Borussia Dortmund vs. Nurnberg: 6 Things We Learned
Borussia Dortmund climbed to second place in the Bundesliga table on Saturday following a 3-0 win against Nurnberg at Signal-Iduna Park. The hosts were stymied again and again by the in-form Raphael Schafer, who ensured a halftime draw for the Franconians.
In the second half, it was all Dortmund as goals from Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski and Henrikh Mkhitaryan rounded off an impressive result for the hosts, who as recently as Tuesday beat Zenit 4-2 in St. Petersburg. FCN slumped to their second loss of the 2014 calendar year, following their 2-0 defeat to Bayern.
As always, there were some key talking points to be taken from the action on Saturday. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a rundown.
Dortmund's Inefficiency Still a Problem
Dortmund were all over Nurnberg in the first 25 minutes of Saturday's match; the result could have been put to rest long before the interval. But the hosts were woefully wasteful and allowed FCN to play their way into the game. The Franconian side could even have taken the lead after an errant pass from Sokratis Papastathopoulos was intercepted and Tomas Pekhart fired off the post.
Fortunately for BVB, Hummels finally forced the ball over the line on 51 minutes. And Lewandowski just about wrapped things up 13 minutes later. Dortmund's inefficiency did not prove costly on Saturday, but a similar performance against stronger teams will certainly be punished. It happened in last year's Champions League final and nearly in the second leg of the semifinal, and it has this season even against more modest sides like Gladbach.
Hummels Return Bolsters BVB at Both Ends
Dortmund have been very unlucky to have had to do without Mats Hummels for much of the season. The center-back has barely played since November due to a pair of ankle injuries, and BVB have suffered in his absence.
The 25-year-old was back in Klopp's starting lineup on Saturday and his return saw Dortmund improve not only in defense, but also in attack. There was of course his goal, which critically broke the deadlock. But throughout the match, Hummels ventured into midfield to play the ball out of defense. His role in the buildup is key for BVB, as it allows Nuri Sahin to play further up the pitch and leaves more passing options for the Turkey international when he receives the ball.
Hummels of course was hugely important for BVB at the back, as always. Except for an FCN chance that came when Sokratis errantly passed the ball to Tomas Pekhart, the FCN striker was largely kept in check. It was an encouraging return for Hummels, who, if he can remain fit, will provide a big boost for BVB in the remaining months of the campaign.
Mkhitaryan Is Improving, but Finishing Is Still a Concern
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has improved in 2014 after having an underwhelming and very inconsistent first semester in Dortmund. The Armenia international had big shoes to fill as he took the place of Mario Gotze in BVB's first team and given his €27.5 million price tag, much was expected of him.
Mkhitaryan played very well in Nurnberg, most notably finding Lewandowski ahead of BVB's second goal and scoring BVB's third. He always has the right ideas; in the case of his goal, he made the right run and almost couldn't miss.
By the time he'd scored, Mkhitaryan had missed five other attempts, at least one or two of which he should have converted. He is improving, bit by bit, and may soon be the player Dortmund hoped he'd be.
Jonas Hofmann Takes His Chance
The often underused Jonas Hofmann was given a 19-minute run-out on Saturday and made good use of his limited time. The 21-year-old replaced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose pace was not enough to overcome Marvin Plattenhardt. But the substitute added a bit more finesse and did well to create chances.
Hofmann took down a long ball very well before playing a clever through-ball to Mkhitaryan for Dortmund's third. The youngster's agility, creativity and accuracy in passing and crossing are potential assets for BVB, but only useful if he's given the opportunity to apply and develop them on the pitch. Klopp would be wise to give him more and more opportunities in the coming weeks, especially as Dortmund aim to keep a fresh and fit first team.
Raphael Schafer Will Save Nurnberg from Relegation
Josip Drmic has been a key figure for Nurnberg this spring, as his fine run of scoring has led to the Franconian side's first four wins of the campaign. The Swiss striker has found the net 11 times in the Bundesliga this season, a surprise to many. Yet Raphael Schafer may be the key player for FCN in their attempt to avoid the drop.
Schafer did brilliantly well to hold off the Dortmund attack in the first half, with his repeated saves denying what should have been a multi-goal lead for the hosts. It was heroic from the Nurnberg man, although he was unlucky to have Hummels stab the ball into the net following one of his many great saves.
According to Kicker, Schafer is the fourth-best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga this season on aggregate player ratings: Only Bernd Leno, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Roman Weidenfeller are better rated. The 35-year-old's heroics and leadership have been extremely important for Nurnberg this season. His side just may yet avoid the drop.
Dortmund Can Dominate a Post-Champions League Match
Many of the points Dortmund dropped in the fall came after Champions League matches. The Ruhr side won, lost and drew two matches apiece the weekend after Champions League fixtures, and in each instance failed to keep a clean sheet.
On Saturday, following their 4-2 midweek win against Zenit in St. Petersburg, Dortmund not only won, but kept Nurnberg scoreless. It was an encouraging sign for a BVB side that so often seem to struggle to cope with the burden of playing as many as three games in seven days.