Borussia Dortmund have finished the 2017/18 season in fourth place and qualified for the UEFA Champions League despite suffering a 3-1 (1-0) defeat at TSG Hoffenheim on the final day of the season.
Dennis-Julian Gottschlich reporting
The 30,150 spectators in attendance at a sold-out WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar-Arena witnessed an interesting and fast-paced match between two equally matched teams. Kramaric put the hosts ahead in the 26th minute, while BVB missed numerous highly promising opportunities to get a goal themselves in the opening 45 minutes. They did, however, level through Reus after the interval (59), but it was all Hoffenheim in the final half-hour with goals from Szalai (63) and Kaderabek (73) making it 3-1. The Black & Yellows could not manage to get the one goal that would have seen them finish third in the final quarter-hour but, thanks to their superior goal difference, they beat Leverkusen to the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot for next season.
The scenario: Third-placed BVB and fourth-placed Hoffenheim were battling it out for the Champions League. A win or a draw would have seen BVB comfortably finish third, while a defeat by more than one goal would have seen them leapfrogged by Hoffenheim and, possibly, Leverkusen too. The Werkself needed a seven-goal swing on the final day if they were to overhaul the Black & Yellows.
Personnel matters: The absences of Sokratis (suspended) and Toprak (muscular problems) forced Peter Stöger to improvise. Schmelzer and the fit-again Guerreiro linked up down the left flank, while Sahin returned to the starting line-up; Götze and Philipp started on the bench. Batshuayi (ankle), Durm (torn lateral collateral ligament in ankle) and Rode (groin operation) were all still unavailable. Hoffenheim were without Demirbay (torn capsule in ankle), Hübner (unknown), Posch (groin operation), Geiger (thigh), Rupp (torn cruciate ligament) and Gnabry (torn muscle bundle).
Tactics: Both teams lined up in a 3-4-3 formation. Akanji took up the position in the centre of the BVB defence, while Schmelzer and Piszczek lined up on either side. When TSG had the ball, Pulisic (right) and Guerreiro (left) retreated and expanded the back line into a five-man rearguard. Although the Black & Yellows had only played with a back three once previously (DFB Cup tie in Munich), they looked comfortable in the new system for the most part, keeping their shape well and defending attentively. At the other end, the attacking triumvirate of Reus, Schürrle and Sancho frequently swapped positions and consistently found gaps in behind Hoffenheim.
The match & analysis: It developed into a fast-paced encounter from the off in Sinsheim, with Hoffenheim twice testing Bürki early on through a Szalai header (4) and a Schulz shot (9), but the BVB custodian comfortably dealt with both efforts. That said, the two teams looked evenly matched and the Black & Yellows had opportunities to find the net themselves, with TSG custodian Baumann brilliantly turning a Guerreiro shot from 18 metres behind for a corner (15). The Portugal international had another good opportunity three minutes later, but was again denied by Baumann from seven metres after being perfectly picked out in the penalty area by Sahin (17).
Next it was Hoffenheim's turn to attack, the hosts launching a quick counter and playing their way into the middle with a one-two down the left flank, although Kramaric's powerful effort from the edge of the box was saved wonderfully by Bürki at full-stretch (21). Five minutes later, though, TSG eventually took the lead when Bürki was put under pressure by Uth and passed the ball straight to the feet of Kramaric, who sent an unstoppable shot from 16 metres into the bottom corner (26). Only a minute later the Swiss shot-stopper did well to prevent it being 2-0, making himself big at the near post and parrying the ball away after Szalai had broken through down the left (28).
Reus slots home Guerreiro cross
At the other end, Schürrle was played clean through by a Reus pass several minutes later but TSG goalkeeper Baumann did well to narrow the angle and Schürrle's shot struck the side-netting (34). The next chance fell to Sancho, whose shot sailed straight into Baumann's arms from a narrow angle (40). Then Hoffenheim had another goalscoring chance on the stroke of half-time, Kaderabek fizzing a cross in from the right that was just a bit too quick for Szalai and Uth (44).
The first shot of the second period fell to Reus, who was comfortably denied by Baumann (51). But the Black & Yellows almost fell 2-0 behind minutes later when Kramaric broke through down the left and crossed into the middle, where Szalai's shot was well saved by Bürki on the line. The loose ball fell to Zuber, whose shot from 15 metres was deflected towards the back post by Sahin but Piszczek beat Uth to the ball (54). A minute later Schulz got a shot away in the box, though Piszczek was again on hand to thwart the danger (55). Having survived the spell of pressure, the visitors soon restored parity when Reus and Guerreiro combined well down the left flank and the Portugal international played the ball into the six-yard box, where the Germany midfielder steered the ball past Baumann with a low shot (59).
Parity lasts only five minutes
However, the celebrations among the visiting supporters lasted only several minutes before Hoffenheim re-established their advantage. Kramaric perfectly threaded the ball through the gap in the BVB defence for Szalai, who kept his cool in front of Bürki and chipped the goalkeeper to make it 2-1 (63). And there was another goal for the hosts 10 minutes later when an in-swinging free-kick from the left sailed past everyone in the Dortmund box and, although it was cleared by Akanji on the line, the ball fell to Kaderabek who steered it home from seven metres out (73). BVB gave it another go in the closing stages but could not create a goal or clear-cut opportunities to score. Right at the death, Peter Stöger sent on Roman Weidenfeller (90+4) for the last few seconds to make his 355th and final Bundesliga appearance for the club.
Outlook: The match in Hoffenheim was the last one of the 2017/18 season. All the BVB players who are not on duty with their national teams at the World Cup in Russia, which starts in mid-June, will begin training for the 2018/19 season at the start of July. Borussia Dortmund's campaign will begin with the First Round of the DFB Cup, which will be played between 17 and 20 August 2018, while the Bundesliga kicks off a week later between 24 and 26 August 2018.