Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund: Winners and Losers from Bundesliga

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2015

Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund: Winners and Losers from Bundesliga

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    Oliver Hardt/Getty Images

    Borussia Dortmund came out on top with a last-gasp goal to beat VfL Wolfsburg 2-1 in a six-pointer on Matchday 15 of the 2015/16 Bundesliga season on Saturday in the Volkswagen Arena. 

    The hosts surprised with their formation, as head coach Dieter Hecking decided to leave out his best goalscorer of the season so far, Bas Dost. Julian Draxler replaced the Dutch striker in the starting XI, with Max Kruse moving to the top of the formation.

    Elsewhere, Timm Klose started in the place of suspended centre-back Dante, while Ricardo Rodriguez and Daniel Caligiuri replaced Marcel Schafer and Christian Trasch. 

    Dortmund had to do without regular starters Mats Hummels, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Julian Weigl, as all three had to stay at home with a stomach bug.

    Sven Bender, who already played in Hummels' stead against Stuttgart on Matchday 14, and Neven Subotic formed the pairing in central defence, while Matthias Ginter played in Weigl's position in defensive midfield. The game marked Subotic's first appearance since October 1.

    The visitors overran the Wolves in the early goings, hitting the woodwork twice: Wolfsburg's 'keeper Diego Benaglio parried an Ilkay Gundogan free-kick onto the crossbar in the third minute; two minutes later, Sven Bender got on the end of a Henrikh Mkhitaryan cross, but his volley only rattled the goal.

    Lukasz Piszczek wasted Dortmund's third golden opportunity to go in front, trying to square the ball for Aubameyang in the 10th minute when he should've gone for goal himself.

    The game then settled down considerably, with the visitors in control throughout the first half. Their lead came out of nowhere in the 32nd minute, when Mkhitaryan pressured Josuha Guilavogui into a costly turnover. The ball fell to Marco Reus, who rounded Benaglio and slotted home. 

    Hecking brought on Dost for Guilavogui at half-time, and Wolfsburg immediately looked much better. The Dutchman had the first chance himself when Dortmund's 'keeper Roman Burki played a horrendous pass into his feet, but the Switzerland international redeemed himself with a spectacular save. 

    The hosts went on to have a lot of half-chances, but it took a penalty early in extra-time to equalise the game. Piszczek had brought down Andre Schurrle. Rodriguez expertly dispatched the spot-kick to give Wolfsburg a well-deserved draw—or so it seemed. 

    Dortmund had other plans and won it late thanks to Shinji Kagawa, substituted on for Gundogan in the 55th minute, keeping his calm in front of goal.

    With the win, Dortmund get back in shouting distance to league leaders Bayern Munich, who lost their first match of the season at Borussia Monchengladbach earlier on Saturday, while also putting another two points of cushion between themselves and third place, as they are now nine points ahead. 

    Wolfsburg, meanwhile, drop to fifth thanks to Monchengladbach's and Hertha Berlin's wins. 

    The game was a true tale of two halves, and a draw would've been fair, but Dortmund's resiliency earned them a famous victory. BT Sport's Archie Rhind-Tutt tweeted after the game: "Wolfsburg's club record unbeaten home run of 29 league games brought to an end by Borussia Dortmund."

    Without further ado, here are our picks for the winners and losers from the game.

Winner: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

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    Oliver Hardt/Getty Images

    There's only one place to start. Dortmund's Armenian playmaker Mkhitaryan was the best man on the pitch—by some distance. Jochen Tittmar of Spox named him the man of the match (link in German).

    Mkhitaryan played six key passes, most of all players on the field, per WhoScored. Two of those were assists, as his relentless pressing against Guilavogui led to Reus' opening the score. Mkhitaryan's volley assist for Kagawa's winner was the highlight of the match. 

    The 26-year-old put in some great work in defence as well, as his six tackles and two blocked shots indicate. He also made a goal-line clearance in the first half. 

    Despite not registering a single shot in the 90 minutes, it was a complete performance from Dortmund's No. 10, showing that the best players always find ways to impact the game.

Loser: Josuha Guilavogui

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    It was a wholeheartedly forgettable evening for the 25-year-old midfielder. Guilavogui made the decisive error before the score was 1-0—although some of the blame has to go to Rodriguez, who should never have played the ball to the Frenchman in the first place.

    Starting in the place of the injured Luiz Gustavo, Guilavogui was never able to put his foot down in midfield. He was late in almost every challenge and very lucky to escape the first half without a booking. His four fouls led the game, according to WhoScored.

    Hecking saw how much his No. 23 struggled, and he decided to take him off at half-time.

Winner: Shinji Kagawa

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    Oliver Hardt/Getty Images

    Scoring the latest of late winners would have been enough to earn Kagawa a spot on this list, but he deserves praise for his overall performance as well.

    Coming on for Gundogan in the 55th minute—the Germany international had problems with his lower back after Draxler kneed him in a duel in the first 20 minutes—Kagawa was the only calming influence on Dortmund's game.

    Whereas his team-mates got more and more frantic in their efforts to give the defence a breather, the Japanese midfielder was the only one to put his foot on the ball to really slow play down.

    His 29 touches, per WhoScored, in 40 minutes reflect that: Gundogan had only 26 until the forced change.

    Considering Kagawa sat on the bench with Castro taking his usual spot in the starting XI, his inclusion on this list is testament to his positive mentality.

Loser: Max Kruse

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    Boris Streubel/Getty Images

    We had highlighted Kruse as Wolfsburg's focal point in attack before the game, but his display left a lot to be desired. 

    He didn't look comfortable playing as the main striker in the first half, as he was seemingly robbed of his most dangerous traits: Usually, he causes many problems with intelligent movement between the lines.

    Kruse didn't take part in Wolfsburg's much-improved second half either, which is surprising considering Hecking's change at half-time was likely with better involvement for the in-form attacker in his mind.

    The 27-year-old didn't take a single shot and—unlike Mkhitaryan—failed to make other contributions to his side's game. 

Winner: Borussia Dortmund and the Bundesliga

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    Oliver Hardt/Getty Images

    Dortmund's late winner saw them cut Bayern's advantage at the top of the table down to five points. It's the closest the league has been at this point since Pep Guardiola took over at the Bavarian giants in 2013: The Spaniard lost a Bundesliga match before the winter break for the first time.

    As Deutsche Welle's Jonathan Harding wrote, "winning when Bayern don't is not something Dortmund have found easy in recent years."

    The visitors' win at the fortress that was the VW Arena, especially considering the absences of key players Hummels, Sokratis and Weigland, later, Gundogan—is a sign Dortmund might just be strong enough to give Bayern a proper fight this season.

    Tuchel didn't want to hear any of that after the game, repeating his mantra of Dortmund as a challenger for the top four in an interview with German broadcaster Sky, but the look in his eyes made clear that he knew how special this win was. 

    As Harding wrote, "Dortmund wrestled back control with the kind of character that could be the difference by April next year."

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