In Germany, when it rains, it pours. The heavens opened up at the Westfalenstadion this evening, drenching the players and coaches alike. The game was as rough as the weather, as Zenit St. Petersburg sat back and defended hard. It took 78 minutes of grinding possession and hard work from BVB but they eventually found a way through, and a stoppage time goal from Erling Haaland sealed their first victory in the Champions League Group Stage. Here are our observations from today’s match:
Dortmund Find a Way Past a Strong Zenit Defense
As fans of a good team, that expects to win the majority of its games, we tend to frame BVB’s struggles in terms of what the team did wrong. We think about poor results in terms of BVB’s failures, rather than another team’s successes. More often than not, I think that’s accurate. When you’re the second best team in your league, you should be able to find a way to win against virtually everybody. However, today was a little bit different.
Dortmund eventually got the job done against Zenit this evening, but the majority of the game was spent trying to find a way through their defense, and get a good look on goal. But I don’t think Dortmund were to blame for their struggles today. I actually thought they played pretty well. But Zenit put up a hell of a fight, and they were tremendously well organized. Football has thrown up some weird, freak occurrences so far this season, but none more so than a defensively solid, reliable Dejan Lovren performance.
If we’d walked away from today’s game with a draw, I think we would have been right to feel disappointed with the result, if not the performance. Dortmund kept plugging away, however, and eventually broke through Zenit’s defensive walls. The team deserve some credit for fighting for all three points, right to the final minute.
Even When Haaland is Off, he Still Manages to Score
Any old striker can score on their good days. What makes a striker truly elite, in my opinion, is when they can score on their bad days. Erling Haaland has proved time and time again over the last few weeks that he can score any day at any time, even if the first 89 minutes don’t go his way.
This was the case for Haaland today against Zenit. For the majority of the match he was unusually quiet. Zenit defended very low and very compact, meaning that Haaland wasn’t given the open spaces and through balls that he would normally thrive on. Whenever he received the ball it was to his feet instead of into space, and he was immediately hounded by Zenit’s center backs Dejan Lovren and Yaroslav Rakitskiy, who were both excellent. When he did have a chance, in the first half, off a brilliant through ball from Jadon Sancho, he sent his shot whizzing wide.
But as great strikers tend to do, he managed to find the back of the net despite having an off day. It may have been a garbage-time goal, but it was still important. Zenit were only a single goal down, and easily could’ve grabbed an equalizer off a corner or another set piece. With his goal Haaland showed once again why he’s one of the best strikers in all of Europe.
Is Mahmoud Dahoud Earning a Spot in the Squad?
Mo Dahoud has been at Borussia Dortmund for a few years now, but he has yet to really establish a role for himself in the squad. It’s not that he has ever been particularly bad, it’s just that he has always had to compete against the likes of Axel Witsel, Emre Can, Julian Weigl, and now Jude Bellingham. However, Dahoud has risen to the challenge so far this season, and has put in two good performances in two consecutive starts.
In 67 minutes he went 3/3 on dribbles and was picking out diagonals and incisive passes with ease. While he didn’t contribute to a goal, he and Axel Witsel combined to ensure that Zenit could barely break out of their own third, let alone attempt any shots on target. As long as he plays like this I could see Dahoud earning a regular spot in the squad rotation. I’m even willing to forgive his now routine inaccurate long balls.
What did you think of today’s match? Leave your thoughts below.