BVB toil to draw against Hertha sans Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The Olympiastadion in Berlin was lit up on Friday night. Hosts Hertha BSC welcomed Borussia Dortmund. For the second week in a row, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was left out of the match day squad. Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc insists the Gabonese's absence is due to ‘mistakes' by the player and rubbished talks of Aubameyang moving to Arsenal. Zorc refuted claims Arsenal had made an offer, declaring Aubameyang is still in their plans.
Following the match, Zorc was trumped by his CEO. Hans-Joachim Watzke confirmed his counterpart with Arsenal, Ivan Gazidis, had made contact, but negotiations hadn't begun. He did back Zorc by stating Auba was not in the squad after skipping a team meeting.
Andre Schurrle started at the tip of Dortmund's attack for this match, flanked by Jordan Sancho and American wunderkind Christian Pulisic, with Shinji Kagawa and Mario Goetze pulling the strings from midfield. Pal Dardai set up his Hertha team with Salomon Kalou and Valentino Lazaro supporting Davie Selke upfront.
Dortmund claimed the lion's share of possession, tucking Hertha firmly into its defensive third. The game followed that script throughout. Hertha was compact and defended deep. Dardai's squad allowed Dortmund the ball, waiting patiently to hit on the counter.
A largely uninspired first half saw Kagawa head wide. Hertha came closer with Marvin Plattenhart curling a freekick just beyond the crossbar then even closer when Selke failed to connect with a cross in the 45th minute.
Forty-five seconds into the second half, Selke amended his miss, tapping in past Roman Burki after Valentino Lazaro impressively beat Sokratis Papastathapoulos to deliver the chance. Kagawa also atoned, leveling the score with a header. Dortmund's quest for a late winner proved futile however.
Here are two points of interest from the contest:
A tale of two teenagers
BVB's successful integration of young players into the first team while simultaneously competing for honors has led them to become every fan's favorite second team. All season long, Christian Pulisic's bright performances has anointed him heir to Ousmane Dembele's princedom. Jordan Sancho rejected a £30,000 a week deal at Manchester City to compete for that crown.
Chances have however been few and scattered for Sancho at Dortmund though. Friday's clash marked his fifth league appearance. This has been quite surprising considering Dortmund recalled him in the middle of last year's U20 World Cup. The teenager left India after scoring three goals and helping England advance to the last 16. Unlike Pulisic, he has not been afforded a run of games.
He did enough on Friday night to make head coach Peter Störger reconsider. Pulisic had an off-game on the right flank, booked for a cynical challenge in the 26th minute and generally failing to influence proceedings. Sancho, on the other hand, was in tandem with Jeremy Toljan all night long. They kept combining with neat touches beating Weiser. Sancho even bagged his first assist, crossing for Kagawa to head home.
Dortmund lacking magic
Any team would be worse off without its main striker, let alone when it's Aubameyang. Dortmund seemed clueless once they reached the final third. Despite Julian Weigl being the only ‘defensive-minded player' in midfield, Dortmund was unable to pry Hertha open. Kagawa is a decent player but the player who returned from Old Trafford is not the same one who departed. The Blue Samurai's pairing with Götze didn't really trouble Hertha Berlin. Compounded by Pulisic's disappearance, Dortmund spent a vast portion of the game just going through the motions.
Losing Henrikh Mkhitaryan to United was also a big blow. Dembele helped fill that void. His replacement, Andriy Yarmolenko, isn't even approaching the same level. With rumors of Auba's exit burning up the tradesheets, Dortmund needs to act quickly and precisely to improve its attacking unit.