Omer Toprak, Mario Gotze 4/10 as Dortmund fall short vs. Salzburg
DORTMUND, Germany -- Inconsistency remains Borussia Dortmund's only consistency, as they lost the first leg at home 1-2 against FC Salzburg in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday night.
The Austrian league leaders were the better team over 90 minutes, creating the first two chances of the game before the half-time whistle. It was Valon Berisha who struck twice within seven minutes, converting a penalty in the 49th minute and scoring off a cutback in the 56th minute. Andre Schurrle pulled one back for the hosts in the 62nd minute, falling with the ball into the net after substitute Christian Pulisic crossed the ball into the box.
Cynics may say that playing in the Europa League only makes sense when one wins it, otherwise it is too big of a distraction. So for the sake of a positive takeaway, Dortmund will soon be able to focus solely on the Bundesliga -- if they continue to play like they did on Thursday.
Salzburg effectively showed that an uncanny footballing identity beats individual class that hinges on coincidence, which is currently the case for Dortmund. Every Salzburg player knew exactly where to be and what to do at any given time, while yellow shirts were often clattering into each other. The visitors were far away from a smash and grab. This match -- as many other games this season -- marks a clear warning that Dortmund need to find a footballing identity again.
Manager rating out of 10
Peter Stoger, 4 -- Salzburg knew Dortmund's weaknesses and acted on it. Stoger, meanwhile, had no response.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Roman Burki, 6 -- Could only come up with one vital save as Berisha's brace was too well placed.
DF Gonzalo Castro, 6 -- Oddly, replaced the injured Łukasz Piszczek as right back but did a formidable job.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 6 -- A solid performance by the Greek but it may not be enough to remain a starter over Manuel Akanji in the league.
DF Omer Toprak, 4 -- A torrid first half full of bad positioning was crowned with a foul at the edge off the box on Berisha. The foul was instigated outside of the box, but referee Slavko Vincic pointed to the spot regardless.
DF Marcel Schmelzer, 5 -- Cleared the ball off the line in the final minute of the first half but could not make up for his mistake in build-up play preceding Salzburg's second.
MF Julian Weigl, 4 -- Once upon a time there were comparisons drawn to Barcelona's Sergio Busquets, as Weigl could change the angle of a play with a simple turn on the ball. That turn is missing just as Weigl's form.
MF Mahmoud Dahoud, 6 -- Added to Saturday's encouraging performance at Leipzig -- without the Hollywood pass this time, however.
MF Marco Reus, 5 -- No magic from Reus this time to save the day.
MF Mario Gotze, 4 -- His lack of dynamism was on full display against a Salzburg side that made spaces narrow for Gotze.
MF Andre Schurrle, 5 -- Somehow brought the ball over the line, as he tumbled into the net himself. Otherwise, Schurrle was of no help to his team.
FW Michy Batshuayi, 4 -- Too many heavy touches from the centre-forward, who is feeling the strain of having to play twice a week after sporadic appearances for Chelsea. Stoger took the striker out after an hour.
MF Maximilian Philipp, 4 -- Replaced Batshuayi but could hardly use his dynamism in the final 30 minutes.
MF Christian Pulisic, 6 -- Became an instant help as his cross into the box ended up in the net just seconds after coming on.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.