Borussia Dortmund Away Woes Continue with Poor Showing in Cologne Draw

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2016

Dortmund's French midfielder Ousmane Dembele reacts during the German first division Bundesliga football match between 1 FC Cologne and Borussia Dortmund in Cologne western Germany, on December 10, 2016.  / AFP / PATRIK STOLLARZ / RESTRICTIONS: DURING MATCH TIME: DFL RULES TO LIMIT THE ONLINE USAGE TO 15 PICTURES PER MATCH AND FORBID IMAGE SEQUENCES TO SIMULATE VIDEO. == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE == FOR FURTHER QUERIES PLEASE CONTACT DFL DIRECTLY AT + 49 69 650050
        (Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Borussia Dortmund left it late for the second time in four days, Marco Reus' stoppage-time equaliser earning them one point on Bundesliga Matchday 14 at Cologne. 

Unlike the late 2-2 draw with Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, however, the 1-1 at Cologne on Saturday hardly served as cause for celebration.

While it again proved the positive mentality of Thomas Tuchel's side, the match in the Rhineland also reminded fans just how fragile every positive development for the Black and Yellows is at this stage of the season. It seems as though for every step forward, they will take two steps back in the next match.

Dortmund's head coach addressed the fickle nature of his team's performances in his post-match press conference, saying his side's "development is clear and it’s normal that there are bumps along the way."

Those bumps, however, appear at an alarming rate for the Ruhr side, who look downright ordinary away from home this season.

Head coach Thomas Tuchel was sympathetic to his team's up-and-down nature this season after the match.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel was sympathetic to his team's up-and-down nature this season after the match.Martin Meissner/Associated Press

They had a 5-1 win at VfL Wolfsburg in a game that could easily have been a 5-6 defeat if not for a majestic performance from Roman Burki in goal and a 5-2 win at Hamburger SV, when the hosts' self-inflicted wounds gifted Dortmund a win. 

Other than that, though, their form away from home is cause for worry. Defeats at RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt, as well as draws at Ingolstadt and now Cologne are indicative of how every away trip seems to be a struggle for Dortmund this season.

Their latest trip on Saturday should not have been overly problematic. Cologne missed a number of key starters through injury, including first-choice goalkeeper Timo Horn, defensive leader Dominic Maroh and influential right-winger Marcel Risse.

Due to that injury crisis, the Rhinelanders had lost a lot of the momentum that carried them over the start of the campaign, dropping points against lowly Augsburg and suffering a heavy 4-0 defeat at 1899 Hoffenheim on the previous matchday.

Sure enough, Dortmund were in control to start the match, looking assured in their possession game with a lot of fluidity in the way they covered spaces and positions. Even without too many scoring opportunities, it seemed a matter of time before they would convert their dominance into a deserved lead.

Then came the 28th minute and the latest in a series of cheap, avoidable goals Dortmund give away with regularity on the road this season. Marcel Schmelzer took a heavy touch, turning the ball over to Pawel Olkowski. The team captain then failed to keep his composure and rushed into a challenge that gifted Cologne a free-kick.

Germany international Jonas Hector delivered the ball into the box, where Artjoms Rudnevs found himself with acres of space.

Perhaps it was because Dortmund had to make a defensive substitution the minute before, with Marc Bartra replacing Lukasz Piszczek at right centre-back in a back three, but the utter lack of communication that left the Latvian striker wide open with at least four defenders surrounding him from a safe distance was staggering.

Roman Weidenfeller, who had put in a fantastic performance at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, looked his 36 years of age in his attempt to parry Rudnevs' header that had precision but not pace.

However you look at it, the goal was as avoidable as they come. It was especially maddening because chasing a game against Cologne, who boast one of the best-organised defences in the Bundesliga, isn't easy.

Tuchel acknowledged as much after the match, per the club's official website, noting his side "were aware beforehand that it can be very important to take the lead," as Cologne "can defend in a very unpleasant and disciplined way."

With that, of course, he referenced the hosts' robust playing style, as well as their effective time-wasting in the final 20-odd minutes. Cologne amassed 26 fouls, per German sport magazine Kicker (link in German), and were at least a little fortunate to spend all but the final seconds of the game with 11 men.

Salih Ozcan was sent off in the dying moments of the match, a fate that could easily have befallen team-mate Marco Hoger in the 72nd minute. The midfielder's rather brutal foul knocked Sokratis Papastathopoulos out of the game, meaning all three of Tuchel's substitutions were forced on by injuries.

Dortmund could also have had two penalties in the match, as Sokratis was caught by the outstretched foot of Dominique Heintz at the hour mark and Mergim Mavraj stopped a ball with his arm 12 minutes from time.

The Black and Yellows star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had a forgettable 90 minutes by his lofty standards, took to social media to voice his displeasure with the performance of referee Felix Zwayer:

To be fair, Cologne also had their gripes with the refereeing team, seeing as they were twice wrongly flagged offside in promising attacking situations.

At any rate, Dortmund would do well not to look for excuses for their failure to come away with three points. Frankly, they hardly deserved to come away with one point.

They were naturally dominant in terms of possession, but they rarely managed to convert that into dangerous situations, let alone clear-cut scoring opportunities.

Against Cologne's massive defensive block following the hosts' goal, they lacked the creativity and accuracy to get into the right positions. Per, Aubameyang did not register a single shot in the game, while Ousmane Dembele had only one attempt.

Together with Reus, they had formed a mesmerising attacking trident against Borussia Monchengladbach on the previous matchday, and the difference against Cologne was night and day.

Marco Reus' second late equaliser in four days salvaged a point at Cologne.
Marco Reus' second late equaliser in four days salvaged a point at Cologne.PATRIK STOLLARZ/Getty Images

Dembele did create the equaliser with determination on the flank, finding substitute Adrian Ramos. The Colombian played a cutback to Reus who would not miss from 12 yards out, but it was the only time Dortmund put together an attacking move to lever out Cologne's back line.

Due to the injuries to Raphael Guerreiro, Mario Gotze and Shinji Kagawa, there is a distinct lack of creativity in Dortmund's midfield. Then again, Guerreiro has only played four matches in the centre, while neither Gotze nor Kagawa have been brilliant this season.

Still, without their playmaking potential, the Ruhr side struggles to break down opponents who do not make mistakes themselves.

The trip to Cologne made it abundantly clear that this Dortmund team is not good enough to carry players who are struggling for form or simply are not that talented to begin with.

Gonzalo Castro, for example, was arguably the worst player on the pitch, looking as though he ran in quicksand and making wrong decisions over and over. ESPN FC's Stefan Buczko rated him three out of 10, and chances are he would have been taken off even without injuring his ribs.

The problem is, his replacement was Sebastian Rode, who hardly did better, earning a four out of 10 from Buczko. Once again, the former Bayern Munich midfielder added nothing to his side's attack, avoiding creative forward passes like a vampire staying out of the sunlight.

Dortmund could perhaps overcome having one poor performer in their team on any given day, but, against Cologne, they had a number of them.

Per WhoScored, Erik Durm completed only 66 per cent of his passes from the right-wing-back spot and seemed to be assigned to covering Rudnevs before Cologne's goal.

Schmelzer made the costly double mistake before that goal and failed to provide his usual drive forward on the left wing.

Dembele looked mentally tired after two draining performances in central roles against Gladbach and Real.

Even Sokratis, the team's best and most consistent player this season, looked awkward in a number of situations, getting blown off the ball by Rudnevs or letting the ball bounce instead of clearing it.

Tuchel chose to focus on the positive, lauding his team's never-say-die attitude in his press conference.

"We have a lot to learn, and we possibly also need to learn how to handle it when the going gets tough," the 43-year-old said. "But after today’s match I want to stay clear of what we still have to learn. We never gave up and picked up a point."

Thanks to other results on the matchday, including a draw between Frankfurt and Hoffenheim and defeats for Leipzig and Hertha BSC, that point was not a bad result for Dortmund.

But it cannot gloss over another poor showing on the road.


Lars Pollmann also writes for The Yellow Wall. You can follow him on Twitter.


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