Borussia Dortmund clinched third place after cruising to a 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen, on a very emotional Bundesliga finale. Lukasz Piszczek got the nod at right back where he has rolled back the years over the last two months of the season, putting in stellar displays as BVB have been winners of seven straight in the league. Piszczek’s form has also corresponded with the club lifting the DFB-Pokal as well as clinching Champions League, which seemed in doubt not that long ago. While it was an emotional day for Dortmund, it proved to be elsewhere on the pitch as well.
It was only fitting that when Sven and Lars Bender decided to call it quits that they did it together, and even more fitting that Sven, a Dortmund player for eight seasons, was able to finish his career on the pitch at the Westfalenstadion. Bender won two Meisterschales, two DFB-Pokals, and two DFL-Supercups as a member of Borussia Dortmund before transferring to Leverkusen in 2017 to team up with his twin brother Lars. A regular starter under Jürgen Klopp, Bender was the midfield enforcer for the back-to-back Bundesliga champions appearing in 211 matches in all competitons for Die Schwarzgelben. It was great to see Bender captain his squad against Piszczek’s for the season finale, which was a good watch despite the changes made by both coaching staffs.
While Die Werkself were able to control possession and create chances, they were never really able to beat goalkeeper Roman Burki, who made some good saves in the match. Reinier Jesus earned his first ever start for BVB, and he rewarded BVB with a goal contribution inside five minutes as the Brazilian starlet played a ball into space and for Erling Haaland to finish. It was vintage Erling Haaland: despite the tough angle, he smashed the ball low and hard across goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky into the far corner.
Dortmund would add to their lead just 6 minutes after halftime when Marco Reus was able to steer his free kick into the back of the net. Hradecky was rooted to the spot assuming the awkward curling set-piece would take a deflection, but unfortunately for Hradecky and Leverkusen, it did not. Leverkusen continued to create lots of half chances but poor finishing and timely defending were on Dortmund’s side for the day.
Die Werkself continued to be the architects of their own demise when in the 84th minute, Wendell played a no-look pass into his own area and Haaland pounced on the ball, rounded Hradecky and fired home his brace, putting Dortmund on their way to three points and third place in the league. A late penalty forfeited the clean sheet when Emre Can breathed on Patrick Schick the wrong way in the box, and the Czech striker went down in a heap. Lars Bender, who was coming on as a substitute for his twin brother Sven, immediately stepped up and dispatched the 89th minute penalty as Burki purposely stood still and allowed it to pass into the net. Here are three observations from the match:
Lukasz Piszczek is our best right back
And that’s a problem. With the G.O.A.T having played out of his mind the last couple months, and helping to save our season, it has not been lost that Mateu Morey is in a long recovery (if he can ever recover) and Thomas Meunier has disappointed greatly. While Meunier played well against Mainz last weekend, you have to think that the right back position is a priority for the club moving forward. You also cannot help but wonder if Piszczek had been able to start the year like this, and if he could have held up, how good could Dortmund have been this season? BVB have been playing terrific football of late, and Piszczek’s presence on the back line and timely runs forward were exactly what the squad was missing when the season started. All of us at Fear The Wall wish Piszczek a great post-playing career, but his shoes are going to be extremely difficult to fill.
Erling Haaland is great
Another match, another brace for the Norwegian god of goals who showed once again why he is one of the most prodigious and sought after talents in the world. Additionally, Haaland became the first U-21 player to score 40 goals in all competitions since Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) who achieved this feat in the 1996-97 season. Hans-Joachim Watzke has continually said that Haaland will be playing for the club next season, and we have no reason to doubt his on that. With the big striker coming back, BVB have every reason to feel optimistic about next season.
Turns out, it was a very good season
I know, I know we didn’t put in a title challenge, and yes the evil Bavarians got the big trophy yet again. But hey, our boys can drink beer out of our trophy, can Bayern say that? Well, they probably can with many of their others, but still, Dortmund won silverware and wrapped up the Champions League with a game to spare, when they looked bound for the Europa League only weeks prior. Sacking a coach before mid-season and replacing with an unproven assistant is always going to cause wobbles along the way. In fact, given the injuries and the fixture congestion, I think the club is very fortunate to finish where they did. The board needs to look at how they build the squad, and some answers need to be figured out at several key positions, but there is a lot of raw talent in this group and it isn’t crazy to think that next season everything could come together for them. Perhaps winning the DFB-Pokal could be a stepping stone in mentality for this group to realize their full potential, or it could be just another false dawn.
There were touches of class all over the place today, from the banners and t-shirts for Piszczek, to the tributes to the Bender twins, and Burki allowing Lars to score the penalty without resistance. There was another touch of class after the match by both clubs that prove exactly why the Bundesliga is so special. Manuel Gräfe, long time DFB referee was officiating his final match as he has reached forced reteriment age and both Dortmund and Leverkusen held a guard of honor to Gräfe. Haaland even swapped shirts with the German official after the match. Gräfe has been officiating matches since 1999, and doing so in the top flight since 2004 and obviously is held in high regard by players in Germany. Another touch of class for such a classy league, I am going to miss watching the Bundesliga over the summer, but I suppose we have the Euros to look forward to.
Was the season a success?