For the first time in more than 20 years, Borussia Dortmund took to the pitch against FC Barcelona for Matchday 1 of the Champions League group stage. After 90 minutes of tense back-and-forth action in which BVB held the lion’s share of the chances, it ended 0-0, but not for a lack of offense.
To start, Borussia Dortmund fielded a strong squad with Hazard, Reus, and Sancho playing behind Paco Alcacer up front, and Delaney and Witsel in midfield, with a back four of Hakimi, Hummels, Akanji, and Guerreiro. This squad faced a Messi-less Barcelona that still featured plenty of attacking talent in the form of Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez, and 16-year old forward Ansu Fati.
The first half went by without much incident. Much of the play took place in the midfield, with neither side conceding too much ground. The only real chance of the first half came fell for BVB, with Hazard finding Reus, who unfortunately shot the ball straight into Marc Andre ter Stegen. The only other incident of note was from a corner, when Roman Bürki’s fist, aimed for the inswinging ball, instead connected with Paco Alcacer’s face. Paco seemed woozy for a few moments, but was eventually able to carry on. The first half-ended 0-0, with neither side showing much in terms of dominance.
During the second half, however, it was all Dortmund. About ten minutes into the half, BVB had a chance to take the lead when Nelson Semedo brought down Jadon Sancho in the box, and BVB were awarded a penalty. Marco Reus stepped up to the spot, and after a lengthy stutter, he drove a shot towards ter Stegen. The German keeper, who was well off his line when Reus connected, dove to his left and blocked the shot with an arm tucked under his body. Reus bolted for the rebound, but ter Stegen got off his feet quickly and scooped up the ball.
In the 61st minute, the entire Westfalenstadion trembled in terror as the greatest player of our generation, Lionel Messi, stepped up to be subbed on to the pitch. As the traveling Barcelona fans chanted “Meeeeessi, Meeeeeessi” in the corner, you couldn’t help but feel like BVB were about to become victim to another Messi masterclass, and that BVB defenders would be helpless as he dribbled circles around them.
Instead, BVB completely housed him for 30 minutes.
As the 90 minute mark approached, BVB kept banging on the door. Julian Brandt smashed a long shot off the crossbar in the 77th minute. Minutes later, Marco Reus had a clear chance at the center of the box from Jadon Sancho, but he struck it straight into ter Stegen once again. Barcelona managed to play themselves into the match for the final 8 minutes or so, but even then, they couldn’t create any significant chances. After only three minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew and the game ended 0-0.
There are plenty of positives to be taken from this match. Despite conceding a lot of possession, BVB had the lion’s share of the chances, and looked to be very much the better side, even when Messi eventually came on. BVB’s defense, which has looked a bit shaky to start the year, finally came together and played like the elite back line that we hoped they would. Barça’s players could barely touch the ball inside BVB’s penalty box without being swarmed by at least two defenders and Thomas Delaney, who continued where he left off on Saturday against Leverkusen.
The only real negative was the poor finishing. Marco Reus must have had three or four grade-A chances that he really should have finished, but couldn’t. Paco Alcacer had some big ones too. Unfortunately, ter Stegen made some key saves when needed and kept BVB from taking the lead. In the end, a point against FC Barcelona is never anything to complain about, but if either side is to be upset with the 0-0 result, it’s the Blaugrana.