Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke: 6 Things We Learned
Dortmund and Schalke played to a scoreless draw on Tuesday in the most recent installment of the Ruhr derby.
Playing at home in the Westfalenstadion, BVB created the majority of the chances, but poor finishing and Ralf Fahrmann's majestic work between the Schalke posts ensured a clean sheet and a point for the visitors.
As always, the derby was a heated and exciting affair and came with its share of take-home messages. Here's a review of the main talking points.
Kaan Ayhan Will Be a Star
It took a full-on injury crisis in the center of the Schalke defense for Jens Keller to select Kaan Ayhan to partner Joel Matip at the back, but the trainer did just that on Tuesday for a second consecutive game.
The 19-year-old did not disappoint. Rather, he followed up a convincing performance over the weekend with an outstanding and mature display in the biggest game of his young professional career.
He most notably made a last-ditch tackle to deny Robert Lewandowski on 32 minutes, but the fact that he rarely had to resort to any kind of desperate action is a glowing endorsement of the youngster's ability.
A versatile natural center-back who is also comfortable in defensive midfield, Ayhan was Schalke's first-choice right-footed free-kick taker in Dortmund. He'll have more than an off-chance of retaining his starting role when the likes of Felipe Santana and even skipper Benedikt Howedes return from their injuries.
Fahrmann Is Schalke's Most Improved Player
Ever since the sale of Manuel Neuer to Bayern in 2011, Schalke have been without a reliable goalkeeper. Timo Hildebrand, Lars Unnerstall and Ralf Fahrmann have all been given chances and failed to lock down a permanent role.
But since the end of November, Fahrmann has been given another chance. And he's taken it very well.
Schalke are a more composed side at the back with Fahrmann between the posts. A 5-1 defeat to Bayern aside, they entered the derby having conceded just five goals in the Bundesliga since his reinstatement. And in Dortmund he showed how it was not only his defenders who were responsible for that record.
Fahrmann made a crucial save to deny Marco Reus in a one-on-one situation just before half-time. After the break, he was quick off his line to deny Lewandowski and made a miraculous save at full stretch to tip Reus' header wide.
According to Kicker (h/t ESPN), Schalke are said to be close to securing a deal for Fortuna Dusseldorf stopper Fabian Giefer this summer, but one now has to ask: With Fahrmann in such form, is a new goalkeeper really needed?
Mkhitaryan Wouldn't Adequately Replace Kagawa, Let Alone Goetze
A first season at a competitive club is always difficult. Expectations should be curbed, at least temporarily. But even the most patient Dortmund fan has to be losing patience with Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The €27.5 million man who was signed to replace Mario Goetze in the BVB XI had a poor game against Schalke. His team needed more, but he had nothing to offer in terms of final product. Missing the target following a one-on-one with Fahrmann and an admittedly fine pass to Lewandowski were all the Armenia international could offer in an underwhelming performance.
The Ruhr derby was a great opportunity for Mkhitaryan to show the true extent of his class, which fans saw when he played for Shakhtar. A 21-year-old Shinji Kagawa did just that in the fall of 2010, delivering on a pre-match promise as he scored two goals. The Japan international had confidence and poise. Mkhitaryan has shown little of either in his first season at the Signal-Iduna Park.
Dortmund Still Can't Finish
Dortmund's biggest problem all season long has been their inability to convert on their opportunities with an appreciable degree of efficiency, and it was that inefficiency that cost them two points on Tuesday.
The hosts were the better team. They created far more chances and took more than twice as many shots as Schalke but came away without a single goal to show for their creativity.
Poor decision-making, inaccuracy in the final pass, wayward shooting and heroics from Fahrmann stymied BVB against Schalke. And that will happen again and again if they do not become more lethal.
Elite teams find ways to win by any means necessary. Dortmund aren't there.
Schalke Approaching Long-Term Sustainability
Schalke have had a turbulent history in recent years, balancing the benefits of paying a Champions League-caliber squad with the risk of financial default if they were to miss out on the revenue that comes with playing on Europe's most prestigious stage.
As it stands, Schalke are seven points clear of Leverkusen and Wolfsburg with as many games left to be played. Only Bayern exceed S04's points tally in the 2014 calendar year, so it seems Schalke are in good shape at present.
Looking at the squad Jens Keller selected to face BVB, eight of 11 starters made their professional debuts as Schalke players. On the seven-man bench, three young reserves from the academy eagerly awaited the chance to play, with 20-year-old defender Philipp Max being the only one fortunate enough to be given a run-out at the death.
Schalke don't have the money or prestige of a Bayern Munich or Real Madrid and thus are ultimately powerless in the fight to keep their top-grade academy graduates. But their world-class academy and elite scouting system will ensure that they will always have young, talented players on hand.
On Tuesday we caught a glimpse of Max, but he is just one of many future professionals waiting for Keller to give them a chance.
The Ruhr Sets the Standard for German Football
A relentless struggle for every ball, high-intensity "gegenpressing," and short, quick, vertical passes—the football on show at the Signal-Iduna Park on Tuesday epitomized the modern German football model.
Dortmund and Schalke's performance was a glowing endorsement for the philosophy developed at the DFB and pushed in the Bundesliga's academies.
It's been nearly a year since fans were last able to see such football on display on the regular.
Last season, Bayern Munich played with such a style under the legendary coach Jupp Heynckes. Back then, Dortmund had a full first team. But in 2013-14 Bayern have completely changed tactics, and a blight of injuries combined with the departure of Goetze has seen BVB's performances at the highest level take a nosedive.
The defensive philosophy of forcing ordinary actions to become extraordinary (and the attacking corollary of finding ways to make the ordinary extraordinary) is something that Joachim Loew has harped about for years, especially in academies, and the Germany trainer would be proud of the football that has come from the Bundesliga's talent production line.
Of the 20 starting outfielders on Tuesday, 16 were trained in a first- or second-division Bundesliga academy. They knew what to do and put on a spectacle that was one of the most entertaining of the season.