Dortmund added another “W” Saturday to kick off their home opener in the second half of the season. The 5-1 thrashing of Hannover was not unexpected. Hannover was promoted back up just two seasons ago and looked in the first half of the season like a strong bet to get relegated at the end of this season. Tough for Head Coach Andre Breitenreiter, who thought he had stabilized the team last season as a club willing to spend some money and to comfortably stay in the league. But, they weren’t able to hold on to some of their most valuable players like Sane, the top shelf centerback who left for Schalke, and injuries have just been far too big of a hurdle this season. There are some positives, like goaltender Michael Esser, who shattered the Bundesliga record with 14 saves last week against Bremen in a hard-fought loss. But that is a double edged sword, where you have a goaltender capable of 14 saves is cancelled out in many ways by the fact that Hannover’s defense left their veteran goaltender exposed and he had to make 14 saves to keep Hannover in the game that they still lost.
The decimation of Hannover actually took some time to get started. Hannover actually put a big scare into the Westfalenstadion crowd with an early header off a cross for Hannover’s big, young forward Hendrik Wyandadt, who blasted a header at goal. Burki, though, was up to the challenge and made the instantaneous reaction and lightning quick clearance look easy.
From there, though, Dortmund was getting too many players forward and Favre gave his team free reign to test the Hannover defense and float where they needed to. Reus had a couple of early chances, lifting a perfectly placed Goetze pass over the bar, and casually putting a perfectly placed Delaney pass off the bottom corner of the post. Dortmund continued to pressure with players floating to wherever the defense was getting exposed. As a result, Hannover’s right side (the Dortmund left) ended up overloaded with Dortmund players in the first half. Sancho and Goetze were deep up Hannover’s right side and moving the ball around at will when the unbelievably quick Hakimi came in behind them, got the ball and started coasting across the top of the box. Guerriero set up on the left side of the box about midway forward and was facing Hakimi. Hakimi passed it to him, drawing the eyes of the defense and the movement of the goaltender, before Guerriero passed it right back and Hakimi continued his run across the top of the box in vacant space just past half-way across and absolutely blasted a line shot into the net in the side he was moving towards and away from the goaltender. Esser may have had 14 saves against Bremen, but he was just a spectator on Hakimi’s blast.
But Hannover managed to hang around just down one at the half and there was a scare when Reus and Delaney collided heads, though both were able to continue. Reus should have had two already, but it looked like Dortmund was going to have to grind out a win. Aside from the early chance and a little pressure in the opening minutes of the first half, Hannover was very much shut down by Dortmund. The Weigl and Diallo centerback combo with Delaney and sometimes Witsel in defensive midfield was more than impressive, and Hakimi and Piszczech were up to the challenge of keeping the sidelines clear. Ultimately, it was just the impressive speed and skill of the Dortmund attack that was too much for Hannover.
Dortmund’s second half opening goal came off another superb play by Hakimi. Hannover was organized to clear the ball and most of the Dortmund defense was falling back. Reus stayed forward to harass the defense and goaltender a bit, but Hannover was able to very nonchalantly lift a high ball to the left forward corner of the box where a defender awaited. Hakimi saw the slow, high pass as an opportunity. He hit his afterburners from 20-30 yards from the defender, and arrived just as the defender was trying to get control of the ball. Hakimi pushed it past the defender back towards goal and pushed up in to the box near the goaline before laying one over for Reus, making a run through the box , who made a fantastic, slight touch on the ball for the far corner look effortless. Wake-up call for Hannover, the individual skill of Hakimi, Reus, Sancho and Guerriero, not to mention the speed, greatly surpassed their defensive capabilities and they really needed to step up or this game was about to get completely out of hand.
Hannover stepped up their physicality, but it backfired shortly thereafter. Dortmund was organized a counter in their own end, when a Hannover player decided it was easier to dive into Reus from behind and pull him down than it was to try and catch him, and the official allowed Dortmund to play on. Delaney was the first to the ball and just slammed it forward for Sancho. Sancho running full speed at the goal box is panic time for the Hannover defense. They saw Hakimi racing past Sancho and up the left side of their box (their right side), and they immediately reacted to Hakimi. Sancho then coasted to the right as he approached the box and found Guerriero in a forward position in the box on the side opposite Hakimi. Sancho made it look so easy as he slid one up and over to Guerriero, who was waiting to just slam it for the far corner.
Before it could really even set in at Hannover that they were toast, Dortmund was racing forward again. Reus was trying to get ahold of a throw in, as he raced forward on the left. A defender was running with him and his attempt to knock the ball forward for other Dortmund players running on the left only seemed to find another Hannover player. But the Hannover player was unable to control it and just seemed to knock it back in the path of the racing Reus. At that point, Reus had control and was racing into the box. Again, Dortmund attackers had raced forward into the box on the right and left ahead of Reus, and the goaltender and defense seemed more concerned with their right (Dortmund’s left side) and left Goetze space in the box on the right. Reus turned slightly to his right, coasted for a moment, and found the open Goetze for what was a very similar play to Guerriero’s goal moments earlier. The game was certainly over at 3-0, but 4-0 came so quickly, thereafter, that Breitenreiter barely had time to call his wife and tell her to start packing the bags as he would undoubtedly be canned at Hannover before the end of the weekend.
Witsel added number 5 during the remainder of the second half at some point in which both coaches were routinely just looking up to the clock hoping it would move even faster. Hannover did, at some point in the second half, grab a consolation goal off a double deflection that was so flukey no one even cared. As it was scored by former Dortmund youth player, Marvin Bakalorz, many Dortmund fans even seemed a bit indifferent at the time, realizing the goal was meaningless but happy to see the former Dortmund player do well. At the end of the day, Dortmund’s combination of speed, chemistry in the way the attackers so effortlessly understand where the other attackers are, and the superb skill these players have in finishing was just at a level that a struggling Hannover side could not possibly compete.
Dortmund remains 6 points clear of BMG and Bayern. During the game, the commentators noted that there are now serious discussions between Dortmund and Real Madrid as to a price to finalize a permanent move by Hakimi to Dortmund rather than just the loan. Dortmund fans can only hope this rumor is true and the teams can come to an agreement, where Hakimi is emerging as one of the best young talents in the league. This was also one of the best games for Thomas Delaney, who was a major force offensively and defensively in midfield. And of course, Guerriero has clearly supplanted Larsen as the most effective starter on the left opposite Sancho, and is playing at an extremely high level. Reus continues to play as well as anyone in the entire league. On the defensive end, after 3 games it is clear that Weigl has likely established a starting role in defense until Akjani returns fully fit and in top form.
Next week will see Dortmund travel to Frankfurt. This will be an interesting matchup, as Dortmund is going to be very cautious concerning the Frankfurt front line of Jovic, Haller and Rebic. The young Serb, Jovic, featured in last summer’s Word Cup for Serbia and has really emerged this season, leading the Bundesliga with 13 goals. He is as good of a finisher in the box as anyone with an extremely high skill level, where he has the ability to finish in any way that you can possibly even imagine. And Rebic is continuing his great form from the World Cup, where he was an integral part of the Croatian attack that had a run all the way to the finals. He has 7 goals and 3 assists. Along with those two extremely skilled players is the French beast, Sebastian Haller, who has 11 goals and 8 assists that rivals Marco Reus’s 12 goals and 6 assists for the title as league MVP this season. The 24 year old player has been one of the best forwards in the league the past two seasons, is a superb passer with a great understanding of Jovic and Rebic’s game, and is 6’3″ with an extremely powerful header to boot. The rest of the Frankfurt squad lacks anywhere near the talent of their frontline, hence, the 2-2 draw at Bremen over the weeekend that easily could have been a loss. But Dortmund will need to be aware of that Frankfurt front line and not leave themselves exposed, as Frankfort can score and make it look easy.