 80.100 (Westfalenstadion)