Leverkusen 1-3 Dortmund: Dortmund pounce on defensive errors
All the goals came in the second half as Dortmund took another step towards the Bundesliga title.
Jupp Heynckes made multiple changes to his side in the first game back after the winter break. Eren Derdiyok, Tranquilo Barnetta and Arturo Vidal were all left out, whilst Sidney Sam and Gonzalo Castro both switched from the right flank to the left. Patrick Helmes played just off Stefan Kiessling.
Jurgen Klopp was without two key players – Lucas Barrios, only fit enough for the bench, and Shinji Kagawa, who is away at the Asian Cup. Mario Gotze played the attacking midfield role, whilst Robert Lewandowski made a rare start upfront.
The first half was slightly cagey, with both sides struggling to create chances, though interesting battles played out across the pitch.
The sides were playing with clearly different formations, and as a result, also played with different styles. Dortmund were keeping possession in the centre of the pitch much more effectively, with Gotze dropping deep to provide a 3 v 2 advantage for Dortmund in that zone.
The away side were trying to play intricate passes through the middle, so Leverkusen’s back four defended very narrow to try and combat that thread.
Leverkusen were playing a more direct style of football – almost an old-fashioned approach of trying to get the ball wide before crossing it towards Kiessling – or alternatively missing out the wingers and asking Kiessling to hold the ball up or try and flick it on to Helmes.
Leverkusen struggled to get their wide players into the action early on, however, partly because they were being pushed so far back into their own half by the attack-minded Dortmund full-back pairing. They scampered forward at every opportunity, with the two holding players generally staying in position and covering the wide areas if Leverkusen looked to break quickly, also making sure they were in space to receive the ball, and keeping attacks moving.
Leverkusen also had problems when they played the ball left, because both Sam and Castro constantly wanted to come inside onto their right foot rather than going on the outside. This somewhat contradicted Leverkusen’s overall strategy. Still, they defended well in the first half – as well as playing narrow at the back, Simon Rolfes tracked Gotze across the pitch and shut down that creative threat.
Dortmund scored three goals in the first ten minutes of the second half, to put the game beyond Leverkusen. Ironically, having spent the first period trying to play neat passes through the opposition, the goals came from very direct attacks.
First a huge throw-in from Lukasz Piszczek evaded the entire Leverkusen defence and was poked in at the far post by Kevin Grosskreutz. Moments later, Grosskreutz got on the end of a Lewandowski flick-on after a long ball from Roman Weidenfeller. Both goals were the result of clear defensive mistakes – first by Daniel Schwaab, then by Manuel Friedrich.
The defending wasn’t much better for the third goal either – a mini-counter-attack resulted in Gotze having the freedom of the opposition half (with Schwaab choosing not to close him down) to run at goal, before finishing coolly. After a tight, nervous first half, Dortmund somehow found themselves with an unassailable lead with half an hour to go.
Heynckes was clearly not impressed and made a treble substitution, bringing on Barnetta, Vidal and Derdiyok – and Leverkusen looked much brighter, creating a few half-chances and eventually getting a goal through Kiessling, who had a good game. Still, Dortmund were relatively comfortable late on, and won the game with that excellent ten-minute spell after half-time.
This was a big test for Dortmund – away at the third-placed side and without two key players. In truth, in the first half there was a danger both sides were going to settle for a point, and it took poor defending rather than an improvement in attacking intent to break the deadlock.
Dortmund looked impressive in the second half, however – they moved from their counter-attacking style to a system more focused upon ball retention to see the game out, and despite conceding one goal, never looked too nervous.