An Early August Saturday In The Park
So here we find ourselves with another season on our doorstep and another early August Pokal match against another lower division team. Yet, as the minutes ticked away early in the first round match between Borussia Dortmund and third division team Stuttgarter Kickers, something didn’t seem right. What is this PRESSURE from the lower team? Why aren’t they packing 10 people in the box with the keeper praying in some cultish ritual for penalites or a lucky counter? What is this thing….this…EFFORT?
Regardless of the year and regardless of the country, you can safely count on any lower team in a cup match to probably play deep and pray for penalties or a lucky counter attack. Respect has to be given to Stuttgarter kickers for not capitulating before the kickoff and putting a maximum push forward from the beginning. They attacked with all of the speed, creativity, and clever passing they could muster. With a few exceptions, the story of the first half was the home side dictating the pace against the Bundesliga big boys two divisions their superior. SK controlled the pace of the first half, which was unnerving for a BVB supporter, but since it never felt like this would get out of hand, it made what could have been a throwaway match on an August Saturday a hell of a lot more interesting. The game played like a league match in the first half and regardless of what made that possible, I think we can all appreciate that at the end of the day.
Truth be told, BVB had very few bright moments in the first half and did not look convincing in many respects. Passing was skittish, and the movement wasn’t fluid in attack. While that’s easy to attribute this to injury recovery and the front outfield players (Reus, Mkhitaryan, Ramos, and Aubameyang, supported by Jojic and Kirch) is still a new mix of faces and the first time any of these guys have been on the pitch at the same time. Blame the lack of familiarity, the sunburn from vacation or the lack of overall concern for the eventual outcome, it was still frustrating, but never overtly concerning.
The real first half (and whole match) standout was undoubtedly Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Following his first real preseason training with the club, the Borussia transfer-record player looks and plays like he is ready for the season. We all saw the glimpses of greatness last season, but the confidence and conviction of his play throughout this preseason is promising. His speed, his decision-making and his obvious scoring threat are all not only prominent but they’ve been consistent. It’s easy to discount friendlies, Supercups and a first round Pokal match, but it’s obvious that something good is to come from the Armenian international this year.
The two great moments that made me say “wow” out loud were at the 20th minute and 25th minute respectively. Mkhitaryan closed in on Elia Soriano, and then dribbles in what is NO space whatsoever. He gets free, passes clear, receives the quick pass back from Jojic and leads a dashing counter. Five minutes later, Mkhitaryan emerges from nowhere to steal the ball from Edwini-Bonsu without so much as a flinch as he spins clear and immediately leads a sprint down the middle of the field. Henrikh’s defensive support, his mental switch from defense to offense and his confidence handling the ball are a joy to watch so far. All of this is not even mentioning his perfectly placed, calm, and almost routine goal. It was almost predictable as the run up happened. It wasn’t even surprising as Piszczek found him streaking down the middle. It was expected. That’s what he’s supposed to do.
With all of the warm, fuzzy feelings Hank gave me, the sad truth is that if Kickers had the finishing quality of a first division team, the score could have very well been 3-1 at halftime, so the positivity was heavily muted going into the break. The defensive sync that Ginter and Sokratis showed in their mostly sublime performance against FC Bayern in the midweek Supercup victory was completely gone and replaced with an awkward, clunky pre-season performance for Subotic and Sokratis. The fact a team that plays in the same league as BVB II could expose gaps in speed and organization so simply and plainly, that’s not exactly a “good thing.” Again, let’s attribute this to injuries, coming off of a World Cup break, and the mental acuity still in development, but “what the hell are you doing?” was said out loud more than once.
Many times it was hard to decipher how much of the first half chances were a result of Kickers playing a step above where they would normally play and how much of it was defensive confusion. The real answer is probably both. That’s not an insult to Stuttgarter Kickers. For BVB, to end the first half 1-0 was a blessing and a relief.
Fortunately, and not unexpectedly, the second half played out like a more predictable cup match between a third division and top league side. Following Subotic’s clearing which came from the Geoff Cameron School of Stupid Clearances (for you Germans who didn’t watch the US-Portgual match in the World Cup, this will fill you in). But, for the second time in two matches, Aubameyang willed and drove in the second goal of the match following a terrible back pass. It is a credit to his speed, but also the first moment where the third league composure reared its predictable head. Pierre-Emerick is settling into his role at Borussia and he looks comfortable and adjusted to the team, even if he forgot his superhero mask at home this week.
I could write more about the slight sucker-punch of the offside goal, but even then, it never felt like a “comeback” because it was clear Stuttgarter was wearing down, and bemoaning the point of a Subotic performance we’d all rather forget. Not long after, Aubameyang converted yet another on target Piszczek cross for a tap-in goal. Ramos opened his scoring account (after previously opening his yellow card account) with a composed finish right before the final whistle. The 4-1 opening round victory was complete.
Leverkusen will exploit the defensive mistakes made today, but it’s early August. Feet are still finding the ground, new players are still finding their place, and the World Cup players are barely a month out of the Brazilian heat. It’s hard to be upset with a 4-1 victory. The wake-up calls were prescient and obvious, yet there was little damage from them. With Leverkusen calling next week, there’s plenty to improve and it’s just great to be back with a new campaign that is full of excitement.
Stuttgarter Kickers: Redl – Leutenecker, Stein, Fennell, Baumgärtel – Halimi, Marchese, Braun – Müller, Edwini-Bonsu – Soriano
Subs: Calamata for Soriano (62nd), Badiane for Müller (81st)
Borussia Dortmund: Langerak – Piszczek, Subotic, Sokratis, Durm – Jojic, Kirch – Aubameyang, Reus, Mkhitaryan – Ramos
Subs: Kehl for Reus (57th), Großkreutz for Mkhitaryan (83rd), Bender for Kirch (90th)
Goals: 0:1 Mkhitaryan (30., Piszczek), 0:2 Aubameyang (55.), 1:2 Edwini-Bonsu (60., Soriano), 1:3 Aubameyang (78., Piszczek), 1:4 Ramos (89. Aubameyang)
Referee: Sippel (Munich)
Bookings: - Mkhitaryan, Ramos
Attendance: 37.000 (approximatel 20.000 Borussians)