Before today, it had been over three months since we Borussia Dortmund fans had last watched our favorite club take to the pitch. Between the World Cup, the Premier League, and various friendlies, there has been no shortage of other football to watch. Speaking for myself, all these other competitions took my mind off BVB for a little while, and made me forget what it’s actually like to watch the Black-and-Yellows attempt to play 90 minutes of football.
So I awoke this morning and turned on today’s match between Dortmund and Augsburg, thinking, like I have for the last three months, that I was just sitting down for any old football match. But as we all learned in the fall, and some of us may have forgotten, BVB do not play any ordinary brand of football. Their brand of football is chaotic, sloppy, frustrating, and at times, exhilarating. The club could have eased us fans back into their style of play, but that would have been too boring. Instead, Dortmund shoved us headfirst back into the style of play that is probably responsible for more heartburn medication than any other factor in the North-Rhine Westphalia area, and all the highs and lows that entails. Somehow, despite all the chaos that took place, including seven goals, tons of defensive errors, and a few beautiful goals, BVB walked away with three points.
In case you haven’t gotten your fill of adrenaline for the day, you can watch the match highlights here:
For all the craziness that was to eventually transpire, the first thirty minutes were relatively calm. Borussia Dortmund came out controlling the game. The more technical players like Julian Brandt, Raphael Guerreiro, and Jude Bellingham were doing a good job moving the ball through midfield. New signing Julian Ryerson, who earned the start at right back, had a few good looks on the right hand side, creating chances and several corner kicks in the process. BVB would even strike first courtesy of a lovely goal from Jude Bellingham, who used a pump fake and a juke to offset his marker, before ripping a shot past Rafal Gikiewicz. As far as easy-going football would go, that was it.
In the 40th minute, however, the first instance in what would become a common trend occurred. Gregor Kobel kickstarted a possession drive with a casual pass to Nico Schlotterbeck, who was positioned towards the corner flag. Sensing blood, Augsburg forward Dion Beljo closed down on Nico and forced the ball off of him. He then wriggled it to Arne Maier, who brushed past Salih Özcan and then squeezed a shot past Gregor Kobel.
It was an ugly turnover for Schlotterbeck, who would have to quickly find a way to redeem himself. Luckily, such an opportunity presented itself moments later. After BVB won a free kick in the attacking half, Julian Brandt whipped in a perfect cross and Schlotterbeck, who all the Augsburg players had apparently chosen to ignore, had an open header to smash the ball into the net, giving the lead right back to Dortmund.
BVB could have chosen to close out the final few minutes of the half with a lead, but that would have been too easy. Instead, they let Augsburg tie it again. At least this time it wasn’t lazy possession play, but instead lazy marking. With Raphael Guerreiro up the pitch, Schlotterbeck was once again pulled towards the corner away from Mats Hummels. With plenty of space between the two center backs, Ermedin Demirović managed to split the two perfectly, and received a through ball that put him in against Gregor Kobel. He managed to chip the keeper, and although Julian Ryerson managed to sprint all the way back to the line to clear the ball, he only knocked it into his own net, thus ending the first half 2-2.
Let’s recap: after roughly 40 minutes of dominant football, BVB committed two catastrophic errors to let Augsburg back into the game, leaving nothing to show for their efforts. Surely they would go into their dressing room, make some adjustments, tighten things up, and come out and shut the game down.
If anything, it was the opposite. Augsburg came out of halftime with a clear plan: continue to block all channels of possession through the middle, and force BVB to play out through Nico Schlotterbeck. This made the proceeding 25 minutes very uneasy for Dortmund. Although they had racked up 16 shot attempts in the first half, they were much harder to come by in the second half, at least at first. Then, Edin Terzic made a double switched that injected some much needed life into the squad... but not before this:
Goosebumps!— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 22, 2023
Sebastien Haller is back on the pitch playing Bundesliga football pic.twitter.com/RGhyLKfuKN
After a four-month absence due to testicular cancer, multiple surgeries, at least one round of chemotherapy, and additional months of rehabilitation, Sebastien Haller made his return to the pitch with a standing ovation that brought the house down at the Westfalenstadion. It was a beautiful moment.
While Haller’s return was a great moment, there was still a game to win. The change that would ultimately bag the three points was a double switch. With Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen struggling to make an impact on the game, Edin Terzic swapped them both off for Gio Reyna and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens. These youngsters proved to be the difference-makers in the game, with two gorgeous goals. The first came from Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, who beautifully curled a shot inside the post, which Jude Bellingham had to quickly duck as it scorched into the net.
It was 3-2, but that score didn’t last long. The crowd in Dortmund hadn’t even finished celebrating the young Englishman’s goal when Augsburg struck right back. A comedy of errors involving lost tackles, poor marking, and slow reaction times allowed David Colina to pounce on a rebound off the post, and Bynoe-Gittens’s strike was negated.
It’s been a rough few months for Gio Reyna. He spent an agonizingly long time rehabbing from his muscle injury only to ride the bench at the World Cup, was almost sent home due to his poor behavior during training sessions, and then got caught in the crossfire of a public feud between his parents and USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter. After all that, scoring this must have been the greatest feeling on earth:
GIO REYNA GOLAZO TO GIVE DORTMUND A 4-3 LEAD! pic.twitter.com/3PpTXUV2q6— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 22, 2023
As the game wound down, there was one final opportunity for chaos, when Mats Hummels of all players found himself and Raphael Guerreiro charging down the pitch on a counterattack. While their attempted linkup comedically came to nothing, it ran down the clock, and the final whistle blew.
- If you had any fantasies about Borussia Dortmund magically fixing their defensive issues during the Winterpause, this game should immediately remove such misconceptions. Nico Schlotterbeck, Mats Hummels, Raphael Guerreiro, and Salih Özcan all had incredibly shaky performances.
- I don’t want to exaggerate how good Sebastien Haller was just for the sake of the narrative, but it’s not hyperbolic to say that he was a clear upgrade over Youssoufa Moukoko. When Mouki isn’t scoring, he isn’t contributing. Haller showed that there’s more to the striker position than just scoring. He didn’t have any shots himself, but his holdup play was much better, and there were two situations when he easily could have scored if either Gio Reyna or Jamie Bynoe-Gittens had bothered squaring the ball to him. He looked like he was laboring a bit towards the end, which is no surprise given the grueling physical battle he’s undergone over the last few months. It could take several weeks for him to be able to play a full 90 minutes.
- Is there any reason why Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Gio Reyna shouldn’t be playing over Adeyemi and Malen?
- In 90 minutes, Borussia Dortmund managed to encapsulate all the highs and lows of rooting for this historic club. It was frustrating at times with lazy defensive errors and poor decisions across the board. At other times, though, it was breathtaking, with multiple spectacular goals and dominant displays of attacking football from promising young players whose potential continues to climb. Finally, with Sebastien Haller’s return, we got to see the 82,000-strong crowd at the Westfalenstadion erupt in a display of support for a man who in only a few months had become one of their own. It can be cliché at times, but there really isn’t another club out there like Borussia Dortmund. The defensive struggles today won’t be the last, and I’m sure there will be plenty of ups and downs as the season continues, but there isn’t any other club I’d rather follow along the way.
What did you think of BVB’s return to the Bundesliga? Let me know your thoughts.