Borussia Dortmund beat Benfica 4-0 in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie on Wednesday evening thanks to a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick and a goal from Christian Pulisic.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel once again went with his battle-tested 3-4-2-1 formation, making only two necessary substitutions. Christian Pulisic replaced Marco Reus’ following the Germany international’s injury on the weekend in the 6-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen, while team captain Marcel Schmelzer came into the starting XI for Raphael Guerreiro, who only made the bench after suffering from muscle problems earlier in the week. That it was Pulisic coming in for Reus — and not club-record signing Andre Schürrle — was another vote of confidence from Tuchel but hardly a surprise, given the young American’s excellent showing off the bench on the weekend.
As it has often been the case in recent weeks, Dortmund built up their plays with the centre-backs, trying to quickly switch the ball over to either wing, with Benfica allowing Erik Durm more space than Schmelzer on the left. With Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele in the half-spaces, BVB attempted to play quick and short combinations deep in opposing territory and to get behind a relatively massive Benfica defence. The visitors opted for a 4-5-1-ish look that had a clear focus on counter-attacks.
Dortmund overturned their deficit from the first leg after just four minutes. Swedish defender Victor Lindelöf gave away a cheap corner for the hosts, with Dembele swinging the ball in towards the first post. There, Pulisic flicked the ball on towards the far post, where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made his trademark looping run behind the back of his marker. From a handful of yards out, the Gabon striker made amends for forgetting his scoring boots in the first meeting in Estadio da Luz, heading in the important opener for Dortmund.
The Black and Yellows remained in control of the game for another few minutes but Benfica showed a positive reaction to going behind, clearly having been prepared for the eventuality by head coach Rui Vitoria. Without creating any clear-cut scoring chances, the Portuguese champions were very much in the game and Dortmund had to make a few clearances in the last line of their defence in order to not allow a quick equaliser.
After 20 or so minutes, Dortmund lost that control and, until a few minutes after the re-start of the game in the second half, Benfica were the more dominant side. They advanced the ball deep into Dortmund’s half at will and combined their way through their lines without much difficulty. However, Benfica failed to convert that dominance into real scoring opportunities, with a few tame efforts mostly directed right at Roman Bürki in BVB’s goal all they could muster.
The most nerve-racking moment for the home side came when Dembele received a yellow card for dissent and, only two minutes later, committed a foul that very much looked like a second bookable offence. He may well have been lucky an Englishman, Martin Atkinson, refereed the match.
One of the key moments in the match came two minutes after intermission. Lukasz Piszczek cleared a ball directly towards Benfica winger Franco Cervi who had what seemed like an open shooting lane and easy enough finish ahead of him to equalise. However, Piszczek redeemed himself with a heroic block, deflecting the shot for a corner. There is no telling what would have happened had the veteran Pole’s mistake been punished.
As it was, this would remain Benfica’s biggest chance to eliminate Dortmund. The hosts needed a few minutes to settle themselves in the second half but two goals in quick succession did the job for BVB.
First, Piszczek played an intelligent pass through the lines to Pulisic who, making a mockery of the fact he is only 18 years old, beating goalkeeper Ederson with a confident and delicate chip. The goal came at a perfect time for Dortmund, especially because Aubameyang had twice in quick succession failed to get the ball past Ederson — albeit twice from an offside position. Still, it was key for Dortmund to overcome any doubts that might have crept up with the absurd first leg still fresh on their minds.
Only two minutes after Pulisic’s goal, Aubameyang was on the end of a brilliant, trademark Dortmund move: Julian Weigl, who apart from a few losses of possession under heavy pressure was once again outstanding, played a perfectly weighted ball over the top towards Schmelzer, who made a deep run aimed at Benfica’s goal-line. The team captain took the ball first time brilliantly and delivered a sublime cross to his striker. The first-leg demons chased away by Pulisic shortly before, Aubameyang would never miss.
The two goals wore heavily on Benfica, who failed to mount any sort of comeback now needing two goals themselves. Dortmund played with confidence and security, making no defensive mistakes while waiting for any chances to add a fourth. Aubameyang did just that five minutes from time. Gonzalo Castro had sent Durm deep with an intelligent through ball and the 2014 FIFA World Cup winner squared for Aubameyang, who was left with another easy finish to complete his first Champions League hat-trick.
All in all, Dortmund deservedly eliminated Benfica and the 4-1 aggregate score seems a fairly adequate reflection of the teams’ strengths in the round-of-16 tie. Oddly enough, one could make the case that Dortmund were better in the first leg than they were in the second — and vice versa for Benfica. Wednesday’s scoreline is a bit deceptive in that Dortmund were nowhere near their best for a large stretch of the match. Regardless, a 4-0 win in the Champions League is always a triumph and this was no exception.
As for individual performances, while it is hard to overlook Aubameyang with his treble, a special mention has to go to Pulisic, who may well have been the best player on the pitch and became Dortmund’s youngest scorer in European football’s most celebrated competition. Marc Bartra also continued his impressive run of games with a strong defensive performance and a number of good build-up moves.
From the quarter-finals onwards, there are no restrictions as to who Dortmund could face. So far, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich are possible opponents. The rest will be decided next week, with the draw set to take place on Friday, March 17.
Before then, Dortmund have to manoeuvre two important away fixtures, with a trip to Hertha BSC on Saturday March 11 and the re-scheduled DFB-Pokal meeting with Sportfreunde Lotte on Tuesday, March 14.