Borussia Dortmund got back to their winning ways today with a very enjoyable 3-0 victory against arch-rivals Schalke 04. Although it almost took until the hour mark for BVB to strike the back of the net, the result never really looked in doubt. From the first kick BVB controlled the tempo of the game and piled up chance after chance. Schalke never mustered a shot on target, and once Manuel Akanji slotted in his goal, BVB never looked back. Here are my main observations from today’s match:
Unlikely Heroes Lead the Charge
In my opinion there are four candidates for man of the match today: Manuel Akanji, Mahmoud Dahoud, Julian Brandt, and Raphael Guerreiro. To be clear, it was pretty close to a full team performance so I think everyone deserves some applause, but these four in particular deserve a standing ovation.
Manuel Akanji missed the last two weeks due to a positive COVID test result, and I was a bit worried that he wouldn’t be fully match fit when he came into the squad. Needless to say, my fears were completely assuaged. He kept Rabbi Matondo and Goncalo Paciencia virtually under lock and key with perfectly timed tackles and good use of his strength. Finally, of course, he notched a goal of his own when he pounced on a rebound off a well-executed set piece by BVB. He’s done so well to turn his form around since his injuries in seasons past, and looks well on his way to developing into one of the best center backs in the league.
In the buildup, Julian Brandt, Mahmoud Dahoud, and Raphael Guerreiro were anywhere and everywhere. While Guerreiro has performed very consistently this season, Brandt has had trouble breaking into the squad. Lucien Favre made the decision to start him today, and was rewarded handsomely. Brandt was a total maestro in midfield, constantly dribbling around Schalke’s defenders and picking their formation apart with incisive passes. Dahoud had a similar performance with a dash of feistiness. In addition to his uncharacteristic 94% pass completion rate, he had two interceptions and two tackles, and even a long shot that glanced off the bar which, if he had scored, may have been the greatest goal in Dortmund history.
Just take a look at these heat maps from the match. BVB (red) were absolutely dominant along the left side of the pitch, and this was the area where Guerreiro, Dahoud, and Brandt really put their mark on the game.
Thomas Meunier Can Play Well if the Circumstances are Right
I’m so happy for Thomas Meunier right now. His performance against Lazio was poor and the fanbase has absolutely dog-piled him for the last three days, but he was very good today. I wouldn’t quite call him a candidate for man of the match, but he was everything you’d want out of your right back. He whipped in a peach of a cross to Gio Reyna that the young American couldn’t quite finish, had a decent chance that forced a good save from Ronnow.
This was in sharp contrast to the Lazio match, in which Meunier was played as a RWB, and he was forced to carry the full burden of BVB’s offense. Today, as a left back, he was allowed to sit further back and focus on maintaining BVB’s back line. He got in a key block on Schalke’s best chance of the match from Rabbi Matondo and barely put a foot wrong in the buildup.
To be perfectly honest, a lot of the vitriol I’ve seen levied his way, even on this site, has annoyed me a lot and has only made me want to see him succeed even more. If he can continue to string together performances like these, I imagine the criticism will dry up very quickly.
The Revierderby is Great, but Better with Fans
Many people consider the Revierderby to be the greatest rivalry in all of German football, or at very least the best rivalry in the Bundesliga. Normally the Westfalenstadion would be filled to the brim with 78,000 bouncing and screaming Dortmund fans and another few thousand of equally loud Schalke fans. There were only 300 fans let into the stadium today, so the match lacked the atmosphere that has made past runnings of the Revierderby so special.
While the players on the pitch certainly fought with the intensity that one would expect from a fierce rivalry, the match just lacked that extra edge that comes from a stadium full of fans. COVID-19 cases are spiking in Germany so I obviously completely understand the need to limit the amount of fans in the stadium, but I can still lament how unfortunate it is.
Overall, though, it’s always exciting when these two teams meet. Even though Schalke are a relegation-fodder team this year, they very clearly came to play today and put up a decent fight for an hour or so. I was jumping up and down with excitement when Akanji scored, with more intensity than I can remember having in a long time. That’s what derbies are for.
What are your takeaways from the match? Leave your thoughts below.