Borussia Dortmund vs. Stuttgart: Winners and Losers from Bundesliga Game
Borussia Dortmund got back on track after two consecutive losses with a comfortable 4-1 victory over VfB Stuttgart on Bundesliga Matchday 14 on Sunday in the Signal Iduna Park.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel surprised with his lineup, as he left regular starters Matthias Ginter and Julian Weigl out for Lukasz Piszczek and Gonzalo Castro. The biggest story before the game was, however, the benching of skipper Mats Hummels, as Sven Bender took his spot at centre-back.
Tuchel cited rest as the only reason for Hummels' absence from the starting XI in an interview with German broadcaster Sky.
Stuttgart's caretaker manager Jurgen Kramny, meanwhile, made four changes to the side that lost 4-0 to FC Augsburg at home. Przemyslaw Tyton returned to goal after missing Alexander Zorniger's last game in charge with a stomach bug, while Georg Niedermeier, Lukas Rupp and Alexandru Maxim got a rare opportunity in the starting XI.
Dortmund took all of two-and-a-half minutes to score the opener, as Tyton could only parry a thunderous effort from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Castro nodded the rebound home.
Stuttgart reacted well, albeit without creating anything for themselves, before the hosts doubled their lead through Aubameyang in the 19th minute.
Stuttgart got back in the game five minutes before intermission, as Didavi was left with a tap in, as Dortmund failed to clear the ball after Piszczek had scratched a shot from Timo Werner off the goal line.
An own goal from Niedermeier effectively killed the game in the 65th minute. Dortmund could have made it a blow out but missed a few chances before Aubameyang scored his second as extra time began.
With the win, Dortmund have given themselves a cushion for next week's difficult match at third-placed VfL Wolfsburg. The visitors, meanwhile, are none the wiser with Kramny instead of Zorniger and looking at another season in a shambles.
Here's our look at the winners and losers from the game.
Winner: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Dortmund's Gabonese striker continued his impressive form in front of goal, showing off many facets of his games in the process.
For the hosts' second goal, Aubameyang stole himself away to the edge of the box, which left him unmarked, but he still had an awful lot to do. His audacious lob epitomised the incredible level of confidence the 26-year-old has gathered through his highly impressive season.
His second in the dying moments of the game was a show of his elegance and athleticism, as he went past Baumgartl with absolute ease and finished with a belting shot Stuttgart's 'keeper could do nothing about.
Aubameyang has scored 17 goals in just 14 matchdays in the Bundesliga, a club record, according to Ruhr Nachrichten's Matthias Dersch (in German).
Loser: Stuttgart's Defence
Stuttgart are once again ruing their defensive vulnerability after Sunday's defeat at the Westfalenstadion. The Swabians have now conceded 35 goals, far and away the worst defensive record in the entire league.
Caretaker manager Kramny said after the game that he and his staff tried to instill stability into the side (via Sportschau's Markus Bark on Twitter, in German), but it was obvious that he took over a timid and nervous team right from the start of the game.
The first goal came on a counter attack, which is—in short—baffling. Sitting No. 16 in the table, it's inexcusable for Stuttgart to concede to a side as dangerous as Dortmund on the counter two-and-a-half minutes into the game—away from home, to boot.
Niedemeier's own goal summed up Stuttgart's season so far, as did Baumgartl's hapless try do defend against Aubameyang before the final goal of the afternoon.
Kramny is surely correct in saying in his press conference that Dortmund are too strong a side to be considered a measuring stick for Stuttgart, but that doesn't excuse another shambolic performance by the Swabians.
Winner: Gonzalo Castro
Dortmund's summer signing has really come on in the last few weeks, as we highlighted after his performance against Augsburg in October.
Sunday marked Castro's best outing in a yellow shirt, not only because he scored his first league goal. Castro was incredible especially in the first half, with his flick-on for Aubameyang's goal true highlight reel material.
Ruhr Nachrichten graded him as the best player on the pitch, while he himself told the club's TV channel how special it was to score in front of the world-famous Yellow Wall on Dortmund's south terrace.
The 28-year-old's strong performances in recent weeks has put Tuchel in quite the predicament: Castro definitely deserves to be a regular starter, but there isn't really a spot for him if everyone's available.
Loser: The Referees
Dortmund were desperately unlucky not to score the—probably—decisive third goal to start the second period, and Manuel Grafe and his assistants would have been at the center of the critique had the hosts not won the game.
First, Mkhitaryan was fouled inside the penalty box by Niedermeier ten minutes into the second half, but Grafe waved on. Dortmund's Armenian playmaker certainly gave his best effort to convince the referee, falling down rather easily, but it was a fairly obvious penalty because of the full extension of Niedermeier's arms, as it looked more like wrestling than football.
Only three minutes later, Mkhitaryan was through on goal after Ilkay Gundogan had played a sensational through ball that sliced Stuttgart open, only to hear Grafe whistle the chance off; the linesman had raised his flag. Replays showed Dortmund's No. 10 was easily a yard onside.
While Grafe and his team didn't make any other major mistakes and, in fact, were spot on with just about every other offside decision—and there were plenty—those two situations could have turned the game on its head.
Winner: Sven Bender
Dortmund's defence wasn't flawless on the day, with Stuttgart looking dangerous, especially through young striker Timo Werner in the first half. Curiously enough, however, it wasn't converted centre-back Bender who struggled with Werner's quickness, it was his partner, Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Playing in the spot of captain Hummels, Bender led his team in all relevant statistical categories on defence, Per WhoScored, he made four tackles, five interceptions and six clearances, while also blocking a shot.
He didn't only—arguably—play better than Hummels had in recent weeks on defence, Bender also picked up the slack going forward. He had the most touches of all players on the field, and his pass to Castro before Aubameyang's first goal would have made his captain, much heralded for his creativity in build up, proud.
His performances in the heart of defence have given the 26-year-old a new perspective at the club after he had seemingly fallen out of favour in midfield. It's no longer surprising Bender is preferred to Neven Subotic as the first back-up centre-back, and it wouldn't bee surprising to see him start over Sokratis for performance reasons fairly soon.