Borussia Dortmund took fourth place back from VfL Wolfsburg with a 2-0 home win against the direct rival for the UEFA Champions League spots. Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s match:
1. Dortmund land a big point against a formidable opponent
That the Black and Yellows would come away with all three points was hardly a forgone conclusion. Wolfsburg had only suffered one loss before travelling to the Westfalenstadion and the visitors came flying out of the gates. In the first 10 minutes of the match, Dortmund hardly got a touch in the opposing half. Wolfsburg’s high and super aggressive pressing caused the hosts all kinds of trouble. Only a vital block by Mats Hummels, that steered a shot to the outside of the post, prevented an early lead.
However, after weathering the early onslaught Dortmund did manage to pull themselves together and showed that they are a side that belongs in the Bundesliga’s top four places. In a match where both teams opted for a risk-adverse approach, BVB avoided glaring errors and showed more composure in front of goal. Wolfsburg failed to find an answer to Manuel Akanji’s headed goal from a Jadon Sancho corner in the 66th minute.
Instead, Sancho killed the game off on the counter-attack in stoppage time. The Englishman shook off Paulo Otavio as he barrelled down toward goal and calmly slotted it past goalkeeper Koen Casteels. A big moment for the 20-year-old, as he opened his scoring tally for the Bundesliga after missing the open net in injury time of the first half. Dortmund fans will hope that Sancho grabbing a goal and assist will help to elevate him out of the scoring-slump for good.
More importantly, though, Edin Terzic’s men got a massive win in a game that arguably could have gone either way. Marginal wins against good sides are important for a team’s confidence — especially after they ended the year with a hapless 2-1 loss away to Union Berlin. Avoiding the negativity that would have ensued after a draw or a defeat is just as vital for the 38-year-old interim manager. With RB Leipzig up next BVB could literally not afford a fumble against Wolfsburg. As Borussia Dortmund’s financial losses are bound to exceed 70 million Euros this fiscal year due to the pandemic, this win is meaningful in the bigger picture. However, with 20 match weeks left Dortmund will need plenty more.
2. Manuel Akanji is back to his best
In many ways, this win was made possible by Dortmund’s centre-back pairing. Both Akanji and Hummels had to come up with immaculate performances while both fullbacks Thomas Meunier and Raphael Guerreiro struggled defensively. Both centre-backs blocked goal-bound with last-ditch interventions and both showed their playmaking capabilities from the back.
Mats Hummels’s long passes came close to setting up Erling Haaland but the striker, who returned from injury, was let down by his own finishing. The fact that Hummels could shine with his trademark passes is a big credit to Akanji. The Swiss international did not allow Wolfsburg’s attackers to ignore him. After a long history of screw-ups, there is chemistry building between the two at long last.
Akanji crowning his own resurgence to form with a goal was the cherry on top.
3. Terzic corrects Favre’s blunder
When Borussia Dortmund were without the arguably second-best striker in the world, Lucien Favre opted to replace Haaland with Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt upfront. The experiment predictably failed.
Terzic has made sure to play a striker in the striker position, and it worked out for the better. The stand-in coach handed Youssoufa Moukoko a starting debut in his first game as the man in charge. When the 16-year-old was ruled out for the cup match against Eintracht Braunschweig, Terzic promoted Steffen Tigges from the under-23 side.
On Sunday, Tigges replaced Haaland for the final 10 minutes of the game and immediately showed the benefit of having a 1.93 meter tall striker upfront instead of a midfielder. The 22-year-old made all the right runs, almost scoring with his first touch from a very narrow angle, as he appeared on the other end of a Sancho through ball. In the remainder of the game, Tigges worked hard in defence and helped his team to alleviate Wolfsburg’s pressure by using his physique to hold up the ball. While his technique is obviously not on the level of the aforementioned three, his presence is still of higher value as he dramatically improves the structure of BVB’s game.
In the eyes of many Dortmund fans, it was an obvious error by the club’s front office to not sign an additional forward for the eventuality of Haaland being sidelined or in need of a rest. But Terzic has made clear that Favre did have a viable alternative at his disposal, albeit in the second team. Next to Moukoko, BVB have suddenly gained significant depth behind Haaland. This bodes well with plenty of games coming down the pike.