Never... ever... feel secure on a derby day.
Schalke have been awful all season. They’ve won two games since the winter break. They’ve had their manager sacked, crashed out of Europe, and have battled relegation from the beginning.
It didn’t matter today, though, because on derby day, anything can happen. On this derby day, Schalke put four past Roman Bürki, and by the time the final whistle echoed around the Westfalenstadion, three crucial points, and very likely BVB’s title hopes, had been lost.
The narratives will be flying, and one target will invariably be the referee, Felix Zwayer. It’s true, his handball call and two straight red cards irrevocably damaged BVB’s chances to win the game. I’d like to comment right now on the Weigl handball and the two red cards given to Marco Reus and Marius Wolf:
- Yes, it was a handball. A bit harsh on Weigl, but the way the rules are written, it was a clear handball.
- Yes, it was a straight red.
- Yes, it was a straight red.
Efforts by BVB fans to point fingers at the referee will only work to absolve the players for their infractions, as will various efforts at whataboutism. Yes, many Schalke players played with a physical edge, and may have at various times deserved second yellow cards, but the bottom line is that none of them flew into tackles the way that Reus and Wolf did. If you want somebody to blame, those two are the only people who could plausibly be held responsible.
Anyway, amidst all the drama, most of the football being played was mediocre at best and unattractive at worst. Before things unraveled, BVB struck first in the 10th minute, with a beautiful lobbed pass from Jadon Sancho finding Mario Götze’s head completely unmarked in the box.
That was about the extent of the good news, however, because Schalke struck back moments later. Julian Weigl went up for a challenge against Breel Embolo. Embolo struck the ball on the volley, and it clattered into Weigl’s hand. Play actually went on for a bit, but the referee eventually decided to consult VAR. After several moments of review, he pointed to the spot. Daniel Caligiuri stepped up and buried the ball, and the game was level.
Then, well into the first half, things further unraveled for BVB. Despite barely being able to touch the ball, Schalke managed to secure a corner kick. Caligiuri, who had a monster game, whipped the ball into the box and found the head of Salif Sané, who smashed it past Bürki and into the net.
“The Collapse” began in the 60th minute. Suat Serdar held the ball in the Dortmund half, and without warning, Marco Reus slid into him from behind. Reus was nowhere near the ball, and instead smashed into Serdar’s ankles. Zwayer, who was standing right over the incident, went straight for the back pocket, and sent Reus off.
Schalke were given a free kick, and boy did they make the most of it. Daniel Caligiuri struck a beautiful strike from 25 yards into the top-left corner. It had pace, curl, and accuracy: Bürki had no chance. The Schalke fans went berserk in the away corner, and the score was 3-1.
Only five minutes later, things went from bad to worst. Suat Serdar once again held the ball in the Dortmund half, and this time, Marius Wolf stepped up to the plate. He flew into a challenge just as Reus had, smashing into Serdar’s legs, missing the ball completely. Zwayer once again reached for his back pocket, and Wolf became the second BVB player within five minutes to see red.
With only 9 men on the pitch, it would have been immensely difficult for BVB to stage a comeback. They came somewhat close, with Axel Witsel clawing one back in the 84th minute. Raphael Guerreiro whipped a cross to the far post, which substitute Jacob Bruun Larsen headed across goal. The ball reached Axel Witsel, who volleyed it into the net, and BVB were within one.
Unfortunately, Schalke would put the game away moments later. In the 86th minute, after a possession battle along the left with, Breel Embolo latched onto the ball at the top of the box, and hammered a shot past Bürki into the bottom corner. Playing with 9 men, BVB had no chance to stage a comeback in such little time, and the final whistle sounded with the score 4-2 to the visitors.
It’s undeniably a frustrating end to what was at one time a very hopeful season. Losing the title after holding such a large lead stings, especially considering Schalke, BVB’s bitter rivals, are the ones who hammered the final nail into the coffin. There’s still a small chance that BVB could slip away with the title, but it would take an astronomical bottle-job from Bayern for that to happen.