Any team that frequently plays twice a week needs a good rotation strategy. Sunday's contest in Dortmund showed how this can work - provided that the coach has a deep-enough roster at his disposal.
Ilkay Gündogan and Sven Bender, two key players under coachThomas Tuchel's
predecessor, Jürgen Klopp, were both unavailable on Sunday, yet Dortmund's midfield was in complete control during their2-0 win over Mainz.
Tuchel's system has often involved the use of a defensively strong holding midfielder, but when facing Mainz, his former club, at the end of a week that also included action in the Europa League, Tuchel picked Nuri Sahin to play in front of Dortmund's defense. The combination of Sahin, Gonzalo Castro, and Shinji Kagawa gave the midfield a completely different look to the one that played against Leverkusen, the last time Dortmund had a Bundesliga fixture between the two legs of a European tie. Tuchel has rotated his squad to perfection, and important members of his team are currently in form. Dortmund have benefited from both of these factors.
"We need this whole squad to achieve our goals this season," Sahin said after the match.
The Sahin tactic allowed Shinji Kagawa to make more runs, higher up the field. Dortmund had trouble switching the play in the early going, largely due to the work of Mainz central midfielders Fabian Frei and Julian Baumgartlinger. The chances only really started to come after Mainz had tired somewhat. And suffocated by the defending in the central area of the park, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang often looked like something of a bystander as Dortmund created chances by switching flank to flank.
A different threat
Dortmund's dynamism, though, proved to be too much for Mainz, a team with ambitions of qualifying for Europe. Neither Frei nor Baumgartlinger could close down the run of Castro once he received the ball in midfield near the half-hour mark. A defense, whose main focus had been to keep Aubameyang at bay, was suddenly faced with a different threat. His through ball to Marco Reus was uncontested, and this put the Germany star into a position to calmly slot a shot past Mainz goalkeeper Loris Karius. It took a flexible Dortmund midfield to make that goal happen, and the way they executed it must have pleased Tuchel.
Dortmund's flexibility was fully on display in the second half, as they then appeared able to switch the play at will, causing the Mainz defense to run in circles. With Stefan Bell and Leon Balogun still occupied with Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan began cutting inside more. Only the heroics of Karius prevented Dortmund from blowing the match wide open. However, Dortmund's attack eventually put the game away, with Mkhitaryan threading through a perfect ball to Aubameyang before the African Footballer of the Year found Kagawa, who finished off the move from close range in the 73rd minute.
Dortmund played in a way that may have made spectators forget they had had a match in midweek against the second-best team in England. With their victory against Mainz, they showed that they, not Bayern Munich, are the most versatile team in Germany.