Borussia Dortmund may not be the most creative side in terms of their attacking play, but they keep finding new ways to embarrass themselves. This time, they threw away a four-goal lead in the Revierderby against Schalke 04 on Matchday 13 of the Bundesliga.
Lineup: Weidenfeller; Toprak, Sokratis, Schmelzer; Pulisic, Weigl, Sahin, Guerreiro; Yarmolenko, Aubameyang, Götze.
Head coach Peter Bosz, fully aware that this was fairly close to a must-win game, opted for a somewhat surprising change to his usual system. Deploying a back three, the Dutchman mirrored his counterpart Domenico Tedesco’s 3-4-3 formation.
Roman Weidenfeller made a rare start in lieu of Roman Bürki, who suffered a head injury — likely a concussion — in Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League loss to Tottenham Hotspur. Bosz made four other changes to the starting XI, with Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Ömer Toprak, Nuri Sahin and Christian Pulisic replacing Marc Bartra, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Jeremy Toljan and Shinji Kagawa.
The game exploded to life right out of the gates, with Dortmund blitzing the visitors within the first 25 minutes.
However, it was actually Schalke who had the first opening through Yevhen Konoplyanka after only 30 seconds, the Ukraine winger skying a shot over Weidenfeller’s goal from a tight angle. The Royal Blues were aggressive — arguably overly so — and picked up two fouls that were worthy of a booking within 150 seconds.
Dortmund clearly surprised Tedesco with their formation change and managed to control the game apart from Konoplyanka’s chance thanks to their strong numbers in midfield and solid spells of possession especially over the left side and half-space with Sahin, Raphael Guerreiro and Mario Götze.
It took them 12 minutes to open the scoring through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had in typical fashion lurked at the back post when a wayward Sahin shot waited to be pushed over the line. It was actually the Gabonese’s hand that did the job after a block from Ralf Fährmann, but the goal correctly stood.
Sahin picked up another rather fortuitous assist six minutes later, playing in a harmless free-kick from the right wing that Benjamin Stambouli, needlessly and inexplicably, put into his own net.
If the first goal had given Dortmund some much-needed confidence, the second turned them into the Harlem Globetrotters for a few beautiful minutes. Aubameyang made an incredible run down the right wing and whipped in a fantastic, pinpoint cross onto the head of Mario Götze, who scored his first league goal in over a year to give Dortmund a three-goal lead.
When Guerreiro smashed a volley into the net five minutes later, the game looked for all intents and purposes to be over — and it should’ve been.
Tedesco reacted with a rare double change after only 33 minutes, bringing on Leon Goretzka and Amine Harit for Weston McKennie, who was in danger of seeing a second yellows, and Franco di Santo. Immediately, Schalke’s attacks had a bit more meat on them even if the visitors failed to register any noteworthy attempts on Weidenfeller’s goal.
The only blemish on a wonderful first half for Dortmund was the pity referee Deniz Aytekin showed to Thilo Kehrer, as Schalke’s defender should have been sent off with a second booking — he had already been fortunate to evade a direct red card for a two-footed challenge on Sahin earlier in the half.
Once again, Dortmund failed to come out of the half-time locker room with the same intensity as they had in the first period. Duels they had won with ease in the first 45 minutes now went Schalke’s way, there were more fouls giving the visitors easy access to the penalty box and when those set pieces were swung into the area, it was usually a Schalke player who won the aerial duel.
This proved costly after eight minutes, but Naldo’s headed goal was correctly waved off for offside. Guido Burgstaller’s header, however, counted in the 61st minute, the Austrian benefitting from a positioning error from Sokratis.
Schalke tasted blood, clearly having seen how Dortmund reacted to previous negative moments in second halves, and pushed for another quick goal. Weidenfeller’s sailing under a cross from the left wing, paired with a Sahin positioning error, did the trick for Harit in the 65th minute.
Now everything came together for Dortmund, as Aubameyang was sent off with a second booking seven minutes later. It was a correct decision in a nutshell, as the striker hacked down Harit from behind without even a small chance to win the ball, but given how Kehrer had been let off in the first half, the Black and Yellows have a right to feel aggrieved.
Burgstaller almost scored from the ensuing free kick, but Weidenfeller redeemed himself with an incredible reaction save against Burgstaller, pushing the ball onto the post.
Dortmund rode their luck for a while, but everyone in the stadium knew what was going to happen eventually. The hosts never managed to get a hold of the game in the second half, with energy levels once again dropping after an hour or so. Losing Götze to an apparent ankle injury didn’t help, but neither did Bosz’s changes.
The head coach curiosly opted to switch back to a 4-3-3 after Schalke’s second goal and later brought on Zagadou at left-back after the sending off.
The Frenchman suffered badly and was largely at fault for Schalke’s third goal, with Daniel Caligiuri going past him with ease and smashing home with his left foot.
Seven minutes of added time will have made most BVB fans wonder if they’d end up losing the game after the inevitable equaliser. Naldo got to be the hero for Schalke four minutes into added time, winning a header after a solid pick-and-roll move in the centre of the box.
Thankfully, that was the final moment of action in a tragic drama of two very different acts.
Peter Bosz told German TV station Sky about 15 times in a three-minute interview that “this cannot happen.” D’uh.
Dortmund have hit rock bottom in their downwards spiral, or so one would hope, by squandering a four-goal lead at home. It would be a mild surprise still to see the Dutchman let go, not least because there doesn’t seem to be a viable alternate solution available right now, but clearly something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
The team crumbles whenever something bad happens, even when that situation makes it only a three-goal lead with 30 minutes to go. In addition, the team looks tired and sluggish in the second half of every game at this point, something Bosz not only has refused to recognise but actively disputes.
It could be an eventful Sunday for the team and club officials, who will face a crowd of presumably angry members at the general assembly in Dortmund.