Borussia Dortmund’s recent domestic rejuvenation continued yesterday against fierce rivals Schalke, as Jürgen Klopp’s men won the Ruhr derby 3-0 at Signal Iduna Park.
The hosts were completely dominant throughout, but it took until the final 15 minutes for the visitors’ stubborn rearguard to be breached.
Goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus confirmed victory for Dortmund, while Schalke will be disappointed by the fact that they did not manage a single shot on goal all afternoon.
Here are five thoughts from the clash.
Hummels’ distribution another string to top defender’s bow
The return to the first-team fold of Mats Hummels is an obvious factor in Dortmund’s improved form of late, with the Germany international proving time and again that he is one of Europe’s best centre-halves.
His presence in Die Schwarzgelben’s defence adds authority and control, however another key feature of the 26-year-old’s game against Schalke was his excellent distribution from the back.
Hummels’ range of passing goes slightly unnoticed given the focus on his supreme defensive abilities but a number of Dortmund’s attacks were started from the defender picking out an attacking team-mate with a pinpoint ball.
Had some of the home side’s attackers been more clinical in the first 45, Hummels could well have come in at the half-time interval boasting a couple of assists.
Schalke goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther stars
Being thrown into one of Europe’s biggest derbies at the tender age of 19 could be the making or breaking of a player, with Schalke goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther put under pressure in only his fourth start for the Gelsenkirchen outfit.
However, with Ralf Fährmann and Fabian Giefer unavailable, Roberto Di Matteo’s third-choice custodian put in what was destined to be a man-of-the-match performance before his goal was breached. A mistake to grant Reus Dortmund’s third should be overlooked given that the game was already lost.
Not only did Wellenreuther display fine shot-stopping abilities, but the command of his box and presence at set pieces defied his young age.
Schalke were responsible for unearthing the world’s current best goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and seemingly have another top-class young talent coming through the ranks in the form of Wellenreuther.
Kagawa starting to rediscover form of old, while Mkhitaryan’s role remains unclear
Although the Japanese attacker scored in his first game back with Dortmund, his performances this term initially were nowhere near the supreme form he displayed in his first tenure with the club.
However, Kagawa was unlucky to be excluded from the starting XI against Juventus in midweek and showed against Schalke that he is making progress.
The gifted playmaker created a number of chances for team-mates, showed guile that the side have been missing this season and seems to have regained a lot of confidence.
On the other hand, although Henrikh Mkhitaryan was involved in the side’s first two goals, the Armenian’s role in the team still remains unclear.
With both he and Kagawa wanting to play in the number ten role, it appears that it should be one or the other in the starting XI – not both.
Di Matteo’s side lack creativity and needs a midfield general – Sami Khedira?
The Royal Blues were reduced to bypassing midfield and launching balls aimlessly forward towards Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, with Kevin Prince-Boateng not getting a grip on the game from his attacking midfield role.
Schalke missed the penetration of Julian Draxler and the fact that unused substitute Max Meyer’s invention was not introduced was baffling. Meanwhile, a lack of energy and urgency in midfield handed Dortmund the ascendancy.
The Gelsenkirchen club have been heavily linked with Sami Khedira this week, who is out of contract at Real Madrid in the summer, and it is with good reason that Di Matteo should be in the market for an established central midfielder this summer.
Aubameyang Dortmund’s best number nine
Dortmund are still hurting from the departure of Robert Lewandowksi, with Klopp’s men not as potent an attacking threat without the Polish centre forward.
This was proven in the first half, where the hosts had countless chances but did not open the scoring as a clinical edge was missing.
Aubameyang was the man to break the deadlock in the second 45 and all-in-all his pace and movement, coupled with ten Bundesliga goals this term, suggest he is a better option to lead the line than either Ciro Immobile or Adrián Ramos.