Despite a frantic start to the game, Borussia Dortmund put on a strong showing to beat Mainz 05 by two goals at the Coface Arena on Friday evening.
Goals from Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ensured the players can sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that a four game winless run is over and second place is secure for another weekend.
Much of the pre-game talk was about Thomas Tuchel, as he returned to Mainz as BVB coach for the first time. Tuchel almost selected his ‘favourite’ XI, the only change seeing fellow Mainz returnee Joo-Ho Park replace Marcel Schmelzer at left-back.
Mainz looked the more likely to score in the opening stages, and it was only thanks to Roman Bürki that BVB didn’t concede first. A quick move down the left exploited Ginter, but the Swiss goalkeeper was equal to Yoshinori Muto’s close-range effort.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was booked for bringing down Jairo Samperio as BVB struggled to find their feet, unable to get to grips with the fast start to the game, forced by the intense pressure applied by the hosts. After a worrying opening ten minutes, Dortmund woke up. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, beautifully found by a long Ilkay Gündogan pass, put Henrikh Mkhitaryan through. Though the chance came to nothing after a wayward first touch, the momentum suddenly seemed to swing.
Everything was much sharper and Marco Reus, after some smart play with Shinji Kagawa, forced Loris Karius into his first save of the night. He wouldn’t have a chance the next time Reus had a sight of goal.
As Mainz tried to play out, Dortmund shut off all options and Mkhitaryan pounced on a loose pass. The Armenian found Aubameyang in a good position, where he attracted two defenders and – without looking – laid the ball on a plate for Marco Reus. He’s scored more goals against Mainz than any other side, and added his ninth career goal (in 12 games) against a club that must be sick of the sight of him.
The football started to flow – Shinji Kagawa, Mkhitaryan, Julian Weigl and Gündogan were all excellent – but BVB’s joy was short lived. A hopeful effort from Mkhitaryan at the end of a counter was the only shot Dortmund managed between Reus’ 18th minute opener and half-time.
Meanwhile, Mainz pushed forward. Roman Bürki produced one of his finest saves for the club since his €3.5m move from SC Freiburg in the summer, tipping a Samperio free-kick over the bar. A number of corners came and went, BVB held on to their lead until the break.
The second half started at the same breakneck speed as the first. Within a minute, BVB had a penalty. Wrongly. Niko Bungert won the ball from Aubameyang and had made his challenge outside the box. The Gabonese couldn’t stay up and referee Tobias Stieler, weirdly, was wrong on two counts and pointed to the spot.
Marco Reus, eight from eight from the penalty spot in his career before Friday evening, saw Karius save his effort. Justice? Maybe, but that was of no comfort to Dortmund, for whom a second goal would have made the remaining 43 minutes so much simpler.
Roman Bürki was called upon yet again as Muto broke into the box, while Kagawa, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan all conspired to miss good chances at the other end. Beautifully slid through by assist machine Matthias Ginter, Kagawa’s effort was the worst of the lot.
Marco Reus was replaced by Sven Bender in a change which raised a few eyebrows but BVB doubles their lead within three minutes of the substitution. A strong pressing shape from Dortmund restricted Mainz in a deep position, just like the first goal of the game. Aubameyang forced an error and capitalised on Daniel Brosinski’s misjudged pass. Racing towards goal, the striker, for the second time, unselfishly gave a team-mate a better chance to score. Henrikh Mkhitaryan obliged, rounding Karius to secure the three points.
The Armenian was superb all evening and merited his goal. Aubameyang, Bürki and Weigl all gave strong showings, but Mkhitaryan was a cut above the rest.
When moving the ball quickly higher up the pitch Dortmund were the superior side by far, but Mainz rarely allowed the Schwarzgelben to dictate play. Struggling to control the pace of the game and failing to make the most of counters, this game was made difficult by some sloppy play in the final phase and a strong performance from Mainz, who forced BVB into a higher tempo game than Tuchel would’ve liked.
Nonetheless, a win after returning from the international break is more than welcome, no matter how it came. BVB hadn’t won in four before the two week hiatus, but are second in the Bundesliga with a four point cushion and can watch the rest of the matchday unfold in peace. Attention turns to Europe again now, with Dortmund travelling to Azerbaijan to play Qabala on Thursday.