Borussia Dortmund got one of the most important wins of the season on the road at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday evening, showing impressive resolve and comeback qualities in a 3-2 victory.
With the game sandwiched between Dortmund’s UEFA Champions League exit at AS Monaco and the DFB-Pokal semi-final at Bayern Munich on Wednesday, the starting lineup was sure to hold some surprises. Head coach Thomas Tuchel opted to rest two key players in Julian Weigl, Shinji Kagawa and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos missed the game with muscle issues.
Dortmund shaped up in a 3-4-3 with a never-before-seen back line consisting of Matthias Ginter, Sven Bender and Marcel Schmelzer. Erik Durm and Raphael Guerreiro manned the wing-back spots, while Nuri Sahin and Gonzalo Castro took up central positions. With Aubameyang on the bench for the start of the game, Marco Reus led the line, although he and wingers Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele rotated in and out of positions frequently, causing Gladbach a myriad of problems with their movement.
The visitors shot out of the gates impressively, showing no signs of any potential Champions League hangover, looking threatening in the opening 10 minutes. The quickness of Pulisic was a weapon all game long and paved the way to the opener, as the 18-year-old pounced on a loose ball from Gladbach defender Andreas Christensen, darted towards the penalty box and drew a foul from future team-mate Mahmoud Dahoud.
Replays failed to conclusively prove whether the USMNT standout was actually fouled inside the box or not, it was too close to call from all angles. Former Gladbach star Reus converted from the spot to give his team a deserved lead after 10 minutes.
Dembele could’ve added a second two minutes later and Dortmund should’ve had a second penalty another four minutes after that, as Tobias Strobl clattered Sahin’s ankle with his outstretched foot.
Unfortunately, the Turkey international had to leave the game with an apparent ankle injury. It’s just rotten luck for Sahin, who had fought his way back into the team with strong performances over the last few games.
Mikel Merino came on for Dortmund’s No. 8 in a show of committment to resting Weigl ahead of the cup match on Wednesday.
The game flattened out towards intermission, with Dortmund becoming increasingly sloppy in their passing at both ends. One of those moments led to an out-of-the-blue equaliser for Gladbach, with Merino playing a pass under moderate amounts of pressure into the feet of Andre Hahn. The attacker found Lars Stindl inside the box, Gladbach’s captain making no mistake with his finish.
The hosts had no idea how they were level at half-time as they’d played one of the worst halves of Dieter Hecking’s tenure as head coach, but the goal clearly changed their outlook on the match.
Gladbach came out of the locker room with much more decisiveness, running at Dortmund’s three defenders more energetically.
It wouldn’t be a Bundesliga away game without some slapstick from BVB, which provided the second goal for the hosts. Bender and Schmelzer ran into each other on the left side, forcing Roman Bürki into conceding a corner. Dortmund failed to clear the cross into the box, which found its way back to left-back Oscar Wendt. The Swede played a hopeful ball into the centre that Schmelzer deflected into his own net.
Given the special set of circumstances of the last week, it’d been all too understandable if Dortmund had faltered at this moment, having given up two cheap goals themselves. In a testament to their character, however, the Black and Yellows did the opposite.
Aubameyang came on for Reus after 57 minutes, Reus not being fit enough to play 90 minutes just yet, and it took the Gabonese all of 108 seconds to equalise for the visitors. Dembele pounced on a bad touch from Jannik Vestergaard and played through to his striker, who rounded ‘keeper Yann Sommer and put the chance away expertly, chipping it just over Christensen on the goal line.
Both sides traded heavy blows the rest of the way, Bürki saving against substitute Patrick Herrmann and his compatriot Sommer doing the same against Pulisic.
The post denied Guerreiro a brilliant goal on the half-turn (and Don Merino an assist for redemption) with eight minutes to go and many wondered whether Dortmund would ever experience something Germans call “match luck” ever again.
Three minutes from time, however, Pulisic won a free-kick on the left wing. Castro floated in a nice cross which found the head of Guerreiro. The diminutive left-wing-back steered the ball perfectly into the net to score his sixth league goal of the season and Dortmund had found a much-deserved winner.
Thanks to 1899 Hoffenheim’s draw at Cologne on Friday, BVB climbed back into the top three of the Bundesliga. Seeing as they will play three of the four games left in the season at home, one of those games being the direct matchup with Hoffenheim, they’re now in prime position to qualify directly for the Champions League next season.
Given all that has happened to the team over the last 10 days, it’s impossible not to be hugely impressed with Dortmund after a come-from-behind win on the road. Especially with a team that missed a few key figures.
In their stead, players such as Ginter and Pulisic stepped up and delivered perhaps the strongest performances of their respective campaigns.