Thomas Tuchel had more than a few surprises up his sleeve going into the match against Bayer Leverkusen, as he made five changes to the starting lineup compared to the game against Porto.
Seventeen-year-old Christian Pulisic made his first Bundesliga start on the left side. Erik Durm came in for Marcel Schmelzer at left-back and Moritz Leitner, Matthias Ginter and Sven Bender, who returned from injury, came in for Shinji Kagawa, Julian Weigl and Nuri Sahin in midfield. Considering the lineups, the match plan seemed rather obvious: Counter Leverkusen’s intense pressing with physicality and speed rather than playing through it.
The game began just as imagined. Both teams were able to apply a lot of pressure on the ball in the opponent’s half and forced the other team to punt the ball upfront. Meaningful flat passes in the middle or even final third were a rarity and usually took place on the wing or after a lucky bounce from a 50/50 ball.
The rest of the first half was basically the same boredo- eh… pressing duel and was only interrupted by some set-pieces and nice diagonal balls from Hummels and Leitner. Then came the second minute of injury time, the 47th minute, and it added a whole ‘nother dimension to the game.
Ten (10!) flat passes in a row led to a great goalscoring opportunity for Aubameyang. Leitner was able to get the ball through midfield and after a great dribbling from Mkhitaryan the ball found Pulisic who squared for Aubameyang. Unfortunately, the striker should have done better, and didn’t manage to score his 21st Bundesliga goal of the season, although he was completely unmarked inside the box.
At the half Reus replaced Pulisic, who had a decent starting XI debut. Papadopoulos and Ramalho replaced the injured Toprak and the already booked Kampl on Leverkusen’s side. The game, however, continued as intense and long-ball oriented as it was.
In the 50th minute it was then Leverkusen’s turn to create a chance through some good passing but Bellarabi’s shot was partially blocked after a nice one-two with Chicharito. Shortly afterwards, Bellarabi again took a shot, but this time with his hand at Sokratis’ face. Admittedly it was more of a grab than a punch or push but he was lucky to stay on the pitch, regardless.
Then the 64th minute came and with it one of the strangest series of events you’ll ever see in professional football.
But first things first. Bender won the ball against Kießling, as he does, and Kießling fouled him in the process. The referee failed to let the play run, although the ball was clearly heading towards Ginter, and blew his whistle.
Ginter took the following free-kick about 5 meters away from the spot of the foul. His pass reached Reus, who had some space to run into, and he played a lovely through ball for the tireless Durm. The full-back squared the ball for Aubameyang, who lost his defender with a brilliant run and was able to finally get his 21st goal of the season.
So far so good, but what’s so weird about all of this?
Well, Roger Schmidt was a bit too angry about the spot where the free-kick was taken and Felix Zwayer, the referee, sent him to the stands. Roger was having none of it and decided he didn’t want to go to the stands, especially because he wasn’t informed by the referee himself about his exclusion but only by his captain Stefan Kießling.
Much like a kid that tries to test its parents’ boundaries thinking they won’t go through with the threatened consequences. But Felix Zwayer did go through with it and simply interrupted the game for as long as Roger Schmidt wouldn’t leave the bench.
It took nine minutes until Roger Schmidt found a suitable seat and the football, if you want to call it that, continued. Shortly after the break, Tuchel used his second sub and brought on Julian Weigl for the very solid returnee Bender.
Only two minutes after the match resumed, Zwayer was again the centre of attention.
Sokratis decided to fly into an aerial duel against Chicharito with both arms spread as wide as possible from his body. The ball hit his hand and nobody could’ve complained if Zwayer decided to give the pen. Luckily for Dortmund, he didn’t.
Unfortunately, Sokratis then injured himself and had to be subbed off for Neven Subotic in the 77th minute.
Eleven minutes later, Reus had a huge chance to effectively kill the game but didn’t manage to get the ball past the keeper or to Aubameyang after a great through ball from Ginter.
Reus’ missed opportunity almost came back to bite Dortmund, but Chicharito just missed the goal from close range in stoppage time.
All in all it was a rather lucky but nevertheless great win for Dortmund, who were able to see off Leverkusen without Ilkay Gündogan and while resting some of their key players. With the league position all but confirmed, Thomas Tuchel and the players can now concentrate on the probably more important Europa League and cup games to come.