In the final match day of Champions League group play, Borussia Dortmund defeated Slavia Prague 2-1 despite going down a man late in the second half to advance out of Group G thanks to Barcelona’s backups winning 2-1 over Inter Milan. Big s/o to Ansu Fati, the youngest goal-scorer in a Champions League match, for scoring the winner and sending Dortmund through to the Knockout Stage.
With Witsel out for the (calendar) year with a facial injury and no Delaney due to an injury on international duty, that forced Julian Weigl next to Julian Brandt in the 3-5-2 with Mats Hummels returning to the XI after a brief injury spell.
Jadon Sancho got Dortmund on the board with an easy tap-in in the 10th minute. Brandt, coming off maybe his best game in a Dortmund uniform, split the Slavia defense with a lovely pass to hit an onside Reus. With acres of space and defenders trailing him, our beloved captain passed it across the mouth of the goal for Sancho, and the best Englishman in Germany tapped it in for the opener.
Prague leveled in the 43th minute off a close-range finish by Tomáš Souček. The Prague player sent in a cross from the left wing and Hummels was left trying to catch up to his man after he slipped around the kick-off circle. The Prague player, Milan Škoda, chested it down for Souček, and he expertly finished past Bürki. VAR was used to review the goal for offside, but the call on the field stood and both teams entered halftime level 1-1. Inter had also leveled the score in Milan against the Barcelona B-team, dropping Dortmund to third in Group G on goal differential.
After a load of chances in the second half, including a 51st minute shot just off the crossbar from Brandt and a 59th minute save on a hard shot from Raphaël Guerreiro, Dortmund retook the lead in the 61st minute off the left foot of Brandt. Sancho received the ball out wide and slipped a nice pass to Brandt inside the box off a well-timed run, and Brandt ripped a rocket of a shot from a tight angle past the Prague keeper. The goal moved Dortmund ahead of Inter on points, as the Italian side couldn’t find the back of the net for the rest of the match against Barca.
Bürki was outstanding tonight. Numerous times he denied Slavia Prague from equalizing or even going ahead with well-made saves. His most noticeable save of the first half came in the 34th minute, when a shot from outside the box on s Prague set piece took a deflection off Reus that sent the ball into the air and looking into the net. But Bürki, who had gone low for the initial save recovered just in time to tip the ball over the net. He also made an acrobatic diving save in the 75th minute on a screamer from outside the box, and again in the 77th minute made a one-handed save on a free-kick header following the sending off of Weigl for a late challenge. Bürki is the clear MOTM and I won’t let anyone convince me otherwise.
While it’s amazing that we still managed to qualify from the group, there were plenty of nervy moments from today’s match. It was a very open game on both ends today, as both teams managed to cut through the opposing side’s defenses. We need Witsel back ASAP, as his calming presence in midfield in offense and defense offers infinitely more than what Weigl brought to the pitch today. It needs a balance that the Brandt-Weigl pairing didn’t bring, and hopefully they can find a midfield pairing that works soon.
But for now, celebrate advancing through the Group of Death before we’re drawn with Liverpool or PSG on the Round of 16 draw on December 16.