Borussia Dortmund beat Hertha Berlin 2-1 in their first road win in 99 days. Dan-Axel Zagadou emerges as MotM as Mats Hummels is sent off before the break in a scrappy tussle at the Olympiastadion.
Lucien Favre had both fists in the air when referee Sven Jablonski blew the final whistle in the sold-out Olympiastadion on Saturday afternoon. The 62-year-old might have only just held on to his job as Borussia Dortmund eeked out a 2-1 win against Hertha Berlin after being down a man due to Mats Hummels’ sending off in the 45th minute on a double yellow.
There was good cause to celebration in the Dortmund dugout because the Black and Yellows are back to winning ways in the Bundesliga after a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich and an equally embarrassing 3-3 draw at home to bottom-dwellers SC Paderborn.
In the absence of Paco Alcácer and Julian Weigl, Favre opted for a rare 3-4-2-1 formation with Dan-Axel Zagadou, Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji forming the back-three.
Placing Julian Brandt more centrally worked out like a charm 15 minutes into the game when the 23-year-old’s through ball found Jadon Sancho who slotted the ball past Thomas Kraft for the opener.
Hertha Berlin, who debuted their new coach Jürgen Klinsmann of DFB and USMNT fame, had little time to contemplate their life choices because just two minutes later Thorgan Hazard scrambled Achraf Hakimi’s low cross into the net.
It could have been a very comfortable ride for the Westphalians had Akanji placed a header not straight at the keeper in the 19th minute — but at least after 20 minutes Dortmund fans could gain the impression that it was going to be smooth sailing against the 15th place capital club, who lost their last four games in a row.
The hour of the Zag
Now, while the 30-year-old Mats Hummels was busy committing rookie errors, picking up where he left off at the Camp Nou, Dortmund’s overall defensive stability against Hertha Berlin massively improved due to the addition of Akanji and Dan-Axel Zagadou.
Like Paderborn, Hertha BSC have a lot of pace in their ranks with the flop-heavy Davie Selke and former Düsseldorf striker Dodi Lukebakio. But for once, BVB had the speed to match it. Especially Akanji was a big help in closing out Hertha’s through balls which, frankly, begs the question why in god’s name Weigl was fielded as centre-back against one-trick-pony Paderborn.
It was unnerving to watch Dortmund step off the gas after 30 minutes, which was swiftly punished as Vladimir Darida deflect the ball into the net in the 34th minute to make it 2-1. And it was equally annoying to see the experienced Hummels fall for Selke’s antics before halftime subsequently resulting in a second booking. Yet, there is a case to be made about how Hummel’s sending off actually improved BVB’s defensive capability.
At least in this particular game, it helped Dortmund in the second half to have more speed at the heart of the defence. Zagadou did not put a foot wrong as BVB battled to keep the hosts at bay. The 20-year-old made use of his footballing IQ and did not crack under increased pressure. Believe it or not but avoiding silly individual mistakes is already a big boost for Dortmund’s winning chances.
It is also to his credit, that Berlin hardly created a chance apart from Selke’s 2-2 equaliser in the 47th minute, which was correctly ruled offside by VAR.
VAR strikes again!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 30, 2019
This is the offside call that wiped off Hertha Berlin's second goal. 😳 pic.twitter.com/DGymHy9M3O
Arguably, Saturday’s match showed that Favre should have given a couple of players a rest for this game. Hummels was one of those candidates, who could have used a break. The 2014 World Champion will now get a rest due to his suspension against Fortuna Düsseldorf next week, which should be another opportunity for Zagadou to show that he is primed for more playing time.
Axel Witsel and Marco Reus look in similar need for a break. In Witsel’s case, there weren’t many options to rotate with Delaney and Weigl injured and Reus is a guaranteed starter under Favre no matter how unjustified it currently is.
For now, Favre seems at the helm of BVB. If anything, his team showed a lot of fight to see out a win against Hertha Berlin, which traditionally is difficult turf for the Ruhr side. Additionally, it’s good to see that Dortmund can apply a back-three formation without too much difficulty, which seems like progress under the Swiss coach. Set-piece defending has tremendously improved as well.
The Black and Yellows did well to disrupt Klinsmann’s men late in the game with niggly fouls. But at the same time, this win has to be put into perspective because Hertha were absolutely dreadful in this game with technical errors left right and centre.
Dortmund have to find back to the trajectory they were on during their three-game winning streak before the international break. In those three home games, Favre’s men managed to play some terrific football.
The next games against Düsseldorf and Slavia Prague will be good opportunities for BVB to rediscover that mojo. In the meantime, there is nothing left but to enjoy that the utterly unlikable Hertha lost and were further pushed into misery. Bayern Munich’s 2-1 loss to Bayer Leverkusen at the Allianz Arena is also a nice sweetener for the weekend.