This weekend I only managed to take in one game. Borussia Dortmund vs Augsburg. Koo Ja-Cheol continues to miss out due to injury, which left Ji Dong-Won as the only Korean playing. This game was a series of momentum changes, that ultimately saw Dortmund emerge as winners 4-2, in what was an entertaining match.
Dortmund came out in their usual 4-2-3-1, but was much changed ahead of their midweek Champions League return leg against Malaga. Regular starters Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Marcos Reus, Ilkay Gundogan, and Matt Hummels did not start, with Lewandowski, Gotze, and Gundogan on the bench. Augsburg were, on paper, a 4-2-3-1 as well, but seemed to play more of a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 with Ji Dong-Won playing in the second striker role. He would drop a bit deeper when Dortmund had the ball, and then push higher alongside Sascha Molders when Augsburg attacked.
The game started off fairly even, with most of the play in the midfield. But, a defensive mistake by Augsburg allowed Julien Schieber time and space to blast the ball past Alex Manninger to open the scoring. A period of Dortmund pressure followed, and it looked for awhile like Augsburg would roll over. Just before the half though, Augsburg leveled. Daniel Baier hit a fantastic volley after an Augsburg corner was partially cleared. Augsburg shocked the hosts just seconds later when a shot could only be parried by the Dortmund keeper, fell nicely into the path of Kevin Vogt who slotted home.
Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp decided enough was enough, and shortly after the second half started, sent on Gotze and Lewandowski. Soon after, Dortmund equalized as Schieber scored his second of the day. Dortmund continued to push for the winner, and eventually it came in the form of a Nevan Subotic goal. Augsburg almost leveled again, but Ji Dong-Won was denied by a good save. Gotze wrapped up the points in stoppage time to make the final score 4-2.
A good showing by young Ji Dong-Won, who has settled in remarkably well since arriving in January. While he often plays as a wide midfielder for Augsburg, Koo’s injury has seen him move back to a more central position. I don’t it was ever expected that Augsburg would dominate or control the match against a quality Dortmund side, but Ji did well when Augsburg did have the ball. He showed good flexibility in movement, drifting wide into space, and also centrally. Ji also showed that despite being a little thin, and not the most physically imposing player, he is still capable of winning aerial challenges and playing as a target man.
Ji presents an interesting challenge for Choi Kang-Hee, and whoever follows him, in the sense that, at this moment, it’s difficult to decide what is his best position. His goal return a the AFC Championship certainly showed that he can be a decent center forward, but his flexibility to play wide left, and do an okay job, is enticing. I think that, for Ji, his flexibility could ultimately end up hurting him, as he doesn’t boast characteristics that naturally befit a wide midfielder (pace, crossing ability, long range shooting), and has yet to really develop those center forward characteristics (dominate aerial ability, playing with back to goal, good off the ball movement).
The match between Dortmund and Augsburg kind of confirmed this. Ji has decent ball skills and a high work rate, which allows him to play wide left. But his final ball seems to be reliant more on luck and hope, rather than precision and intent (meaning he tries to cross into an area and hope that someone will be there rather than picking a man or a run and passing to a spot). Similarly, when he moved inside, he didn’t threaten too much, and I question whether his thinner frame could really stand up to bigger, stronger defenders.
In the end, it feels like Ji is more likely to end up as a reserve player. Someone who will start games here and there, either as a wide midfielder or as a forward, but will often be overlooked for players who are more natural at either position (Son Heung-Min, Kim Bo-Kyung, Kim Shin-Wook, and so on). I hope that I’m wrong about this though, as Ji seems like a player who could be very good, if he’s given a regular run-out. I think a lot of his success will depend on where he goes from this summer. Augsburg seems unlikely to survive (5 from safety and just 1 ahead of the auto drop spot), and Sunderland seems unlikely to play him. Another move (and not back to Korea) will be vital for his continued development. Additionally, it will be important for the NT coach, whether that is Choi or someone else, to make a firm commitment to some of these younger players. Be that Ji, Son Heung-Min, Kim Bo-Kyung, etc. so roles within the team can be established and players can gel.
Did you watch the Dortmund – Augsburg match? Share your thoughts on the game and Ji Dong-Won’s performance in the comments!