Borussia Dortmund suffered their first defeat of the 2017/18 Bundesliga campaign on Saturday evening, falling to last year’s runners-up RB Leipzig, 2-3, at home in Westfalenstadion. Two Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goals were not enough to keep the Black and Yellows’ impressive home streak alive, as this was their first defeat after 41 games — a record dating back to the final stretch of the Jürgen Klopp era.
Lineup: Bürki; Toljan, Sokratis, Toprak, Zagadou; Sahin, Castro, Götze; Yarmolenko, Aubameyang, Philipp.
With Lukasz Piszczek returning from international duty for Poland with a knee injury that may keep him out for months and Marcel Schmelzer, Raphael Guerreiro and Erik Durm still unavailable, the full-back spots picked themselves. Jeremy Toljan played on the right side of defence for the first time since making the move to the Westfalenstadion from Hoffenheim in August, while Dan-Axel Zagadou once again deputised on the left.
Nuri Sahin somewhat surprisingly started over Julian Weigl in midfield despite the German’s being well-rested during the international break, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos was deemed fit enough to play and preferred to Marc Bartra in central defence.
The game would end in a spectacle and as much was clear in the early goings. Dortmund had their first win of possession in Leipzig’s half after five seconds but failed to convert it into a real chance through Maximilian Philipp. It took them just four minutes to open the scoring, though, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang capitalising on a horrendous backpass by Stefan Ilsanker. The Gabonese sprinted after the short ball, took a quick glance at Peter Gulacsi in goal and coolly slotted home into the bottom right corner.
Leipzig didn’t falter with the early goal, rather taking control of the game quite impressively thanks in large part to their central midfield duo of Naby Keita and Kevin Kampl, who thoroughly outplayed the likes of Sahin and Gonzalo Castro in the first half.
Kampl initiated the equaliser after 10 minutes with a simple free-kick routine that caught Dortmund off guard: He lobbed the ball towards former BVB under-23 left-back Marcel Halstenberg, who beat Toljan badly in an aerial duel and flicked on towards Marcel Sabitzer. The Austrian beat Roman Bürki to the punch and nodded home.
Aubameyang could have restored the lead three minutes later after an insane through ball from Andrey Yarmolenko but took too long to get his feet sorted against Gulacsi and a defender. His dilly-dallying proved costly in the 25th minute, as Leipzig went in front not undeservedly.
Bruma made a mockery of the hapless Toljan not once but twice, first burning him with pure speed and then scaring him off with a simple run in the box. To make matters worse, the Portuguese winger nutmegged Bürki with his assist for Youssuf Poulsen, who had a step on Sokratis to finish the brilliant move off.
Dortmund had trouble to advance the ball into the final third with any kind of regularity, relying solely on individual moments of brilliance from Yarmolenko or Mario Götze, who was by far the best player on the pitch, or individual mistakes by the visitors.
Head coach Peter Bosz realised this problem and made two changes for the second 45 minutes, albeit with unforeseen consequences.
Christian Pulisic, fresh off his disappointment with the United States Men’s National Team against lowly Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday, replaced Toljan and Weigl came on for Sahin. Both changes made sense on the surface, with BVB moving to a back three and Weigl slotting in ahead of the central defenders to open up more consistent passing avenues.
However, the young Germany international showed signs of rust with his first few touches, one of which proved to be disastrous and quite possibly the reason why Dortmund lost the game. Receiving the ball in a tight space with three opponents around him, Weigl tried to turn his body away from danger, but he forgot to take the ball with him. Leipzig quickly found Jean-Kevin Augustin running towards goal, Sokratis close behind the Frenchman.
Dortmund’s captain on the day tugged at Augustin’s shoulder ever so slightly, enough for the subsequent penalty to be considered both correct but harsh, and the sending off even more so. Augustin converted from the spot himself to put Leipzig in the lead by two goals.
Bosz sacrificed Philipp, who wasn’t overly involved with the game anyway, and brought on Bartra, thus leaving Dortmund without any substitutions for the final 40 minutes of play — given the high intensity with which this game had to be played, this was a sneakily huge factor in the final phase.
Leipzig looked poised to pummel Dortmund for a while after their third goal but gave the hosts a lifeline with three stupid fouls. Ilsanker picked up two yellow cards within a couple of minutes for senseless fouls on Götze and Aubameyang, evening the game at 10 vs. 10 after 56 minutes. Dayot Upamecano, meanwhile, gave away a penalty by running into Aubameyang with the ball going away from goal eight minutes later. Dortmund’s star striker converted expertly after failing quite spectacularly at Augsburgs two weeks ago.
Dortmund were now clearly the dominant side and their attacks came in waves, most often over the right wing where Pulisic and Yarmolenko combined nicely. However, real scoring chances were few and far between, with Leipzig defending cleverly and Dortmund at times failing to show conviction in the box.
Yarmolenko had one good opportunity to salvage Dortmund’s unbeaten start to the season and their impressive home record, but his volley off a rebound from a Gulacsi save on Aubameyang in stoppage time went over the goal by some distance.
Players such as Götze, Castro and Zagadou were clearly cooked in the final minutes of the game, and so it wasn’t particularly difficult for Leipzig to hold on to a massive win at the Westfalenstadion.
This was Dortmund’s first big test in the Bundesliga and the Black and Yellows did not pass. Considering Leipzig were without Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner, arguably their two most dangerous players going forward, the hosts will certainly look back at a game they should have won. Even though Leipzig failed to register a single dangerous scoring chance after their third goal early in the second half, they were deserved winners. Then again, Dortmund showed moral and courage to fight their way back into the game, so a late equaliser would not have been too harsh on the guests, either.
Ultimately, the discussion on Dortmund’s worrying record in so-called “big games” early in the season will only pick up, with the Bosz side’s four losses having come against Bayern Munich in the DFL-Supercup, Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League and now Leipzig.
Yellow Wall Game Ball
Game balls are for winners only. Sorry, Mario Götze, this would’ve been yours.