Borussia Dortmund claimed a stunning come from behind 4-2 win against Union Berlin before the international break. Here we revisit the game and discuss whether it was a turning point or just another false dawn for the club.
Besides the result, Borussia Dortmund’s performance in the second half against Union Berlin gave me a feeling of Deja Vu, or simply a sense of optimism, of the best moments we saw last season during that title race campaign.
By isolating the first half of that match, most fans would likely maintain their skepticism towards the team. Following an underwhelming display against AC Milan in the Champions League that same week, the 2-1 Union Berlin lead at half-time was well deserved.
The visitors limited Borussia Dortmund to only one clear chance, which led to Niclas Füllkrug’s goal from a corner. And they capitalised on their set-pieces to take a narrow lead into the break.
However, with the substitutions and tactical tweaks to the team, BVB looked like a different team and managed to carve open the dogged Union Berlin defence. The build-up was solid and organised, the counter-attacks were on point, and Borussia Dortmund looked more like… Borussia Dortmund.
The performance in the second half against Union Berlin could symbolise a turning point in the current season as Edin Terzić seemed closer to the football and starting XI he might consider ideal. In fact, there are a few relevant insights to take from that Union match, which could mean a turnaround in BVB’s season.
The first one happened even before the game even restarted after the break.
Ahead of the second half, Edin Terzić took Jamie Bynoe-Gittens off and brought on Julian Brandt. With the team struggling to create concrete scoring chances, Brandt came in to play the role of an extra creative outlet and provide more support in midfield while taking the pressure off Marco Reus to be the only playmaker.
That substitution on its own had a big impact on the team, especially because Bynoe-Gittens was not productive enough while on the pitch. But also, the main factor that changed the match in favor of Borussia Dortmund was a complete change in the build-up structure.
Instead of playing in a double pivot with Emre Can and Felix Nmecha, Terzić shifted the team captain to a back three with Mats Hummels and Nico Schlotterbeck. The move allowed Nmecha to play as a single pivot in the build-up in a 3-1-4-2, having more responsibility to dictate the rhythm and the flow of the game. And it worked perfectly.
Emre Can worked better with his distribution in the back three, as he is not the most proactive passer on the team besides his lack of speed and agility to move the ball up the pitch quickly. Without that responsibility of being the main link between defence and midfield, Can played in a more cohesive and comfortable role.
Nmecha took over the number six role, which he hadn’t done prior since arriving in Dortmund. And surprisingly, he showcased his best performance in a BVB shirt so far. He distributed the ball in a very effective manner, finding the gaps between Union Berlin’s lines and opening spaces for his teammates to explore, especially Schlotterbeck on the left flank, which resulted in a beautiful goal.
It might be a bit too early to claim that Nmecha has changed his status on the team as this performance does not erase his poor displays in previous matches. However, his encouraging performance in this new role could mean that Terzić has finally found the perfect position for him.
I always thought Nmecha would work better as a number ten, coming into the box as an element of surprise. But his performance against Union Berlin showed that he is also capable of playing in a more defensive role, and Edin Terzić could and should test that alternative more often. This new position and tactical adjustment was a breath of fresh air for Dortmund’s build-up play.
Of course, it was just one game, and fans cannot get too excited at this point. Despite the good second half and interesting tactical adaptations from Terzić, a more substantial sample of games like that would be necessary to diagnose whether that half was a turning point or a false dawn.
Only time will tell, but it was that offensive, counter-pressing transition football that made me fall in love with Borussia Dortmund in the first place. There were glimpses of BVB playing like themselves again after a disappointing start to the season, and I am curious as to how things will turn out against Werder Bremen.