Haaland out of tune as Dortmund warm up for Bayern with Wolfsburg win

By Sports Desk May 23, 2020

On the day it was announced that Mario Gotze will be leaving Borussia Dortmund again, it was Erling Haaland who played the role of forgotten man in a 2-0 win at Wolfsburg.

It's the stunning rise of players such as Haaland that has brought Gotze's second spell at his boyhood club to an end. Last time, he was leaving for Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich; seven years on, nobody is sure of his next move.

He does not suit the flowing 3-4-3 in which Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt are thriving - head coach Lucien Favre admitted as much on Friday. While not exactly a relic at 27, Gotze needs a new lease of life in fresh pastures. His career has drifted for too long for a player of his talent.

Sitting as an unused substitute on Saturday, he might have sympathised as Dortmund's latest young superstar went missing.

Between joining from Salzburg in January and facing Wolfsburg this weekend, Haaland had scored 10 goals in six starts in the Bundesliga. His latest came in last week's 4-0 derby of thrashing of Schalke, in which he set up Raphael Guerreiro for the fourth. The 19-year-old has been in Germany barely five months and is already in high demand, lined up for a move to Real Madrid and touted as the heir to Brazil great Ronaldo.

All this made his performance against Wolfsburg surprising. He managed 29 touches, only one more than goalkeeper Roman Burki, won under half of his duels and lost possession nine times. His 20 attempted passes was the lowest number of any outfield player to start the match bar Daniel Ginczek, who was withdrawn after 64 minutes.

The explosive turn of pace, the power with which he can make defenders look amateurish, was not there. He was closed down, eased off the ball and tripping over too easily against Wolfsburg centre-backs John Brooks and Marin Pongracic, who pushed high to keep him far from goal. They didn't exactly bully Haaland, but he might want to check if they at least pilfered his lunch money.

He still managed to play his part in the opening goal, despite his best efforts. The Dortmund right flank was their best avenue throughout and it was from there that Brandt, Achraf Hakimi and Hazard combined, the latter given space to cut the ball back across the box. Haaland stepped, turned and swung his foot, missed the ball completely, and thumped down on his backside, giving Guerreiro a tap-in.

Dortmund's lead was comfortable, but largely by virtue of Wolfsburg's tepid early efforts. After half-time, Oliver Glasner got his side playing the sort of football that had set them on a seven-game unbeaten league run. Renato Steffen should have scored when he bustled his way into space, beat Burki but only found the crossbar, and his compatriot did well to parry a second effort from 25 yards out that swerved dangerously towards the left-hand post.

In the end, Dortmund only made the win safe as Wolfsburg went for broke, with substitute Sancho racing away on the break and teeing up Hakimi to bury the second. Haaland had a half-chance for a third, but it petered out when he stood on the ball and watched it run for a goal kick.

Strikers are, by their nature, often isolated figures, and Haaland has set such extraordinarily high standards that he's allowed an off-day, particularly in what was only the second game back after a substantial break caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Yet Dortmund will hope for a sharper display in Tuesday's Klassiker. Whether you're playing for or against Bayern, anonymity is never tolerated. Gotze can attest to that.

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    Second-place RB Leipzig suffered a shock loss to Mainz 05 on Saturday and Bayern took full advantage at the Veltins-Arena on Sunday, moving seven points clear at the top.

    Schalke are bottom of the table with one win all season but they more than matched the European champions before Muller's 33rd-minute breakthrough.

    Muller doubled his tally late on after Lewandowski had scored his latest record-breaking goal early in the second half, before David Alaba added further gloss at the death.

    The division's leading scorer Lewandowski glanced over the crossbar from close range early on before a better chance came and went for Mark Uth, who headed straight at Manuel Neuer from five yards out.

    Ralf Fahrmann was called into action with a fine double save to keep out Lewandowski's free-kick and Serge Gnabry's follow-up attempt. 

    Gnabry went close again when glancing the side-netting with a header he should have put away, but Bayern were in front seven minutes later through Muller's powerful header. 

    The attacking midfielder met Joshua Kimmich's back-post delivery and made no mistake in beating Fahrmann for his eighth league goal of the campaign. 

    Gnabry thought he had added a quickfire second after Leroy Sane's initial effort was parried, only for the offside flag to go up against the former Schalke winger.

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    It is the 11th successive Bundesliga game in which Lewandowski has scored against Schalke and he nearly added another, dragging wide from 18 yards 20 minutes from time.

    Schalke are now without a win against Bayern in 21 league matches and badly faded in the closing stages, with Muller heading in from another Kimmich delivery and Alaba adding a fourth with a 30-yard drive that squirmed under Fahrmann.

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  • Mesut Ozil leaves Arsenal: How an ideal relationship ended in a necessary divorce Mesut Ozil leaves Arsenal: How an ideal relationship ended in a necessary divorce

    Mesut Ozil and Arsenal have officially gone their separate ways after seven and a half years together. 

    What was once a seemingly ideal football marriage has come to an end. Long since removed from the pedestal where he was once placed by Arsenal fans, Ozil has cut short his stay with the Gunners.

    Having coveted him for so long, Fenerbahce have got their man. The 32-year-old heads to Turkey, aiming to kick-start a career that had not so much stagnated of late but come to a complete standstill.

    Left out of Arsenal's squads for domestic and European duties this season, his most telling contribution in the final months of his career at the club was seemingly offering to cover the wages of mascot Gunnersaurus.

    The union had become broken to the point of no return in the closing stages, but there were plenty of good times before the inevitable break-up.

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    Ozil arrived at Arsenal in September 2013. The Gunners did not just break their transfer record to sign him from Real Madrid, they shattered it by paying around £42.5million.

    "This is an exciting day for all of us. We have signed a world-class player who is one of Europe's brightest young talents," said Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive at the time, when the deal was announced.

    Gazidis was right: Ozil was 24, a Germany international and someone who had played regularly during three seasons in LaLiga. His departure from Madrid was not popular with players and fans alike in the Spanish capital, but a necessary consequence of a spending spree that included bringing in Gareth Bale from Tottenham.

    Arsenal's big-name recruit did not take long to make an impact, setting up a goal for Olivier Giroud 11 minutes into his Premier League debut away at Sunderland. It would be the first of many laid on for the Frenchman, who benefited more than any other team-mate from the playmaker's abilities.

    Ozil's eye for a pass and talent for producing subtle moments of skill saw him quickly enchant the club's fanbase. How could they possibly do anything but fall for him?

    His opening year in England saw him score five goals and contribute nine assists in 26 league appearances. He won the FA Cup, helping Arsene Wenger's side rally from an early 2-0 deficit to defeat Hull City 3-2 in the Wembley final. Two months later, he was lifting the World Cup in South Africa.


    THE GOLDEN YEARS

    Ozil's second season included a lengthy spell on the sidelines, restricting him to 22 outings in the Premier League. He did help them retain the FA Cup though, this time with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Aston Villa.

    However, the Gunners saw the best of him in the two years that followed. In 2015-16, he laid on 19 assists – one shy of Thierry Henry's record – and created 146 chances, the latter number the most by any player in the competition for a single season since 2003-04. He was also the subject of seemingly thousands of Twitter memes, too.

    Arsenal ended up second in the final table, 10 points behind surprise champions Leicester City. The glass half-full type pointed to it being their best finish in 11 years, while the less optimistic sort strongly suggested it was more a missed opportunity.

    The following season was Ozil's best in terms of Premier League goals – eight in 33 games – but another possible title challenge faded after the turn of the year, leading to a finish outside the top four. There was yet another FA Cup success to at least ease the pressure on Wenger, but their streak of participating in the Champions League was over.

    Then, in February 2018, came Ozil's new contract. "I signed dat thing," he tweeted at the time, having committed through to 2021. Wenger was with him in the picture, though nobody knew at the time that the manager was coming towards the end of his tenure.

    A lucrative deal handed out to ward off potential suitors and tie down one of the club's leading names appeared a necessity at the time but would quickly become a millstone around the player's neck. The reported weekly salary was referenced so often in the media it should have been added to his name by deed poll.

    In terms of his future output, Ozil managed a mere six goals and five assists in 48 league games after the moment he put pen to paper for three more years.


    DRIFTING APART AND THE INEVITABLE SPLIT

    Relations became strained as Ozil shifted from eye-catching centrepiece to expensive luxury. The focus had switched from how much he produced on the ball to what he didn't do without it. The phasing-out process began during the Unai Emery reign, then led to him being completely ostracised by former team-mate Mikel Arteta.

    Yet it is easy to forget that he did start in the Spaniard's first game in charge, away at Bournemouth. "To be fair, his attitude in training since the day that I walked in the building has been incredible," Arteta told reporters after the 1-1 draw on Boxing Day in 2019.

    Still, six months later, when the Premier League returned following the coronavirus-enforced break, Arteta's tune had changed somewhat. After completely omitting Ozil from the squad to face Manchester City in June in the first game back, Arteta said: "I'm going to put him on the pitch when I think he can give his best.”

    There were two more fixtures when Ozil made the bench, only to be an unused substitute on both occasions. The 2019-20 season saw him play 18 times in the league and he managed a solitary goal and two assists. His final outing for the club came on March 3, 2020 – a 1-0 home victory over West Ham.

    Across his Arsenal career, Ozil provided 54 assists. Only Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (75) and David Silva (62), plus Tottenham's Christian Eriksen (62), contributed more assists for their teams since Ozil's arrival in England. When it comes to chances created, only Eriksen (571) beats Ozil's total of 558 – and the Dane played over 40 games more.

    And yet, as the divorce is confirmed, there is a sense of relief for all involved that it is all over. It was fun, for a while, but the time is right to move on.

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