The UEFA Champions League round of 16 home leg against Paris Saint-Germain turned out to be a special night for Borussia Dortmund, who won the first encounter 2-1 on Tuesday.
For the 31-year-old Axel Witsel, European nights with a cracking atmosphere, a fan tifo and football on the highest level are among the reasons why he became a professional.
“We play football to play games like this,” he told BVB tv after the game, adding: “Top games against top teams. And today I think we did a fantastic job. Every player. Defensively we were really good. We were very well-organised. We didn’t allow too much space to Paris’ offensive players Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria. Everyone knows that if you give them too much space they can make the difference but today we were really aggressive against them. And we were very good on the counterattack and in possession. Sometimes we let them have the ball but we were very well-organised.”
The goals were scored by Neymar (75.) and Erling Haaland (69., 77.). However, the match was won and lost in midfield where fans were treated to an epic battle between Emre Can and Axel Witsel on BVB’s side versus Marco Verratti and Idrissa Gueye on PSG’s side. With Thomas Tuchel opting to mirror Lucien Favre’s 3-4-3 the double-pivots were predestined to constantly clash.
“We’re a little bit tired now. I think, Emre, too. But today we won the battle in the middle. We were better than Gueye and Verratti today. We fought a lot, we recovered the ball a lot in the middle. I think we did a fantastic job today. Me and Emre. Fantastic,” the Belgium international, who praised the balance of the new midfield partnership before the game, explained.
Neutrals will be disappointed that they won’t be able to observe the same match-up in the return leg as Verratti picked up his third yellow card in the 87. minute for complaining with too much vigour for the referees liking and subsequently will have to sit out a suspension. The Italian’s absence will be a blow for the Ligue 1 outfit.
Witsel didn’t miss the opportunity to thank the Dortmund fans for a top-notch atmosphere that was crowned by an impressive tifo at the top of the game. He said: “Thank you to the fans for the crazy atmosphere today. It was top!”
The Ruhr side will return to the bread and butter business of the Bundesliga on Saturday, where they will have to prove that they can also turn up away from home a fortnight after they crashed out of the German Cup at the Weserstadion.
“We have to keep going like we did today. The same fighting spirit, the same aggression as we showed today and against Frankfurt. Defensively, the entire team, not just the defenders, we were really good. In Bremen we need to — I wouldn’t say get revenge — but we need to go there and play a top game,” Witsel said.
The return leg between PSG and BVB at the Parc des Princes will be played on 11. March.