A combination of tactical changes and a bit of desperation were just what Dortmund needed as the club won its third consecutive league match, along with a win against Prague that advanced them as group runner-up and through to the next stage in Champion’s League. Many components are working together for this club right now. Going to three at the back has gotten Zagadou a run of playing time and the youngster has really excelled. This also frees up Hummels a bit more to be involved in the offense, knowing there are two other centerbacks to cover at times.
The alignment also pushes up Hakimi and Schulz/Guerriero, where they are much more quickly involved with the attack and bring that incredible overlapping speed on the outside. And most significantly it has put Julian Brandt in a position he is familiar with in deep central midfield from where he can distribute and initiate the attacks and counter-attacks. Brandt’s play has been brilliant for the past few games regardless of whether he shows up on the goal stats. And, Marco Reus staying healthy for a spell and getting back into form has also helped immensely. Weigl was forced into a a major defensive midfield role with Witsel and Delaney both out injured until the second half of the season, and he is battling, though it was a significant adjustment as he was asked to play more in the attack when partnered with Witsel and now has to take on Witsel’s more defensive role.
Of course, the quality of competition also has much to do with the recent run. Mainz is by far the worst defensive team in the Bundesliga. Saturday’s result was far from a shocker. Mainz was able to press and organize for a half, but once Dortmund got the lead, it was only a matter of time before their lightening fast counterattacks just tore Mainz to pieces. These are the types of games where Sancho, Hazard, Reus, Schulz and Hakimi really excel-where their speed just shreds opposing defenses. Where Sancho can blast up the left side, and when three defenders try to collapse on him, just slide it into Reus in the box for the finish or get it back and finish himself. Where Reus can make a run up the middle and slide it over to a wide open Hazard on the right of the box for an absolute blast. And where Schulz can make run after run behind the defense and send in cross after cross. Mainz can be a dangerous club for many teams in the middle or bottom half of the table with quality forwards in Quaison, Mateta, and Salai along with players like Oztunali and Boetius being in great form, but they were stymied by Dortmund’s reorganized D on this day, and spent most of the game backpedaling when hit with wave after wave of Dortmund counterattacks. They simply weren’t getting shots on goal, and their defense was too easily getting pulled apart.
With the winter break approaching, Tuesday brings a showdown with Leipzig. Naglesmann’s Leipzig won their Champion’s League group, and is a serious contender for the Bundesliga title this season. The top defense in the league last season, they have only gotten deeper with a number of young faces contending for playing time, despite a number of injuries.
Sabitzer really stepped up at the end of last season, and the Austrian player continues his run of great form, as does Turbo Tim Werner to lead a goalscoring contingent that still includes Poulsen and Forsberg, added a great young French speedster in Nkuku, who already has 4 goals, and the big Czech forward Patrik Schick from Roma. American Ty Adams is returning from a long injury layoff and they are getting solid play from the young Malese player Haidara. At some point, they are also looking forward to seeing what Hannes Wolf can do after his highly anticipated arrival has been plagued with injury. A tough road trip where Favre and the team need to make a strong statement if they have really turned the corner. Any type of positive result could be a huge boost, which will be hopefully followed by a good result against a dangerous but far from unbeatable Hoffenheim, and, then, a Winter break that will hopefully see reinforcements.