Under the glow of UCL lights, Borussia Dortmund put up a valiant fight against the formidable Manchester City. Bearing the weight of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II on their shoulders, the Manchester City players were in a bit of a funk for the first half, struggling to break down an astute German defensive front. A terrible tribute to their late queen. It was heroics at the game’s end for the Citizens, however, that secured the points for the English side, and Dortmund fans and players will be lamenting a chance wasted.
But let’s not get off track here BVB fans; that was a great game for the Black and Yellows. Yes, I am once again going to go the annoying route in the post-match rundown, as I did against Leipzig, but bear with me and if you’re dissatisfied at the end, let me have it in the comments.
In Manchester, nearly every player on the Dortmund side had their best game of the season. It was a dig deep and defend effort, a script Dortmund has run over and over against big opponents to no avail (see Bayern Munich). In this UCL encounter, each player looked incredibly well drilled in their defensive duties, led by veteran Mats Hummels. The German rolled back the years to guide his team through 79 minutes of gritty, exhausting defending, and it looked as if the effort was going to pay off. His partner Niklas Süle also played out his best showing for Dortmund, directly preventing two clear-cut chances for Erling Haaland and providing a solid presence in the box. Salih Özcan, a certain shout for Man of the Match, tirelessly shielded the box and broke through pressure to get Dortmund onto the front foot. His near-assist to Reus was as good as anything you’re going to see from Kevin De Bruyne, and he nearly opened the scoring for Die Schwarzgelben. Emre Can, Thomas Meunier, and even Raphael Guerreiro secured their space better than they have at any point in the season so far.
Lapses in concentration, poor marking, or individual errors always put Dortmund in the hole early when trying to go the defensive route. Yes, Emre Can should have closed down Joao Cancelo, and Nico Schlotterbeck should have better marked Erling Haaland. But that's not the point. While they still capitulated late in the game, the players' diligence for the majority of the game was a massive step forward from the performance at the weekend. The positives to take away from such an effort against a world-class side (with unlimited money) should not be undermined by the scoreline.
Edin Terzic must use this game as a springboard, not only for his team but also for himself. It is this writer’s opinion that Terzic did not get the tactics right today, and it cost his team where the margins are slimmest. Niklas Süle and Mats Hummels had spent the game expertly marshaling Erling Haaland, adjusting to his movements and reading the way the Citizens attempted to orient their attack around the Norwegian. Nico Schlotterbeck, for all his incredible quality and technical ability, had not dug into the defensive effort with his countrymen for over 70 minutes, and when the slightest of margins opened for the finest striker in the world (at this moment), Schlotterbeck was the unfortunate party to capitulate.
There are a million arguments to be made here about the importance of rotation or the value of adding a defender to a defensive situation, and that’s great. It is the job of Edin Terzic, in his budding managerial career, to stew over all of them, decide if he made the right call, and learn from his decision if he did not. Dortmund took a risk appointing an inexperienced coach and will have to suffer with him through these formative moments.
The Next Steps
What Terzic will happily take away from this match is the same injury list with which he arrived. If there is one thing Dortmund could not afford in Manchester it was the loss of another player. Both Donyell Malen and Karim Adeyemi got a few pitch minutes in their legs, and the Dortmund squad is stronger for it. Terzic now must look forward to an all-important Reiverderby, and the chance to rally his team to a victory before the international break.
Dortmund showed a level of intensity in Manchester that Terzic needs to replicate. It is not enough for a team chasing three titles to cook up an effort like today’s against Manchester City in September but not against FC Augsburg in April. Or VfL Bochum in February. That is why Terzic returned to the helm; not to beat Manchester City—which Dortmund did not—but to create a side that can diligently carry out a task against quality opponents over the course of 90 minutes. After a rude awakening in Leipzig, I think 79 minutes against Manchester City is a good start. Now comes repetition.