SC Freiburg vs. Borussia Dortmund: 6 Things We Learned
Borussia Dortmund pulled four points clear of Schalke and Leverkusen on Sunday, solidifying their hold on second place in the Bundesliga with a 1-0 win away to Freiburg.
It was a sluggish performance from BVB on the whole, but Sebastian Kehl's looping goal from 30 yards proved to be the difference-maker for the visitors. Freiburg were unfortunate to see a good performance go unrewarded as they remained 17th, still deep in the relegation zone.
As always, there were several take-home messages from the action in Sunday's match. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a closer look at the main talking points.
Captain Kehl the Hero
Prior to Sunday's game, one of the big tactical question marks to be addressed was that of whether Sebastian Kehl could keep pace with a Freiburg team that is one of the most industrious in the Bundesliga. The BVB captain is, at 34, not as young as he once was, and his quickness and endurance were certain to be tested.
Kehl not only kept pace but provided BVB with the spark they needed to take three points. With the forwards misfiring, the veteran took matters into his own hands and delivered a beautiful opener. His strike, from 30 yards, floated over Oliver Baumann as it curled into the top-right corner of the net. His was an unexpected but hugely important goal.
Dortmund Reserves Not Good Enough for the Bundesliga
Yesterday, Bayern sent out several reserves in midfield and attack and still managed to put six goals past Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio. On Sunday, Dortmund started with just one of Klopp's preferred starters among their front six and looked toothless. Without Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski or either of their first two strikers in Robert Lewandowski and Marvin Ducksch, there was a lack of any significant firepower in the final third.
Jurgen Klopp can't expect to have a bench as strong as Bayern's, for example. The Bavarians' bench cost more than Klopp's first team. Injuries, of course, are the biggest factor, but to an extent, the BVB trainer is at fault for his substitutes' unpreparedness. Jonas Hofmann still hasn't started a Bundesliga game, and Julian Schieber had played only 50 minutes in the league prior to Sunday's fixture.
Regardless of cause, it's a big problem for BVB that their bench remains inadequate. Substantial reinforcements will be needed in the summer if they are to be big players on the international stage in the coming years.
Jojic Meant for Long-Term Rather Than Emergency Depth
When Klopp opted to replace Nuri Sahin with 27 minutes left, the man brought on was a surprise: Oliver Kirch. The 31-year-old had previously played just twice in all competitions for the BVB first team this season, along with two more games with the reserves.
Klopp's decision to use a veteran who has barely played in nearly two seasons was unexpected, considering that BVB had a bright prospect in Milos Jojic available from the bench. The 21-year-old was often used as a playmaker at Partizan Belgrade before joining BVB in January, but he was equally experienced in a deeper midfield position.
Sunday would have been a good time to use Jojic in any role, but Klopp opted to keep him on the bench. It seems the 21-year-old, who's played just 29 minutes since joining BVB, was not meant to be emergency depth to replace the injured Jakub Blaszczykowski. Perhaps Klopp is instead grooming him for the role that Ilkay Gundogan and Nuri Sahin have occupied in recent years.
Defenders Stand out in High-Pressing Game
Dortmund and Freiburg are well known for playing with similarly high-pressing tactics that are extremely demanding athletically and also change the way football is played.
The fact that pressing minimizes time and space on the ball makes it so difficult even for midfielders to gain possession that it's the defenders and goalkeeper who spend the most time on the ball. According to the official Bundesliga live ticker, Freiburg had 56.23 percent of the touches overall, led by center-backs Matthias Ginter (124), Pavel Krmas (94), left-back Christian Gunter (90), goalkeeper Oliver Baumann (81) and right-back Oliver Sorg (79).
Similarly, Mats Hummels (83) had the most touches for Dortmund, followed by his centre-back partner Sokratis Papastathopoulos (70). Once upon a time, the role of defenders was to hoof the ball forward, or at least play five-yard passes to the wings or midfield. Things have changed.
Ginter Stars in Audition
Matthias Ginter has been closely linked with Dortmund in recent weeks (the player revealed to Bild in January that he'd held talks with BVB), and Sunday's fixture was an opportunity for the young centre-back to showcase his abilities on a big stage. Although he did not face Robert Lewandowski, the 20-year-old put in a fine shift that will have alerted BVB and other big clubs to the talent he has.
According to the Bundesliga live ticker, Ginter had more touches (124) and completed more passes (101) than any player on the pitch and rarely had to make a tackle: He won seven duels on the day, losing just four. Thanks to Ginter's good work, Julian Schieber hardly ever had a whiff at goal, his one off-balance attempt flying harmlessly wide. After such a strong defensive performance, Ginter will be especially disappointed not to have anything to show from the match.
Dortmund Show the Spirit of Runners-Up
In previous years, winning in spite of a poor performance may have been deemed playing with the "spirit of champions." In the modern Bundesliga, however, that has to be augmented slightly.
Dortmund were not anywhere near their best on Sunday but instead played with the "spirit of runners-up," showing just why they will probably finish a distant second in the league table, ahead of Leverkusen and Schalke.
BVB hardly did enough to deserve three points; Kehl's goal was an exceptional rarity, and they squandered several chances at the death to put the result to rest. They were fortunate enough to take the spoils, though, which is important considering the fact that automatic Champions League qualification is still up for grabs (Schalke and Leverkusen are each only four points behind), and Dortmund have key fixtures in the Champions League and DFB-Pokal on the horizon.