Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Dortmund: 6 Things We Learned
No side in Germany crave the winter break quite like Borussia Dortmund. That much was evident today as they made the trip to Hoffenheim against a side under Markus Gisdol that have proven themselves as potential slip-ups for Jurgen Klopp's side in the past.
Dortmund lined up with plenty of notable burns, bruises and scars from the current campaign as 18-year-old Marian Sarr partnered with formerly retired Manuel Friedrich in defence whilst Sebastian Kehl picked up his old role as central midfield sweeper at the prime age of 33.
Such limitations in Klopp's squad were only ever going to turn in to an advantage for Hoffenheim, as their quick, skilful front-line—which has scored only one goal less than Dortmund this season—consisting of Roberto Firmino and Kevin Volland mercilessly took to the task of picking on the struggling defence.
As such, the first goal didn't take long to come through the expertise of Sven Schipplock on the 16th minute and then again through Volland just 20 minutes later. This season, Hoffenheim have been trained to do one thing and one thing only: score. And when it came to Dortmund, there were no exceptions. Yet Gisdol's side are just as good at conceding, and through a clanger from Hoffenheim keeper Jens Grahl, Dortmund pulled back via a neat finish from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The sides went in at half-time with Hoffenheim leading 2-1, a gifted goal the only notable exception for Klopp's side.
The second half was a different beast entirely. After what was undoubtedly a lengthy "chat" with his side during the break, Klopp's team turned on their charm and took the game to their hosts for the remainder of the match.
Yet the equalising goal didn't come until the 67th minute—and only once Klopp had been forced to change things with the introduction of Jonas Hofmann and Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the expense of Aubameyang and Jakub Blaszczykowski.
Both sides then had chances to steal the lead late on in the game, but as they came to terms with the round-for-round blows each had landed through the afternoon, the decision was clearly made to take what they could get with a point each.
For Klopp, this will go down as more points dropped and an ever-larger gap growing between his side and that of the impeccable Bayern Munich. But with a squad ravished with injuries, the ever-optimistic coach will be looking no further than the winter break for some solace. That is when Dortmund can refuel, mend the cuts and bruises and hopefully return next year with a better side than what we've seen so far this season.
Dortmund Drop Further Behind Bayern and Leverkusen
Such a result will undoubtedly go down as two points dropped rather than a solitary point regained for Klopp and his men following today's draw with Hoffenheim.
Similarly, with Bayern beating Hamburg 3-1, it now means that the former Bundesliga champions now sit a massive 12 points behind Pep Guardiola's squad. Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen take on Eintracht Frankfurt Sunday evening with high hopes of extending the gap between themselves and Dortmund to nine points.
Perhaps more symbolic is, of course, that Gladbach had the possibility of leapfrogging Dortmund and moving into third place yet were unable to pick up all three points against Mainz and sit fourth on no more than a goal difference between their successes and Dortmund's failures.
Volland Continues His March to the Top
In a match that will undoubtedly go down as a highlight of the season for most Hoffenheim fans, it comes as no surprise that their fortune in a tough encounter against Dortmund was largely in part due to the excellent run of form that Kevin Volland is enjoying at the moment.
The 21-year-old forward is one of the hottest prospects in the Bundesliga at the moment, and with eight goals for his club already this season, it's easy to see why.
Subsequently, it's actually quite notable how much Volland's goals mean to Hoffenheim when we look at the side's form of late. When the youngster scores, Hoffenheim tend to pick up points, but when he doesn't—notably during the four games the club went through without picking up a solitary point last month—they most definitely suffer.
Investment Needed in January
Regardless of today's result, the real message that Dortmund sent out to the rest of the league was their desperate situation within the squad and the blatant need for investment during the coming January transfer window.
Sebastian Kehl in midfield simply isn't good enough for Dortmund. Neither is Manuel Friedrich, and although younger players such as Erik Durm and Marian Sarr may well play their part for the club in years to come, neither should be expected to make such a step up so soon. New, proven players are needed if Klopp hopes to accomplish anything this season.
Marco Reus' Slump Continues
On paper, Marco Reus is having a fine season. Nine goals and six assists in 21 appearances isn't the kind of record that most players would laugh at, especially in a league as tough as the Bundesliga.
Yet it's clear that the German international just isn't enjoying himself at the moment.
With Mario Gotze's transfer to Germany in the summer, it was obvious that the playmaking responsibilities were going to either fall upon Reus' or Ilkay Gundogan's shoulders, yet with the central midfielder out injured for the duration of the season, thus far, everything has been thrown at Reus with the expectation that he would simply thrive on it.
He hasn't. And perhaps most notable about the manner in which this season has turned out for both Reus and Dortmund in general is the simple fact that things just aren't clicking, neither at the back nor up front.
Reus is the kind of forward who loves to dart in off the wing and hog the ball, as we saw with his exceptional breakout years at Gladbach, yet now that he has all of Dortmund's attention and the full backing of his coach to grab each game by the scruff of the neck, he seems to be either shying away from it or simply incapable of performing that role.
This problem may eventually fix itself when Gundogan does eventually make his way back in to the side and players such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang settle in to their roles. Yet as things stand, Marco Reus is Dortmund's chief playmaker, and he doesn't seem to happy about it.
Hoffenheim Turn Form Around
Today's hard-fought draw now means that Hoffenheim can put three clear games between themselves and a run of poor form that had dogged their early-season hopes last month.
The club often have a poor reputation among opposing fans as being something of a "fake club" considering their lack of any real history and financial backing from the club's owner, yet the team itself have easily been one of the most entertaining to watch this season and, as we saw today, are full of genuinely talented players.
Markus Gisdol's side now sit comfortably with six points and three teams between themselves and relegation, with just seven points keeping them from those elusive European places.
Dortmund Drop Points After Champions League Week...Again
This season, Dortmund have dropped eight points in Bundesliga matches that immediately proceed a round of games in the Champions League.
Teams such as Nurnberg, Gladbach and Wolfsburg have all managed to take advantage of Jurgen Klopp's side this season in what seems like a regular occurrence.
This is obviously due to the fact that Dortmund's squad is just too small and injury stricken to deal with such a harsh schedule at this moment in time. Klopp and Dortmund's ambition may lie in European success, but it does get in the way of domestic joy.