Borussia Dortmund head coach Thomas Tuchel didn't want to let talk about his defence take away from his side's win in the 147th Revierderby against Schalke on Sunday. He told the media in his press conference: "I would like the two goals we conceded to be considered in isolation. It doesn’t make much sense to look for regularities which don’t exist."
One can't help but think that must have been the official version, as Tuchel is too much of a perfectionist to truly be OK with the way his team—especially his centre-back pairing—went about their defending.
Captain Mats Hummels gave a particularly putrid performance, being partly at fault for both goals. He initiated the first one with a sloppily misplaced pass a mere three minutes after Dortmund had finally broken down the Royal Blues' block. Hummels' strength lies in his buildup play, so it was downright baffling to see him make such a horrendous mistake.
He was also involved in the second goal for the visitors, which came 20 minutes before the end of the game. Like many times already this season, the skipper's aggressiveness cost his team. On Sunday, he left his spot in defence to try and clear a ball near the halfway line but lost a duel with Schalke's Leon Goretzka, which left Dortmund undermanned against the counter.
Hummels' tendency to leave his team's defensive third exposed would not have been punished if his partner in crime, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, had not bottled his attempt to clear the ball. The Greece international has saved his side—and his centre-back partner—numerous times this season, winning important challenges with Hummels taken out of the play by his own doing, but this time it was Sokratis with the crucial error.
Tuchel waived the second goal off as something that happens every six months in his press conference. His theory that the goals were singular incidents seems rather insupportable, however.
Hummels' struggles this season have been well documented; he has developed a dangerous pattern, as Sportschau's Marcus Bark noted. His trying to defend proactively more often than not comes back to haunt his team, as Hummels is regularly caught in no man's land, leaving a lot of green grass in front of the players who get past him.
Hummels and his team were fortunate their shambolic defending didn't cost Dortmund a deserved win against Schalke. The Black and Yellows are so good going forward they can afford to concede goals more regularly than one would expect.
In the seven-game winning streak between the October and November international breaks, they have kept a clean sheet only twice: against Mainz, thanks in large part to Roman Burki's best game for the club, and against Qabala in the Europa League.
They have, however, scored 27 goals in those seven matches. Dortmund have now scored 45 goals in front of their own fans this term—more than four per game. They had a number of chances to put the Revierderby to bed after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doubled their lead just two minutes into the second half, as evidenced by Michael Caley's expected-goals chart.
Tuchel correctly pointed out:
In the second half I felt we were playing more freely and more naturally, we got a better grip of the tempo and we pushed high up the pitch. We defended high up, played in a dominant fashion and created a lot of high profile chances. At this stage 4-1 was in the air and it would have been well deserved.
Schalke's Ralf Fahrmann denied Dortmund several times and kept the game in reach for the Royal Blues. One has to note the hosts defended very smartly in the dying minutes of the game, with a lot of possession keeping Schalke away from the goal. The visitors' last shot on target came in the 79th minute and was brilliantly saved by Burki.
Going forward, however, Dortmund need to sort out their defending. They can't just count on their prolific attack to bail them out every week. With the international break scattering his players across the globe, Tuchel won't have much time to work on the problem areas, though. Dortmund's defending will remain a work in progress.