Dortmund managed to hang on in one of the more surreal encounters last night in the Champions League. Following a terrific first half, I checked my euphoria taking the time to remind myself that we were in a similar situation at a certain northwest city in England last April. Ever the prophet of doom, I strapped myself in for a white-knuckled wild ride as the second half turned into a spectacle of the insane and wild ride that teams like Dortmund generally lose (at least in the past three years), let alone a team sporting three of their four youngest players ever in the Champions League on the pitch during the match.
Tuchel really did not have much to do this match honestly. His only major and perfectly spot on adjustment was switching Dembélé and Pulisic midway through the first half. Passlack, playing on the unfamiliar left side was getting skinned by the Portuguese with little help from the still-learning French youngster. Pulisic is a polished, all around midfielder and quickly settled that side, providing the crucial block and press to assist Felix. Aside from that, he was at the mercy of the medical staff’s evaluations.
Roman didn’t have his best match, but close to it in this writer’s opinion. Perhaps he should have stayed on the line during the indirect free kick, but it’s hard to fault anyone in those rare instances. He made numerous crucial saves in the waning moments of the game, ensuring the win. He looks far more comfortable with his feet on the ball these days.
While most of us were hoping for a Gintervention in the form of a goal on his start at right back, the utility man did a fine job at right back before taking Bartra’s place at center back in the second half. He performed admirably there as well, winning balls in the air. Had to leave the match due to some ‘circulation’ issues that smelled a lot more like a possible concussion.
Papa had a pretty decent match. Had one moment of madness turning the ball over while trying to play it out of the back, but defensively another solid performance. Seemed to have a few moments of miscommunication with Bartra in keeping a line in the first half. Served as captain with the absence of … well … everyone else.
Played well with a few tense moments. Stepped up many times to take advantage of a misplaced Sporting touch induced by pressure from our midfield. Hard to blame him for the illegal back pass as without his touch, the opposition could have touched it past the already diving Bürki.
Perhaps overly harsh, but he was getting beat constantly on the right by a far quicker opponent. Showed no fear and used his physicality to send a message early. Played well with the ball and connected easily and composedly with Weigl and Pulisic.
How NOT to beat Dortmund, give Weigl that much time on the ball. Someone should do some freeze-frame screen-shots of the match I saw, because there were times when it seemed like he had twenty meters of space on all sides of him and take advantage of it, he did. When we struggle, normally it’s because oppositions shut down Weigl’s forward passing lanes. Sporting left them wide open and Weigl punished them for it. He consistently drove with the ball forward and picked out forward passes at will, easily connecting with Shinji and Mario. Scored the game winner and his first ever senior goal with a beauty of a shot to the low left corner presaged by juking past two defenders. Reminded one of Toni Kroos, Sergio Busquets, and other marvelous defensive midfielders.
The young American got another start and played above average the entire night. While Christian gets countless plaudits for his technical abilities on the ball, his work-rate on defense is not nearly admired enough. His pest-like pressing after switching to the left forced countless turnovers in the second half, severely disrupting Sporting’s flow and attempts to get back in the match. The hype train’s wheels would have melted off had his baby’s butt-smooth volley in the 90th minute had kissed the roof of the net rather than the bar.
I though Kagawa had a great performance. There was a lot of dissenting thoughts on Twitter. Regardless, his first half was pretty decent. Didn’t have too much impact on incisive passes, and perhaps overthought and over-risked a few of them, but his spark and creativity were missed against Bayer and Hertha. Relentless off the ball as well, negated the middle for Sporting.
Mario is finally showing glimpses of his old self. Yes, he’s playing a slightly different role, but Sporting’s respect of his ability to drive left him more time on the ball and we were able to get a few snapshots of potential things to come. A beautiful won ball-penetrating pass to Auba opened the scoring early on.
The French kid CAN BE TAUGHT! He showed a real increase in offensive footballing intelligence sending in some decent crosses from the left and the right. Made smart decisions more often than not. Can’t recall him dribbling into a situation he shouldn’t have. Kicked his one inevitable ball into the stratosphere near the end of the match.
Auba did what he needed to do. His first goal was a thing of beauty. Thankfully, it looked difficult, as it seems those are sure things for him vice the easier ones. Had one chance to put another in off his head in the first half but missed the frame by a foot or two.
The just-coming-off-injury Pole came on to replace Bartra after he re-aggravated his injury. Piszczu started on the right with Ginter slotting over to CB, and then moved to CB after Ginter had to go off. With the back line a patchwork mess, Lukasz did a very good job simply surviving … like the rest of the squad.
Rode had to come on as the third right-back of the match, replacing Matze Ginter. Performed reasonably well in an unfamiliar role.
Youngster Dzenis Burnic was thrown into the fire in his first ever senior squad appearance having to come on late to replace the cramping Felix Passlack. Too brief a cameo for a rating but with a backline of Brnic, Pisczcek, Sokratis, and Rode, the fact Sporting didn’t score in that final twenty minute frenzy is rating enough.