What an absolutely crazy night in the Champions League. While 10-men Porto were busy holding off an onslaught against Juventus, Borussia Dortmund managed to defend a 3-2 aggregate lead against Sevilla to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in four years. Although Sevilla put up a very feisty effort, coming within a goal of forcing extra time, BVB managed to see them through, courtesy of a pair of goals from Erling Haaland.
Utter fucking madness
Everything about last night was completely insane. The drama, the goals, the fouls, the trash-talking, the VAR, the heart-stopping ending, everything. It was absolutely everything that we love about the Champions League. One of the big drivers in Borussia Dortmund’s push for the top-4 is the financial benefit clubs receive from the Champions League TV rights. While that is definitely something to consider, what we sometimes forget is that the Champions League has a tendency to produce incredible moments that we remember for years. I certainly won’t forget last night for a long time.
Central to the chaos was the sequence of events surrounding Erling Haaland’s eventual second goal. I use the term “eventual” because it took a convoluted chain of events for the goal to count. For those of you who may have been concerned while watching, here’s a quick recap of the sequence that led to Haaland’s second goal:
- While defending a cross, Sevilla defender Jules Koundé pulls on the shirt of Erling Haaland, impeding him from attacking the ball. The referee does not blow the whistle, and Sevilla clear the ball.
- After Sevilla run down the pitch, BVB create a turnover and send Haaland running down the left wing. He cuts across the center and then bounces a quick 1-2 off of Thorgan Hazard to collect the ball inside the box. He pushes aside Sevilla Center Back Diego Carlos before doinking the ball over Yassine “Bono” Bounou.
- The referee, Cuynet Cekir, begins a VAR review. Cekir then disallows Haaland’s goal because of his foul on Carlos. He then reviews Koundés shirt-pull on Haaland, because it was part of the same sequence, and awards a penalty for that.
- On the ensuing penalty, Bono stops Haaland’s shot, before celebrating in the striker’s face after the save. Unfortunately for Bono, Cekir orders the penalty to be re-taken, because Bono was off his line. Haaland promptly scored, and returned the favor by celebrating in Bono’s face and repeating a Spanish expletive.
Erling Haaland says revenge is best served from 12 yards out pic.twitter.com/YrN4q33KLV— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) March 10, 2021
So just to be clear, because many fans seemed confused by this: Cekir didn’t take away Haaland’s goal just to give him a penalty for no reason. He disallowed the goal because of Haaland’s foul on Carlos. Even if there was no penalty shout, he would have disallowed the goal anyway. The fact that there was a shirt pull in the same sequence was a mere coincidence. It definitely created some confusion, but in hindsight his decision does make sense. It’s a situation that would merit technology similar to what NHL and NFL referees have that allows them to access stadium PA systems.
BVB played like total dirtbags, and I loved every minute of it
Over the last decade or so, from the heavy metal pressing of Jurgen Klopp to the tinkered possession ball of Tuchel, to the detail-oriented counterattacking of Lucien Favre, one word that doesn’t necessarily come to mind is “grit”. I’ve always had the impression that BVB’s players are a bit soft, and would have a tendency to roll over when they encounter a team that brings more tenacity, preferring to beat them with footballing brilliance instead of fighting back.
But sometimes, you really just need to meet your opponents head-on, and take everything they sling at you and throw it right back in their faces. That’s what Borussia Dortmund did last night. Even in La Liga, Sevilla have a reputation for being very physical and using every bit of gamesmanship in the book to win.
That’s why I was so happy to see BVB pushing back. Whether it was Delaney absolutely bullying Jules Koundé, 5’8” Mateu Morey outmuscling 6’2” Lucas Ocampos on the touchline, Mahmoud Dahoud flying into tackles, and of course, Erling Haaland trash talking Yassine Bounou (more on that later), it sent a message. After BVB’s poor start, the team shouted that they weren’t going to take any nonsense from Sevilla lying down.
BVB were far too passive at the start
While Borussia Dortmund would eventually rise to the occasion and play their way into the game, the beginning of the match did not seem promising. It looked like BVB would play defensively, similar to how they played against Bayern Munich after taking a 2-0 lead. Given how this strategy worked on Saturday, the way BVB started understandably frustrated many Dortmund fans. To be fair, Sevilla started the game with a high sense of urgency, given the deficit they faced. BVB played into their hands by punting long balls to Erling Haaland, without offering the Norwegian striker much support, leading to turnovers more often than not.
Thankfully, after thirty minutes or so, of Sevilla keeping BVB under pressure, Dortmund began to push further up the pitch and create turnovers, and were rewarded with a goal in the 35th minute. In a position on Dortmund’s left about ten yards from the penalty area, Thomas Delaney pushed Koundé off the ball, and the counterattack was on. Nico Schulz quickly picked up the loose ball and hit Mahmoud Dahoud with a pass. Dahoud launched a darting Marco Reus, who drew in Bounou before laying a pass into the center to Haaland for a tap-in. It was the type of quick-turnaround counter attacking goal that can come as a result of a high press. This goal seemed to provide a spark to Dortmund, who would go on to press much harder, despite growing signs of fatigue, during the second half.
Haaland isn’t just a striker: he’s a leader
Who didn’t absolutely love Haaland getting into Bono’s face after his second goal? Other than Sevilla’s players, obviously. They didn’t like it at all, considering they all charged after him after he ran to celebrate with his teammates, starting a little scuffle of his own.
We all know that Haaland scores goals seemingly at will, but that’s not all he does. As the season has gone on and various BVB players have either struggled offensively or been sidelined by injuries, Haaland has grown both as a forward and as a leader. When the rest of the team is struggling, Haaland has an ability to put the team on his shoulders. It was pretty clear today that Haaland’s first goal galvanized the rest of the team and got them to press higher.
When he shoved Bono’s trash talk back into his face after he beat the keeper on a penalty shot, it fired up the team, who came running to his defense from the outraged Sevilla players. At that point in the game, it was clear that BVB’s players were running on fumes, and I think that goal helped encourage them to keep fighting.
Haaland may be only 20 years old, but he’s already proving himself on the pitch. At his tender young age, he still has so much more to room to grow, both as a striker and as a leader. Borussia Dortmund have quite the budding star on their hands.
What did you think of today’s performance? Leave your thoughts below.