Under the lights at the Westfalenstadion, BVB suffered a truly bitter defeat at the hands of AFC Ajax for the second time in three weeks. Dortmund came into the game with the type of fire and tenacity we expected for a revenge match, but the cavalry was cut down with the loss of Mats Hummels. Though Marco Reus’s penalty goal before the end of the first half gave the Black and Yellows something to hold onto, the task in the second half proved too great to overcome, and what had the makings of a statement performance for a battered Dortmund turned into another frustrating and disappointing outcome.
Yes, I am going to talk about it. We all saw it, no one likes it, but I am so frustrated about it that I plan to talk about it anyway.
I have been angry many times in my years of fandom for Borussia Dortmund; angry at players for leaving, angry at bad performances, angry at Bayern’s general existence. I was angry at the red card yesterday until seeing Mats Hummels look up to the crowd, almost a tear in his eye, as he dutifully headed down the tunnel. That just made me sad. Mats Hummels is a class act—he is reliable at the back, he stands up for his teammates, and he has worked tremendously hard to regain the favor of the supporters he disappointed when he left for Bavaria a few years ago. Seeing such a classy player dismissed for such an egregious misjudgment by the referee, and then the VAR system, is disappointing for fans of the team and fans of the game as a whole.
Dortmund and Ajax were putting on a stunning display and in a not-so-unfamiliar twist, the referee made the game about himself by playing into the emotion of the match instead of reading the facts. This was bolstered by the antics of a player I had a lot of respect for after the reverse fixture, where his vision and skill dismantled the Dortmund defense. Much like a certain international teammates of his, Antony has such tremendous quality that he does not need to behave the way he did following the “foul”, but the referee chose to sink his teeth into that like a prime cut of filet and from there on, the game was essentially put to bed.
Julian Brandt’s nomination in the man of the match poll was well warranted yesterday, and he frankly deserved more of the votes. Brandt put in a shift yesterday on both sides of the ball, something that cannot be said of any of his performances last season. Against Ajax, he was moving the ball beautifully in transition, working with Meunier to relieve pressure, and providing Marco Reus and Steffen Tigges the opportunity to seek space higher up the field. The opportunity has come for Brandt to rejoin the likes of Dortmund’s technically gifted and promising players, and he has gradually grown to fill the role that was laser cut for him a few years ago. With the current injury situation, Brandt’s place is not even his to lose; there is no one to take it from him. He must continue this form for the good of the team, and because we all really want to see him succeed.
Dortmund’s UCL Outlook
Yeesh. Dortmund hold a narrow grip on second place in group C based on their head to head results, but one slip to either of Sporting CP or Besiktas would see that grip slacken. Beskitas are four losses from four, making their chances of usurping Die Schwarzgelben pretty remote, but Sporting will look at their next meeting with BVB as a gilded chance to secure their promotion to the round of 16. Ajax are through and away, meaning Dortmund’s second spot is the best they are going to get. The next match against Sporting comes after the international break, a good three weeks from the loss to Ajax. In this time, Dortmund could see the full return of Dan-Axel Zagadou and the tentative returns of players like Gio Reyna, Mahoud Dahoud, and maybe even Raphael Guerreiro. I hope Marco Rose and Michael Zorc will agree to flood the moat and prevent any of our players from joining up with their national teams, but I do not know if they can actually do that. Let’s hope so.
BVB need to rally around their anger over the red card and their support for locker room leader Mats Hummels to shake off this loss. The team knows this one does not really fall on them, but there are lessons to be learned about how easily they were beaten in the air once the defensive effort finally snapped. Ajax are a top team this season, and Marco Rose would do well to take his lessons from this game as the minimum expectation for any coming games in the UCL this season. Even if Dortmund progress, the quality of Ajax will be matched by any of Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Juventus, or Cristiano Ronaldo. The team must bring the energy from early in yesterday’s match to get anything from this competition as it goes forward.