The FourFourTwo Preview: Johor Darul Ta’zim vs Borussia Dortmund
2014 Malaysian Super League champions Johor Daru Ta’zim (JDT) announced a partnership with German giants Borussia Dortmund last December in a move that will see both sides share coaching and training information, as well as policies on youth football development. Midfielder Gary Steven Robbat was the first beneficiary of this deal, as he underwent a brief training stint with BVB earlier this year when he was banned from participating in football-related activities in Malaysia for his part in a contract dispute.
As part of the partnership, Dortmund agreed to play a friendly in Johor during their six-day Asia Tour, which features stops in Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, where the club opened a representative office in October 2014. This is their first trip to Asia since 2007, when they travelled to Indonesia as part of the German Football League.
JDT are in the midst of their Super League campaign, currently sitting in second spot, two points behind leaders Pahang. The Southern Tigers are also in the AFC Cup quarter-finals, where they will meet South China of Hong Kong in late August. Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim – better known by his title, ‘Tunku Mahkota Johor’ (TMJ) – is the President of the club, and has overhauled the team in recent seasons, accumulating the nation’s best footballers in tandem with world-class international stars like Dani Guiza and Pablo Aimar. His strategy has paid off, as JDT won their first league title last season and are again challenging for trophies in 2015.
Centre-back Junior Eldstal is out of action for another month due to tendinitis, while Singaporean midfielder Hariss Harun is doubtful after missing JDT’s last three matches. The Johor side will also be without Rodriguez, who has been ruled out for at least three months with a foot injury suffered against Terengganu in late June. Fortunately the club’s 2014 talisman, Jorge Pereyra Diaz, returned in May for their assault on the AFC Cup. He could not be registered in time for the rest of the M-League campaign, but seeing as this is a friendly, coach Mario Gomez might give his compatriot a run out.
Borussia Dortmund departed for Tokyo on Sunday without Polish winger Jakub Blaszczykowski, who is not part of the Asia tour due to a thigh muscle injury. Italian striker Ciro Immobile suffered a knock to his foot in the friendly win over Team Gold on Saturday but travelled with the team and should be fit to face JDT. Australian goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak (Stuttgart) and Serbian midfielder Milos Jojic (Cologne) have transferred to other Bundesliga clubs, but new signings Roman Bürki, Gonzalo Castro and Julian Weigl are all in the touring squad.
In their pre-season friendlies last week, coach Thomas Tuchel switched his entire line-up at half-time in the heavy defeat of an Olympic legends line-up and made 10 substitutions at half-time (with Mitsuru Maruoka the only constant) against Kawasaki Frontale on Tuesday night. Hence, it is expected he will do something similar on Thursday night.
Key battle: Safiq Rahim vs İlkay Gündoğan
The heartbeat of his side, Safiq is deservedly captain (when Aidil Zafuan isn’t around) and one of the most dependable players at JDT. A dynamic midfielder, he operates best in the final third as the link between midfield and attack, although he is occasionally asked to play as a conventional midfielder when the coach’s formation requires it. Wickedly effective from dead ball situations, he also possesses excellent vision and is accurate with his passes. He has added consistent goalscoring to his game this season, having contributed nine goals overall thus far, including a brace against PDRM over the weekend.
He is likely to come up against İlkay Gündoğan, one of many Dortmund players with difficult-to-pronounce names (Don’t worry, FourFourTwo have a guide for that). The 24-year-old starred as BVB reached the 2013 Champions League final, but then suffered a serious injury that ruled him out for the entire 2014 season. He returned to action in December last year and managed 23 appearances in total for the club, scoring three goals. While he might not be as effective as he was two years ago, Gündoğan is still a midfield force and will be determined to do well on tour and hit the ground running when the new season starts.
The head coaches
Argentine Mario Gomez became JDT’s new coach on April 26 this year, after Bojan Hodak was let go. The ex-South China boss has steadied the ship in his brief reign, leading the Southern Tigers to second spot in the Super League. His pragmatic style of play tends to focus on counter-attacks and defensive solidity, with many of JDT’s recent goals coming from quick breaks or set pieces.
With their opening fixture of the season rapidly approaching (Dortmund play Chemnitzer FC in the first round of the DFB-Pokal on August 9), Tuchel will hope to make the most of these pre-season games and give the majority of his squad a run out to help improve their fitness. The humid conditions of Southeast Asia are also sure to be an interesting factor. Like predecessor Jürgen Klopp, Tuchel joined the club from FSV Mainz and is notorious for his pre-match planning, using plenty of video analysis and squad management. He tends to favour attacking football, but is less charismatic than Klopp on the touchline. Then again, who isn’t?
Facts and figures
- JDT have a 100% record at home this season, winning all 11 of their matches at the Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium thus far – seven in the Super League, four in the AFC Cup.
- JDT are unbeaten in five games, with their last loss coming on April 24 against Perak, Hodak's final match in charge.
- Under Mario Gomez, JDT have netted 13 goals in six matches.
- Borussia Dortmund scored 28 goals without reply in their three pre-season friendlies so far, beating regional league side VFL Rhede 5-0, “Team Gold”, a makeshift team of German former Olympic representatives, 17-0 in a charity match last week, before beating Kawasaki Frontale 6-0 on Tuesday.
BVB’s Asia tour is paired with the tagline “From Dortmund with love”, but they ruthlessly took apart Frontale, the fifth-placed side in the J-League on Tuesday. It’s hard not to see JDT falling to the same fate, so we predict a 5-0 win for Dortmund.