Borussia Dortmund moved to second place in the Bundesliga on Saturday after a hard-fought win away to fourth-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach, leapfrogging RB Leipzig.
The Black and Yellows have 21 points after eight league games since the turn of the year, which are six more points than they had during the first eight matchdays of the season. For Mats Hummels, BVB’s newly-found dogged fighting spirit is making the biggest difference.
“We haven’t really changed our system,” the 31-year-old told Sky after the game, adding: “We made the last tweak in November. However, we simply have a different approach. We didn’t back away from the fight today, we went into the challenges and didn’t allow [Gladbach] to get away with their shenanigans. This certainly would have looked differently a few weeks ago. This is a new spirit that we developed in training — and additionally, the two new guys Emre [Can] and Erling [Haaland] are contributing a big, big part to this particular style of football.”
“Now we have the right mix of artists and labourers in the team and players who can do both. I’m more of a fighter but I also like to play football,” the centre-back explained. “My entire life I’ve defined myself through defending and strong tackling — even though I was often reduced to long passes. The main task is always to fight, to win challenges and to lead the way.”
Dortmund visibly took a risk-averse approach in the Borussia Park, trying to control the game as much as possible instead of trying to hit Gladbach in transition. Hummels explained that he slightly tweaked his own style of play.
“Long passes and solo-runs are currently not helpful for the team and we can instigate the build-up very well from deep in a back-three, which is why I have toned down [long outside-of-the-boot passes] at the moment. Everything else is working very well because we protect the ball better on all positions.”
BVB coach Lucien Favre said after the game that Saturday’s three points were vital in the title race. The game against Gladbach was the start of a crucial week for the Westphalians, who play Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday before hosting FC Schalke in the Revierderby on Saturday. Dortmund then will travel to VfL Wolfsburg before they receive Bayern Munich after an international break.
“We have to win the next three games… or rather we could also lose 6-7 in Paris, because we go through to the next round. We simply have to go through [in the UCL] and win the next two league games so that we’re in a good position on April 4. to take on Bayern at home. Bayern are playing a very strong football at the moment. We have to be at our absolute maximum then,” Hummels said.
Dortmund will carry a 2-1 advantage into their away leg against PSG in the UEFA Champions League. Meanwhile, in the Bundesliga, they are one point off the league leaders FC Bayern who have the chance to restore their four-point margin against FC Augsburg on Sunday.