Dortmund gave a huge boost to their top 4 dreams on Sunday after defeating fellow European place challenger Frankfurt in a dramatic 3-2 victory. Having lost the first leg of their tie to RB Salzburg in their Europa League Final 16 matchup, Peter Stoeger needed to balance the need to bring a fresh and ready squad into the second leg this week with a very important league match on Sunday. It wasn’t pretty but it was certainly dramatic, and the 3-2 win keeps Dortmund in 3rd place, just 1 point off hated rivals Schalke for second place
An Eye On Salzburg
After losing rather embarrassingly to Austrian side RB Salzburg on Thursday, Dortmund looked to get back amongst the winners against Frankfurt. Manager Peter Stoeger, likely with an eye on the return leg against Salzburg, fielded a heavily rotated team on Sunday, electing to give Michy Batshuayi a rest while supplying lesser used squad players some valuable minutes. Andre Schurrle got the start at striker and Max Philipp, Mahmoud Dahoud, Gonzalo Castro and Manuel Akanji all got the start for die Schwarzgelben, leaving multiple key players on the bench for a key rest before Thursday. It was a tense match, and for a time it looked as though Frankfurt might sneak the win out from under Dortmund, but Stoeger’s gamble ultimately paid off, with the team capturing all 3 points it needed to maintain their lead in the table over Frankfurt.
Philipp Getting Back on Track
At the beginning of this season, no new summer signing generated as much of an instant impact as Max Philipp, as he managed to score 6 goals in the first half of the season. A devastating kneecap injury at the beginning of December knocked him out of action for 2 months. He returned to action in February, but had not made much of an impact since his return. He may have failed to score once again on Sunday, but he started to flash the talent that made him such an intriguing player early in his Dortmund career. He was given a rare opportunity to start by Peter Stoeger on Sunday, and he played excellent in the first half. Even back at full fitness, he is unlikely to feature as often as he did at the beginning of the season when Marco Reus was still recovering from his own knee injury, but he showed again on a Sunday that he can be a valuable contributor. He appears to have already eclipsed Andriy Yarmolenko’s greatly reduced role under Stoeger and he looks set to challenge for a starting place in time for the run-up to the end of the season.
Mid-Match Drop Off
Dortmund may have clearly been the better team in the opening 20 minutes, but their continued inability to put teams away after getting them on the ropes nearly came back to bite them against Frankfurt. They were perhaps a bit lucky on the first goal, which came off of Frankfurt defender Marco Russ and deflected into the net, but they deserved to score following a period of dominance to open the match. However, they would quickly fall off the pace, and by half-time Frankfurt looked nearly the better side. That trend continued in the second half, and the visitors could have easily taken the lead if they were a bit more clinical in front of goal, but Dortmund managed to make it over an hour before finally conceding. They would go on to win the match anyways, but the pragmatic Stoeger was incensed with their waning performance as the minutes ticked away. It wasn’t until Michy Batshuayi’s introduction that Dortmund began to look like the better team again, but Peter Stoeger’s quest to get a full 90 minutes of consistent effort from his team continues.
A Superhero Required
Peter Stoeger might have been hoping to get through Sunday without needing his key goalscorer Michy Batshuayi, but the Chelsea loanee came on for Philipp with a half hour to play and was called upon to win the match for his team after Frankfurt managed to tie the score at 1 with a quarter hour to play. Batman wouldn’t let the draw stand for long, as he took the lead back for the hosts just 2 minutes later. It looked as though Dortmund would play out the rest of the match with a 2-1 victory, but just 1 minute into stoppage time, Frankfurt’s own substitute, Danny Blum scored from a brilliant passing move to knot the score once again. However, the deflated fans wouldn’t be down for long as Batshuayi got on the end of another long pass and beat Lukas Hradecky for the match winner.
In their wildest dreams, most fans could scarcely imagine a new striker that would score as freely as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did for the club, but Batshuayi has been nothing short of a revelation since joining in January. The Belgian also seems to be thoroughly enjoying life in Germany, and despite his rights still being owned by Chelsea, it is hard to imagine Dortmund and the player not pushing desperately to make the move permanent this summer. He fits this team down to the ground, and the club have recently taken a big step toward showing their players that the aim is to compete for major silverware, which could be enough to convince Batshuayi that Dortmund is the best place for him.
A Man of His Word
In this day and age, a player who strongly identifies with a club and displays a genuine interest in maintaining a long-term relationship with its fans is a rare sight indeed. You wouldn’t know it from their polished public statements, aided in part by professional public relations specialists, but most modern players have been forced to take more of a mercenary approach to their careers. Football is a cutthroat business, and players have learned to take the same approach as their clubs; as a good manager or club hierarchy will move on from a player, or bring in another if it is the best move for their team, a player must have the same considerations for his own career. One club men are almost as hard to find as Ballon d’Or winners, and as the game becomes driven ever more by money, this trend will only continue.
Marco Reus may not technically be a one-club man, but he may as well be. Reus was born in Dortmund and spent 10 years in the academy before leaving for Rot Weiss Ahlen for 3 years. After spending the next 4 as a young professional with Monchengladbach, Reus returned in 2012 and has become arguably the most loved and talented player at the club in the years since. He has repeatedly backed up his talk of loyalty with his actions, twice signing a new deal with the club in good faith, even while the rest of the team has been in a constant state of flux. When discussing his new deal, he spoke about how his contract was meant as a message to his teammates that something can be built at Dortmund. As one of the most talented attackers in the world, he could have easily moved to almost any club in the world for an astronomical fee and wages far beyond what Dortmund could possibly offer, so for him to choose to commit his future to die Schwarzgelben should tell every Borussia Dortmund fan in the world how special he truly is.