Edin Terzic had vowed to make supporters feel the full-on “BVB experience” in the second half of the season.
Oh boy, did he deliver on Sunday. Borussia Dortmund’s 4-3 win over FC Augsburg was the typically bonkers mash-up between beautiful goals and pig-ugly defending — no disrespect to our cloven-hoofed subscribers — we’ve all come to expect of Black & Yellow, just more extreme and nuts than usual.
Terzic might not have arrived at the borderline of his faith nor at the hinterland of his devotion when it comes to trusting that his side will one day be able to defend competently. Yet. But amid the chaos at Signal Iduna Park, one could easily imagine the 40-year-old quietly humming lines of Sade’s “Soldier of Love”, a song about the never-ending but ultimately futile effort to make the impossible work: “It’s a wild, wild west, doing my best…”
“Quality up front, no quality at the back,” is how Nico Schlotterbeck summed up the seven-goal shoot-out succinctly. Dortmund’s 23-year-old centre-back personified that imbalance: he played some lovely passes but also gave the ball away twice in the build-up for the visitors’ first and third goal.
In between, holding midfielder Salih Ozcan, frequently outfought as the sole defensive player in the centre, had once again lost a key duel for the ball after a rare Jude Bellingham mistake and new signing Julian Ryerson, who had otherwise had a decent game, had played Ermedin Demirovic onside to score in the 45th minute. It was a medley of mistakes from the home team, bad enough to lose two games. But Dortmund’s forwards just about managed to save the day with impressive feats of brilliance. Bellingham impressively danced past his opponent in the tightest of spots before dispatching a low shot to make it 1-0. Schlotterbeck’s header (2-1) was more of a regulation finish but came after a nice free-kick routine. English youngster Jamie-Bynoe Gittens, back from a lengthy break after hurting his shoulder, cut inside to curl the ball into the right corner to make it 3-2. But Gio Reyna, another substitute, saved the best for last.
The USMNT player smashed in a lovely drop-kick from Bellingham’s knockdown and made it 4-3. He celebrated by putting one finger to his lips and then two in his ears, no doubt in reference to the criticism he faced during and after the World Cup. “Gio was smashed in the face, media-wise,” Terzic said of the 20-year-old’s tribulations in Qatar.
It’s fair to say Reyna wouldn’t have ranked highly on a list of potential match-winners before the game. During the club’s training camp in Marbella, he had appeared somewhat lost in practice sessions and the two test games. A touchline interview with reporters proved similarly unenlightening. Asked about his personal aims for the second half of the season, Reyna hesitated. “I don’t know…” he eventually offered, before saying he simply wanted to “help the team”. (At the behest of a BVB press officer, World Cup questions were off-limits).
Reyna will do well to get significant game-time considering the competition; Marco Reus, who missed the Augsburg game (illness), will soon be back and Dortmund are looking for one more winger as well. But the American’s strike, apart from securing three precious points, served as a timely reminder of his ability and should also help in his quest to get back to his best in weeks to come. The way things are going at the back, Dortmund will need many more wonder goals if they are to make up ground on the Champions League spots.
Talking of (minor) miracles, it was wonderful to see Sebastien Haller make his competitive debut in front of the Yellow Wall to loud cheers and standing ovations. “It was a goosebumps moment,” the French-Ivorian forward said after coming on in the 62nd minute, with “Fuck Cancer” written on his boots.
Before the game, Terzic had invited him to address his team-mates. “This was about more than football,” he said. “I tried to explain to them how big a deal that was and that football was only of secondary importance.”
Safe to say, the message wasn’t lost on the 84,000 in the ground or those watching on television.
After not playing football for an eternity, the Bundesliga made up for lost time with an avalanche of goals this weekend. The ball hit the net 41 times in seven matches, no more frequently so than in Cologne, who beat Werder Bremen 7-1 after scoring “five goals from the first five attempts at goal”, as their manager Steffen Baumgart noted. “It was a disaster, we can only apologise,” Werder coach Ole Werner said.
If that wasn’t your average mid-table clash, Freiburg’s 6-0 defeat at the hands of VfL Wolfsburg was even more extraordinary. Niko Kovac’s side are on a good run of five league wins in a row, but the visitors had only conceded 17 goals up until this moment and sat in third place courtesy of their collective defensive strength. Christian Streich was so surprised by the biggest defeat in his 11 years with the club that he didn’t try to explain it beyond stating the obvious. “We were simply incredibly bad,” said the 57-year-old dejectedly.
In slightly more regular news, Union Berlin underlined their Champions League aspirations with a late 3-1 win over TSG Hoffenheim, and in Leverkusen, the Xabi Alonso bounce-back continued with a 3-2 away win to Borussia Monchengladbach, who had new keeper Jonas Omlin in goal. Leverkusen’s Amine Adli (one goal, one assist) was the man of the match, while Florian Wirtz only came on late on after suffering from illness.
Down at the bottom, VfL Bochum (14th) pulled off a hugely encouraging win against Hertha Berlin in a classic six-pointer. Thomas Letsch’s vastly improved side beat the visitors courtesy of a goal from new signing Keven Schlotterbeck (brother of Nico, formerly at Freiburg) and a bit of help from VAR, who helpfully disallowed Lucas Tousart’s opener for Hertha even though the ball had crossed the touchline 20 seconds earlier and been touched by VfL’s Saidy Janko in the interim.
“If that’s the same attacking sequence, I’m out,” Hertha sporting director Fredi Bobic said, “this is not football as I used to know it.” Coach Sandro Schwarz did admit, however, that his men hardly deserved any better after a poor performance. “It was scheisse from us today,” was his considered verdict. Hertha are 17th and in acute danger now.
At the other end of the table, where the sun does shine, RB Leipzig and league leaders Bayern Munich (with Yann Sommer in goal) played out a 1-1 draw that saw two very different halves. The Bavarians dominated before the break and took the lead through Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Serge Gnabry had provided the cross shortly before travelling to visit Paris Fashion Week. (“Players can do what they want on their days off but it’s important they have the right answers on the pitch,” Julian Nagelsmann said after taking a good look at the Germany winger’s social media feed.) Leipzig did play better in the second half to force a deserved equaliser through Marcel Halstenberg and, on another day, could perhaps have even won.
As is often the case in Munich, Bayern’s on-pitch exploits were slightly overshadowed by the politics off it. Deputy goalkeeper Alexander Nubel, on loan at Monaco, revealed live on ZDF’s Sportstudio that Bayern goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic hadn’t been in touch with him since his move to Ligue 1.
Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, who had signed Nubel in 2020 and tried in vain to get him back from Monaco after Manuel Neuer’s injury, said he would have a (presumably stern) talk with Tapalovic. The goalkeeping coach has since been fired. Drama!
Honorary president Uli Hoeness, meanwhile, won plenty of hearts and minds by showing the sort of humility he and his club have long been known for in Germany and beyond. “I’m absolutely certain Bayern will win the league and I don’t care what happens behind us,” the 71-year-old told Doppelpass. If that doesn’t foster the new spirit of togetherness between the Bundesliga, the national team and the media that BVB CEO and German FA vice-chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke has recently called for, nothing will.
(Top photo: Edith Geuppert – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)
Read the full article here