The Europa League is back! And it’s still as crazy as ever.
Dortmund and Atalanta began their round of 32 tie today at the Westfalenstadion, with a back-and-forth first leg resulting in a 3-2 win on the night for the Black and Yellows. But the two away goals conceded by BVB could still come back to haunt them in next week’s second leg in Italy.
Peter Stöger’s lineup was pretty much as expected, with one surprise. Gonzalo Castro started in midfield even though Dortmund fans had been clamoring to see Mario Götze and Marco Reus play together again. Götze would come off the bench, while Reus started up front with Christian Pulisic, Michy Batshuayi, and André Schürrle.
The game itself was an end-to-end contest that featured poor defending, a few hard fouls, and another frustrating night for the much-maligned Castro.
Things almost got off to a perfect start for BVB when Marco Reus hit a shot just wide right on six minutes. It would have been Marco’s first goal since his return from injury.
Atalanta almost responded by opening the scoring a few minutes later. Bryan Cristante came close with a deflected effort, and then Mattia Caldara headed wide on the resulting corner kick. Caldara’s header was a free one, and he really should have scored.
Pulisic almost had a tap-in a few minutes later, but the cut-back from Reus barely eluded the American. But Dortmund did break the deadlock just a few minutes later.
Batshuayi was strong on the ball in the midfield, and then did well to spray a pass out wide to Łukasz Piszczek. Piszczek came forward and found Schürrle with a pass just as he was entering the box. Schürrle’s first touch let him down, but he recovered to latch on to the ball once again and poke it around the keeper.
It’s safe to say that the second half did not get off to as promising a start for Dortmund.
After a quiet first five minutes, the home side were pegged back by a goal from Josip Iličić. Iličić snuck behind Jeremy Toljan at the back post, collected the ball, took his time, and curled one past Roman Bürki from a tight angle. It tied the match, but also gave Atalanta a crucial away goal.
The visitors had another just a few minutes later, and so did Iličić. Cristante caused problems down the left side once again, and his cross was too hot for Bürki to handle. All the Swiss keeper could do was redirect the ball right into the path of Iličić, who easily slotted home.
The Dortmund faithful were not happy, and began to vent their frustrations. The team responded appropriately.
Batshuayi continued to be BVB’s superhero when he found the equalizer in the 65th minute. Götze had just come on for Reus and helped the home side capitalize on a poor giveaway by the Italians. Mario put the ball at Michy’s feet, and the Atalanta players made another mistake in allowing him to turn without being closed down. The Batsman made it look easy as he fired past Etrit Berisha.
Pulisic almost added another only a few moments later. His shot was saved by Berisha, and the rebound went just wide after ricocheting off a defender.
Dortmund continued to apply pressure to try and get a third goal, but they struggled to manufacture anymore clear-cut chances until the very end of the contest.
To nobody’s surprise, it was Michy Batshuayi once again who provided the scoring touch.
Rafael Tolói shanked a clearance in the box just on the stroke of stoppage time, and the Batsman pounced after another entry pass from Götze.
The goal meant that Stöger’s boys led on the night, but because of the away goal rule nothing has been decided yet. Atalanta showed that they are a quality team who will no doubt give Dortmund another strong challenge when the two clubs meet again next Thursday.