My heart is still pounding. What an absolute rollercoaster of a 90-minute football match. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like at the Westfalenstadion, with the crowd roaring and rain pouring down in buckets. Goals were scored in buckets as well, and despite dominating the pitch for vast swathes of the game, BVB have only come away with a single point, courtesy of three massive individual errors. While the end result, a 3-3 draw, is a clear disappointment given the squad’s fiery first-half performance, there are still some positives to take away from this breathtaking football match.
When it came time for the opening kick-off, you could just tell that we were in for a treat. The BVB faithful were in full voice, and the entire Westfalenstadion crowd roared as the referee’s whistle blew and the game began. When RBL first gained possession and the men in yellow flew at them with unabated aggression, it became clear that BVB were not going to face the league leaders lying down; Dortmund didn’t give them a single uncontested moment on the ball. Right off the bat, RB Leipzig looked rattled, frequently committing unforced errors and playing it backwards.
With Leipzig on the back foot, Dortmund’s first few chances of the half came off of corners. Thorgan Hazard provided several brilliant deliveries in a row, each one finding Mats Hummels unmarked. Unfortunately, the Hummels’ first header flew wide of the post, and the second was parried away by RB Leipzig keeper Péter Gulàsci.
Dortmund’s first goal came from an unexpected source: Julian Weigl. He collected the ball right at the corner of the box, and whipped a low shot in at Gulàsci. It took a rather fortunate mid-air swerve around Gulàsci, and deflected off the keeper’s leg into the net. It was only the second goal in the Bundesliga of Weigl’s career, but it was pretty nonetheless.
Minutes later, BVB struck the back of the net again. While Weigl’s goal was nice, Julian Brandt’s was an absolute pearl. After a brilliant cross-field lobbed pass from Manuel Akanji found Jadon Sancho, the Englishman played a ball into the feet of Julian Brandt. Brandt collected the ball, did a 360° spin around a tackle from Upamecano, before slotting a shot perfectly into the bottom corner. It’s the type of goal that words won’t do justice, so I’ll post it right here:
Are you serious with this turn, Julian Brandt?!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 17, 2019
Dortmund are in dreamland vs Leipzig! pic.twitter.com/SZTlZFPoOx
With Dortmund leading 2-0 and absolutely dominating the shot count (8-1, 5-0 on target), it looked like the game was all but finished. All Dortmund had to not do was pull off a complete bottle job, or do something stupid... like commit two howlers within the first ten minutes of the second half.
Christmas came early for RB Leipzig, but instead of presents, they received two goals from Borussia Dortmund, nicely wrapped and with a bow on top. The first came courtesy of Roman Bürki. With a ball played back to the Swiss keeper, and with Zagadou trying to fend off the attacking Timo Werner, Bürki decided to try out his best Manuel Neuer impression and head the ball out of danger. Bürki did indeed head the ball, but unfortunately, it squibbled only a few yards away, right into the path of Timo Werner, who had a wide open net to hit from long range. Less than two minutes into the second half, BVB had handed Leipzig a lifeline on a silver platter.
The score was now 2-1. BVB held the lead, but they had let RBL back into the game. I guess Dortmund were in a generous mood, because they seem to have decided that gifting one goal wasn’t enough. Facing a challenge from Yousef Poulsen in midfield, Brandt played the ball down and knocked a simple back pass... right to a completely-unmarked Timo Werner in acres of space, with no defenders between himself and the goal. Timo Werner proceeded to do what Timo Werner does.
You can watch the catastrophe here, but before you do, I’d recommend having some Ibuprofen on hand:
With the score now 2-2, it looked like BVB were going to go on and collapse. Instead, BVB picked themselves up and went back on the front foot, and re-took the league in mere minutes. This time, Dortmund struck on a lightning-quick counterattack down the right side. The goalscorer was none other than Jadon Sancho, who continued his torrid pace in the Bundesliga. Marco Reus, Sancho’s partner-in-crime, provided the assist.
This. Game.— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 17, 2019
Jadon Sancho scores in his 7th straight game to restore the lead for Dortmund. pic.twitter.com/VLWmq2v3I4
While Dortmund had some chances to put the game out of reach, they were far too wasteful and slow in their decision-making in the final third. Raphael Guerreiro and Thorgan Hazard had particularly poor performances, and their hesitations at key moments in attacking moments proved devastating. With only a one-goal lead, BVB couldn’t help but gift Leipzig yet another goal to draw the game level. While the first one was a goalkeeping error and the second was a midfield error, the third was a defensive error.
Dayot Upemecano, who was the only Leipzig player who I actually thought played particularly well today, played a relatively harmless long-ball that bounced right in front of Raphael Guerreiro. The full-back really should have cleared it away, but for one reason or another, he didn’t. I’m not entirely sure whether he misread the ball or if it took a bad bounce, but either way he completely missed it and it bounced straight to Nordi Mukiele. While Mukiele actually couldn’t finish the chance, the rebound went straight to Patrik Schick, who buried it first-time, and drew the score level.
BVB had a few more chances to grab a winner, but unfortunately seemed a bit uncoordinated in the final third. The rain was clearly having an effect on the game, with loose touches and slips everywhere, and Jadon Sancho had to be subbed off for Lukasz Piszczek after an apparent injury. The whistle blew after three minutes of stoppage time, and you could tell from the crowd’s reaction that the hard-fought draw felt like a defeat to the BVB faithful.
- It would be really unfair to blame Lucien Favre for this one. I thought the tactics were spot-on in the first half, and Dortmund very much looked the better side. The back three worked very well, and having Hakimi in a wingback position to run the ball out of pressure proved very useful.
- This match perfectly encapsulated the positives and negatives of having Julian Brandt in midfield. While he’s an offensive dynamo moving forward, with an excellent ability to pick out forward passes and even finish chances himself, he’s much less secure in the defensive half. His wayward pass on Werner’s second goal was, at least to me, the clear result of a player not having much experience playing that far deep.
- Roman Bürki should obviously be faulted for the first goal against, but I thought outside of that one mistake, he was pretty much perfect. He made some fine saves off of corners right at the end of the first half that preserved Dortmund’s 2-0 lead going into halftime. I think the same could be said for each of Dortmund’s three center backs. It’s weird to say in a game in which the squad conceded three goals, but I thought all three were very good.
- Thorgan Hazard and Raphael Guerreiro were both invisible for large stretches of the night. Marco Reus wasn’t at his best either, but at the very least he did provide the assist on Sancho’s go-ahead goal.
- The commentators on FS2 were praising RB Leipzig for showing the “fortitude” that most title-contenders require. I’m not sure I would consider being handed three goals on silver platters very fortitudinous... they looked quite the opposite, in fact, during the first half. They looked shellshocked when 2-0 down, and were very fortunate to be handed a lifeline back into the game.
- While this is obviously a very disappointing loss, there are still some positives to take away. BVB outplayed RB Leipzig during the first half, and as bad as those individual mistakes were, they’re the type that can be avoided with more practice and more familiarity with a system. I think it bodes well for Borussia Dortmund: the key is to learn some lessons from this game, and get ready to go beat Hoffenheim on Friday.