Yes, what a nice headline. The 1-1 draw against RSC Anderlecht was enough to stay ahead of Arsenal, who didn’t manage a 6-0 or similar over Galatasaray to top the group. A massive achievement, given how the rest of the season has turned out.
It wasn’t the most spectacular match of all time to behold, but it had it’s moments. The equalizer in the end unnecessary, but irrelevant looking at the bigger picture, as Dortmund will avoid all other group winners.
Whether first place will mean an easy draw for Dortmund remains to be seen, but this match against Anderlecht had plenty of other stories to tell. A comeback hattrick if you will, as Jürgen Klopp started Nuri Sahin in place for the slightly injured Kehl. A “double eight” so to speak, lining up in defensive midfield alongside Ilkay Gündogan.
Sahin held out for the full ninety minutes and even picked up the assist, which is a great story in itself. But it got even better, when he partnered up with Oliver Kirch for the last 25 minutes, as Ilkay Gündogan got to save some energy for next Saturday. Both Sahin and Kirch had spend most of their rehab time together and it was touching to see both ending their times of suffering on the same night.
It felt even a bit more special, when “Kuba, Kuba, Kuba” chants ringed to the ground, as Jakub Blaszczykowski got ready for his substitution. The fan favorite had been out for 318 days since his torn acl and a few setbacks, the Polish national team captain finally made his comeback.
It was just the right opportunity for Klopp to give his long-term injured comebackers and fringe players some game time, as Anderlecht were not trying their most to win the game. So time to look at a few players individually…
Klopp fielded half a B team, given that Ginter, Durm, Sahin, Großkreutz, Kagawa and Immobile are currently not on the team sheet when it really matters. And it became evident why, as Dortmund hardly looked as good as they did on Friday. Shinji Kagawa is still far, far away from his old self. Often letting himself down with his first touch, something that used to be one of greatest weapons. Kevin Großkreutz is still struggling to contribute offensively, while he lacks old resoluteness in defense. Nuri Sahin is obviously not fit enough yet and Bender, Kehl and Gündogan are all in good form.
Same accounts for Erik Durm, who probably lost his spot on the left back to Marcel Schmelzer, who showed great form in the last two games. Mats Hummels’s overshadowing performance against Hoffenheim made Klopp’s new strategy more clear, as the Dortmund coach isn’t rushing his players after injuries, but gives them enough time on the training ground to gain a certain level before their return onto the field. Schmelzer didn’t show any nerve at all, while Durm has been affected by the situation in recent games, hence the experienced 26 year old should be the natural pick for the current situation.
Looking further upfront, Ciro Immobile used his chance to bring his name back into the limelight. It wasn’t only the goal he scored, but the whole shift he put in during the game. The first few actions still seemed a bit awkward and misplaced, but as the game progressed, Immobile found better and better into it. We’ll see if it was enough to push Adrian Ramos out of the starting spot on Saturday, but it’s likely to see the Colombian play against his former club. Either way, Immobile showed that he is a valid option and with Ilkay Gündogan being already frighteningly close to old brilliance, there shall be some inspiration at last on the pitch. Immobile only works if there is someone who feeds him and it looks like Dortmund will create more in the next games than they used to be, so some who can actually finish wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Albeit the great comeback stories, the game had a certain amount of tragic floating over the field. No, it was not the fact that Kevin Großkreutz was involved in an airborne challenge, in which he looked hardly like a professional footballer. No Aleksandar Mitrovic scoring the equalizer was not as tragic as Mkhitaryan desperately trying to get his name on the score sheet, adding yet another chapter to the ‘Adventures of Mishitaryan’, a book which is – of course – still unfinished.
Jürgen Klopp still believes in the Armenian play maker and surely, Miki must find the net eventually. Yet, the same thing could have been said for the past gazillion games. By now it seems he will not get out of his funk without psychological assistance, as the torment over fluffed opportunities is becoming more and more visible along with a certain helplessness, as all his efforts seem to have the same result.
It’s a weird situation. Mkhitaryan is obviously full of footballing skill and genius and doing so many things right. His game against RSC Anderlecht was superb, apart from the finishing, but a player as self critical as Mkhitaryan will measure himself on goals scored.
All we can say is: Hang in there, Miki!
Now one exciting question remains: Who will Borussia Dortmund draw in the knock-out stages? Drop your favorite pick in the comments!
Confirmed possibilities are Juventus, FC Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk. It still can be either Barcelona/PSG, Roma/Manchester, City/CSKA Moskva and Sporting if unmentionables mess up.