Borussia Dortmund beat FC Porto 2-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 32 on Thursday evening in Signal Iduna Park.
The stage was set to “make Thursday our day,” as head coach Thomas Tuchel put it before the game. With the Europa League entering the knockout stages, BVB must make the competition more of a priority than it was during the first half of the season.
The fans in the Westfalenstadion, most of all, of course, the famous Yellow Wall, reminded the team of their responsibility with a brilliant tifo that read: “Complete the collections – It’s in your hands.”
Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall is looking spectacular tonight. pic.twitter.com/9iq8NW7HeB
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 18, 2016
Dortmund could become only the fifth club to complete the set of European trophies with a win in Basel in May.
Dortmund fans around the world couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the club tweet out the official lineup shortly after 0600 pm local time: Nuri Sahin was to start the game.
The Turkey international hadn’t played in 355 days, problems with a tendon in his adductor muscle sidelining him since that brilliant 3-0 victory in the Revierderby in February of 2015.
Elsewhere, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Julian Weigl and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned to the starting XI, replacing Neven Subotic, Matthias Ginter and Gonzalo Castro, respectively.
Roman Weidenfeller and Ilkay Gundogan, who both surely would’ve started the game, missed the contest with an illness.
With the double pivot of Sahin and Weigl, Dortmund seemed to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but that was on paper only.
In reality, Dortmund played with three at the back in possession, with the back line consisting of Lukasz Piszczek on the right, Sokratis in the middle, and Mats Hummels on the left.
Marcel Schmelzer pushed far up the field, almost playing as left-winger, while Sahin and Weigl remained deep to facilitate Dortmund’s buildup play together with Hummels.
The skipper himself interpreted his role very offensively, often dribbling the ball deep into enemy territory.
The Black and Yellows started with a bang. Hummels’ amazing through ball to Schmelzer after just three minutes was a sign of things to come, even though nothing came of it. Only three minutes later, however, they went in front.
A cross following a short corner from Henrikh Mkhitaryan found Piszczek. Iker Casillas made a great save against the Pole’s first effort but could do nothing about his header from the rebound. It was Piszczek’s first goal in a European competition for Dortmund.
The hosts were utterly dominant after the goal, failing to convert their superiority into more clear-cut goalscoring opportunities, however.
Shinji Kagawa wasted the best chance Dortmund produced in the 32nd minute, as he didn’t get himself set after Schmelzer found him with a clever cutback pass.
Porto didn’t get any chance to harm the Black and Yellows, who rarely lost the ball in buildup play. Whenever they did, their strong Gegenpressing, notably from Sahin, Schmelzer, and Hummels, allowed them to regain possession.
All in all, it was one of the strongest 45 minutes of the entire campaign even without that precious second goal.
Porto managed to get a better grip in the second 45 minutes. Dortmund still had the vast majority of the ball, but didn’t look quite as sharp in the process.
The visitors managed that with a lot of aggression. Marco Reus almost fell victim to that “strategy,” as Silvestre Varela, who played at right-back amidst a reshuffling from Porto coach Jose Peseiro, hacked him down at the sideline in the 58th minute.
— Christian Stein (@Zeilenstein) February 18, 2016
In another sign that this season is so different to the last of the Klopp era, the Germany international didn’t have to be stretchered off, rather returning to the field after a few moments.
He couldn’t finish a move that Moritz Leitner, who replaced Sahin after 57 minutes, initiated with a brilliant lobbed pass to Shinji Kagawa, but didn’t waste his next chance.
It was pure karma that Reus scored the second goal 13 minutes after that brutal foul, which Varela survived with just a yellow card. Much of the praise belongs to Kagawa, however. The Japanese didn’t have a brilliant game, but his work before the goal can’t go unnoticed. The diminutive midfielder held his own in a duel at the edge of the box before finding Mkhitaryan by himself in the penalty area.
A smart pass and a deflected shot later, Dortmund had doubled their lead.
Mkhitaryan had the best chance to effectively decide the tie with a thunderous header, but Casillas managed to get his fingertips on the ball that only hit the woodwork.
Roman Bürki, who didn’t have to do anything the entire game to that point, then saved Porto’s only chance, a shot from substitute striker Suk Hyun-Jun, and the game fizzled out.
xG map for BVB-Porto. A Dortmund that doesn’t leak any chances on defensive errors would be a scary sight. pic.twitter.com/nnt3CTYbhI
— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) February 18, 2016
Dortmund put themselves into a fairly comfortable situation for the return leg next Thursday, but failed to win the tie over 90 minutes. Porto were poor and will be happy to have gone home down by only two goals.
Hummels’ amazing run of form and the return of Sahin has Dortmund fans buzzing. The two were integral in a clever game plan from Tuchel, whose tactical repertoire has become much broader in the first few weeks of the new calendar year.
Dortmund kept their fourth clean sheet of 2016 and firmly established themselves as the team to beat in the Europa League.