The rather brilliant Deep Lying Pod made a great point in last week’s episode. Whilst discussing the merits of Football Manager blogging, they stumbled upon a rather interesting trend; that of the blogger reporting success over failure. It makes sense, we all want to show off the positives of our seasons, the brilliant signings, the huge wins, the trophies…we don’t really like to focus on that one incredible 6-2 defeat to Wolves.
It got me thinking. One of the most crucial and seismic events in my BVB save so far, the Champions League final defeat to Benfica, got a paragraph at best in a season review. This defeat, which was so heart breaking I went out and spent over €120m in transfers in an attempt to over come the hurt, really deserves more of a review, even if it will make me sad all over again. Let me take you back to the end of last season…
Let’s set the scene shall we? Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on a brisk summer’s eve. We had successfully made our way to the final after a strong performance over Tottenham Hotspurs in the semis, with a solid 2-1 win at ours, and a frustrating (for Spurs) 0-0 at theirs, after victories over Manchester City and 1997 Champions League Final opponents Juventus in the knockouts.
Benfica had also done their part in denying the British press a North London derby final, as they flat out murdered Arsenal with a 5-1 win at home, and a 2-1 win at the Emirates. Nerve racking stuff, but I had been confident that ours, the strongest defense in the Bundesliga would be a match up for the rampant Jonathan Calleri, Benfica’s leading goal scorer.
When it came to the line up, I selected the team that had been playing well for the last month. After a season of rotation, I had had the opportunity to play a consistent side, and whilst in my head I didn’t think it was perhaps the “strongest”, it had been the side that had got us to the final, and in my head at least, deserved to give it a go. This has always been a weakness in my game, choosing players based on romanticism over analysis. Insistent on playing my BVB Total tactic, I selected Nuri Sahin with Ignacio Camacho out with a virus. A mistake? Probably…whilst Sahin didn’t have a bad game, the lack of a more mobile, defensive minded player I think really made us lose the battle in midfield, and my reluctance to play Sven Bender, who had complained about the lack of first team football possibly cost me.
We lined up as follows. My ambition was to exploit the pace of Aubameyang. Get in behind Benfica, and dominate the game with our superior intelligence in midfield. Benfica’s midfield proved to be equally intelligent, and the physicality of Sanches and co trumped the intelligence and passing of Weigl, Sahin and Dahoud. Our passing lanes where cut short, and as we pushed higher up the pitch, attempting to simply hold onto the ball, Benfica could push back, fast on the counter. It was back and forth, and whilst we both had chances, it would be Benfica who would take the lead.
A throw in on the right saw Semedo lose Schmelzer (already on a booking), play through Guedes, who passed the ball right across the front of goal to Gaitan on the back post. Stupid defending, and a stupid goal to concede. Schmelzer was getting increasingly frsutrated, perhaps a sign that I should have removed him (if I had selected a substitute Left Back!!!!).
We couldn’t get ourselves into the game, and our chances were limited. Even an angry team talk at half time didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Benfica had us well and truly worked out.
Thankfully, we had players who could produce magic out of nothing, Henrikh Mkhitaryan being one. With hope fading, Aubameyang received the ball out wide right, crossing in to the box, where Miki hit a bullet of a header. We were back in it. 1-1. Hope was restored…for a moment.
I mentioned Schmelzer’s frustrations earlier…well, stupid me for not putting a replacement LB on the pitch, and stupid me for not bringing him off when he was clearly losing his head. Well, a collision with Benfica’s Right Winger in the 84th minute, and a second yellow later, he was off. Down to 10 men. Great. I subbed Dahoud for Piszczek, swapped Passlack out left, and reduced our playing style to counter. I hoped to once again, suck Benfica in, and play through to the increasingly tiring Aubameyang.
Full time finished, and extra time followed. Highlights were limited, with neither side wishing to succumb to the counter attacking talents of their opposition. But, once again, our own mental fragility saw our own downfall. Piszczek, having only been on for 25 minutes, took out one of Benfica’s wingers from behind. An awful tackle, and the result of which was a surprise to no one. Straight red.
In hindsight, it was this red card that sealed the deal on Piszczek being relegated to rotation right back, and the youngster Felix Passlack (also known as “The Passlack”) taking his place, and the vice captaincy position.
I had no choice, defensive and hold out for penalties. It worked for the remaining minutes, with the 1 on 1 nightmare of penalties deciding the winner.
We’d lost the super cup on penalties to Bayern earlier in the season, and had had an awful time throughout the year when it came to spot kicks. In my heart of hearts, I felt it was going to go the same way.
But, things took a surprising turn. Reus and Aubameyang scored their penalties with great power, and when Luan and Carrillo missed for Benfica, it looked like we were on lady lucks good side. Stupidly, having not tweeted throughout the game, having not wanted to tempt the gods of fate, I thought that was a good opportunity to tweet out.
I EVEN SAID I DAREN’T JINX IT!! What an idiot. Hummels, Gabigol, and Passlack’s efforts were terrible. The keeper saving them with ease. Benfica had no such trouble, and as quick as my hopes were raised, they were destroyed.
Rui Vitoria had lifted the curse of Bella Guttman, and we would always been remembered as the team they managed to do it against.
Penalties are always a lottery, but I cannot help but thing I tempted fate by tweeting. It was sickening. And whilst the twitter community gave me their thoughts, I couldn’t help but feel aggrieved.
After sleeping on it, the defeat only strengthened my resolve. Passlack became my go to guy, with Erik Durm also replacing Schmelzer as first choice left back. The funding of a whole new midfield, and the purchase of Lewandowski (replacing the out going Aubameyang) was bought maybe in bitterness, but also under the guise that if we get to that position again, we will not go out in such a fashion.
It’s these losses that make the campaigns so compelling…but the loss to Benfica will live long in the memory of our Dortmund side, who must and will do better next time.