Borussia Dortmund decided a hard-fought Topspiel for themselves on Saturday, beating Bundesliga rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-1. The Black and Yellows have now won their last 10 league games against the Foals but the late match in the Borussia Park was anything but a clear-cut game.
As it was fourth going up against third, this was very much a high-profile game and both teams started out very risk-averse. However, the hosts made the first error when Lars Stindl passed the ball back towards Erling Haaland after being pressured from Emre Can in midfield. The Norwegian capitalised of the time and space awarded and slotted a well-timed through ball to Thorgan Hazard. The former Gladbach winger miscontrolled the ball but, after duping three defenders, curled a shot past goalkeeper Yann Sommer only seven minutes into the game.
An ebb and flow of possession ensued as both teams tried to keep the ball within their own ranks for large stints instead of going for the jugular. The Black and Yellows hardly registered another chance before the break, unable to play a killer pass without Jadon Sancho, who started off the bench due to mid-week sickness.
From a tactical perspective, one of the key events came in the 36. minute when centre-back Denis Zakaria clashed into his goalkeeper and had to be taken off. Marco Rose brought on Tony Jantschke, who moved to the right centre-half position in Gladbach’s back-three and Matthias Ginter tucked to the inside. The home side visibly struggled with their build-up play afterwards.
Dortmund, meanwhile, had their own struggles with Julian Brandt repeatedly giving away possession in inopportune moments, giving Gladbach a chance to break. The 23-year-old, who returned from injury a few weeks ago, did not show the same level of intensity of his teammates, which should put a question mark behind his start at the Parc des Princes in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.
But if Brandt wasn’t fully switched on, right wing-back Achraf Hakimi definitely was. The 21-year-old has visibly matured on the field, taking his defensive duties more seriously than before, which dramatically improves BVB’s chances to win games like Saturday’s.
Though the readiness to defend isn’t the only thing the young Moroccon has improved. Hakimi has added a level of cheekiness that wasn’t as visible weeks ago. Now, he signals to referees that he wants a throw-in before the ball is out of play, and, when pulled, he goes down in a way the referee is forced to stop the play. Some experts have credited January signing Can for his relentless in-game coaching for Hakimi’s increased levels of maturity. Either way, it has been a massive boost for the Black and Yellows.
Thus, it was very deserved when Hakimi scored the winner in the 71. minute after Stindl had temporarily equalised five minutes into the second half by poking home a corner. The wing-back exploited Gladbach’s moment of confusion as the hosts weren’t sure whether BVB would kick the ball out of play after Haaland remained on the floor after an aerial challenge. Instead, substitute Sancho played Hakimi into space, forcing a one-on-one duel against Sommer, who slightly slipped in his attempt to narrow the angle. Hakimi’s cool head prevailed as his perfectly-timed nutmeg hit the inside of the far post into the net.
The game remained a cagey affair in the final 20 minutes. It was palpable how much this game meant to both teams, as several crunching tackles and two tussles forced referee Sascha Stegemann a total of 10 bookings. With 15 minutes left on the clock, Sancho and Gladbach wing-back Ramy Bensebaini locked horns on the sideline after slapping each other’s arms away.
Three minutes later, the sanctioned Englishman failed to kill off the game when his curler rattled the Gladbach goalframe and less than sixty seconds later, substitute Breel Embolo’s bodged tap-in just went past the wrong side of the post.
Dortmund managed to hang on to their lead as Gladbach could find their trademark combination play in the final third but Lucien Favre’s men kept things interesting as potential counter-attacks broke down. In the end, both sides were running on fumes with both Hazard and Bensebaini going down with cramps. The Belgian was replaced by Gio Reyna for the final seven minutes to witness another altercation between wing-backs Raphael Guerreiro and Stefan Lainer.
In a week, where BVB will face Gladbach, PSG and Schalke within eight days, this narrow 2-1 win was a massive feat even if it took a massive toll on the players ahead of the second-leg against Thomas Tuchel’s men, who could rest easy on Saturday as their league match against Straßbourg was postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Dortmund move into second place after RB Leipzig dropped two points in a scoreless draw away to VfL Wolfsburg earlier that afternoon while Leverkusen moved into fourth place by beating Eintracht Frankfurt 4-0. However, Gladbach could move back into fourth-place and level on points with Leipzig if they win their midweek fixture against 1. FC Köln.
More importantly, BVB have now won their last two road games against Werder Bremen and Gladbach, showing a level of maturity and defensive discipline that they were criminally lacking in the first half of the season.
The Westphalians have tallied up 21 points in eight league games in the new calendar year, drawing a contrast to the 15 points they collected from the same fixtures between August and October in 2019 with the Revierderby against a struggling Schalke 04 coming next in the league.