Borussia Dortmund go into combat mode before Chelsea showdown | Bundesliga

They say that history is written by the winners, but it never felt, before this season, as if Borussia Dortmund would be in the position to pick up their pen. Now, it might be different. It felt that way when Nico Schlotterbeck, the crown prince of defensive drama in these parts, saw Timo Werner’s late shot speed past Alexander Meyer, Dortmund’s stand-in goalkeeper, and reacted to clear off the line with a mixture of chest and shoulder, all but sealing the win. Schlotterbeck clenched his fists, celebrating it like a goal.

It wasn’t quite Roman Weidenfeller smothering Arjen Robben’s penalty late on when Bayern visited Westfalen in the spring of 2012, but it was in the same sphere of emotion. And emotion was what it was all about in those closing stages as BVB hung on with a grimness almost all thought was beyond them as RB Leipzig banged on the door with increasing insistence, particularly so after Emil Forsberg pulled a goal back with 16 minutes of normal time left.

Yet if the cliche always has the victorious smoothing out the bumps in the road of a triumphant tale, nobody connected with Dortmund will want to do that when they describe a 10th win – a vital win – in a row, maintaining an improbable 100% record in 2023. That they have found different ways to win, and to show resolve, is a badge of honour.

“We came through by being combative,” enthused Meyer to DAZN, having stepped in for his first game since November at a few moments’ notice when Gregor Kobel felt muscle tightness in the warmup. “We missed that a bit in the first half of the season.” You can say that again. A side that were talented but with a soft underbelly have, from nowhere, found it in themselves to dig in.

There is still plenty left of what Edin Terzic described as “probably the most important week of the season for us so far”, without the merest hint of melodrama, with a Tuesday trip to Chelsea in the Champions League. Dortmund then travel to a revitalised Schalke for next Saturday’s Revierderby. But this, now, was everything, and they gave everything.

It always means more against Leipzig, with these meetings having cultivated a strange tension since Leipzig’s promotion back in 2016, with BVB fans especially seeing the clubs as total opposites in what they stand for. Their positions were entrenched in the wake of some deeply unpleasant scenes around the stadium when they first met at Signal Iduna Park in the Bundesliga in February 2017, which cost Dortmund a huge fine and a partial stadium ban.

Dortmund fans raise a banner which reads: ‘A title doesn’t change anything, no acceptance for RB’
Dortmund fans raise a banner which reads: ‘A title doesn’t change anything, no acceptance for RB’. Photograph: Ralf Treese/DeFodi Images/Shutterstock

Leipzig returned with Dortmund’s coach of last season, the not-much-lamented Marco Rose, at the helm, who has found a better fit with his new club and had picked up more points than any other Bundesliga coach since being handed the reins in September. Rehabilitating a reputation that had taken a hit here (and in his closing months as Borussia Mönchengladbach coach), Rose told DAZN it was “very difficult to accept” the result after his side had increasingly dominated in the second period. It was a game of “two very different halves,” as Sebastian Kehl, BVB’s sporting director, described the night.

Dortmund had hit their stride early on and looked to have taken the lead when Jude Bellingham’s raking pass found Julian Brandt, who controlled and finished well. But, after extensive VAR examination, it was decided there was a soupcon of arm in his cushioning of the Englishman’s pass. Yet if so much may have changed for BVB in these last few whirlwind weeks, there was a welcome dash of the familiar with this too.

After Brandt’s goal was chalked off, Marco Reus won and scored a penalty to put them in front. It put Reus level with Michael Zorc on a record 159 competitive goals for the club, a moment that underlined his persistence as well as his quality. His side in microcosm, if you like.

Reus might not be here next season. Mats Hummels might not. Yet there is no questioning that they’re all in. The former confirmed again after the game that he wants to stay (even on vastly reduced wages), while the latter provided some late-game shepherding as a substitute for the second straight week.

Emre Can celebrates after making it 2-0 to the hosts
Emre Can celebrates after making it 2-0 to the hosts. Photograph: Leon Kuegeler/Reuters

The Dortmund click, really, has been down to those senior stars being able to provide the sort of leadership that many felt was lacking before. Emre Can, a revelation since being restored to the lineup, smashed in the ultimately decisive second goal just before half-time. He, like Reus and Hummels, joined Terzic for some extensive chats on the club’s winter training camp in Marbella, strengthening the team on the pitch and the coach’s status off it.

Some, such as Walter M Straten in Bild, put it down to the invisible hand of Matthias Sammer, the adviser and former coach who speaks to Terzic on the telephone “several times a week” and knows all about managing title run-in pressure, having won his Bundesliga as a coach at a different Dortmund, before the financial crash and rebirth, when spending was as lavish as expectation. Either way, Terzic’s increasing authority is palpable and his team are much tougher for it. This Dortmund are not faultless, but they are focused and imbued with “the willingness to support each other, defensively and offensively,” as Kehl would have it.

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Schlotterbeck personifies this. At fault for Forsberg’s goal that piled the pressure back on his team, drifting back and playing David Raum onside to set up the Swedish midfielder, he ended up being the hero with his last-ditch clearance, though such was the frantic ending that there remained time for Meyer to parry another Forsberg effort.

Rose may well lament the deserved equaliser that wouldn’t come, as well as injuries to Xaver Schlager and Christopher Nkunku, who suffered a muscle strain on his first start since before the World Cup. This was probably the death knell for any title hopes Leipzig – now seven points adrift of Dortmund at the summit – might have held. This game was a reminder that aptitude is the not the only quality that champions need.

Quick Guide

Bundesliga results


Borussia Dortmund 2-1 RB Leipzig

Union Berlin 0-0 Köln

Borussia Mönchengladbach 0-0 Freiburg

Augsburg 2-1 Werder Bremen

Mainz 1-0 Hoffenheim

VfL Bochum 0-2 Schalke

VfB Stuttgart 1-2 Bayern Munich

Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 Hertha Berlin

Wolfsburg 2-2 Eintracht Frankfurt

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Talking points

Bayern remain top on goal difference ahead of Wednesday’s reception of Paris Saint-Germain thanks to a 2-1 win at Stuttgart. Matthijs de Ligt, growing into his role more and more, made a decisive contribution, clearing off the line after Yann Sommer surprisingly fumbled Hiroki Ito’s corner. De Ligt then appeared at the other end 80 seconds later to fire in an opener from outside the area.

With Union Berlin held at home by Köln – Frederik Rønnow, the Union goalkeeper, helped them preserve a point with some important saves – and now five points off the summit, Bayern and BVB are isolated together at the top

Schalke may well be ready for Dortmund, having leapfrogged Bochum by winning at their Ruhr near-neighbours: a 2-0 victory that was their first away in the Bundesliga since November 2019. Thomas Reis, the coach who brought Bochum back to the top flight, was subdued on the touchline on his return despite some abuse from the stands. “You can celebrate internally as well,” he said with some circumspection.

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