Okay, you got me, Dortmund probably isn’t unstoppable, but they just continue to roll no mater what challenges are thrown in their way. Kicking off the start of the second half of the season away at Leipzig was going to be a challenge for Dortmund no matter what the circumstances. But, anything and everything seemed stacked against them. First, it was the pressure of Bayern’s 3-1 thrashing of Hoffenheim in Sinsheim on Friday that served notice that Bayern would not relinquish the Bundesliga crown easily. The pressure was on Dortmund before the game even started with Bayern ready to narrow the lead to just one game (3 points), should Dortmund falter.
Then there were the defensive injuries to two centerbacks, Akjani and Zagadou, combined with their new Argentine signing playing in South American with an Argentine national youth team. So it looked like another makeshift backline with Julian Weigl playing centerback alongside Diallo. But the real shivers hit the Dortmund fans when it was announced that Marco Reus would miss the game due to injury. A makeshift backline and Dortmund’s star attacking player out, the ingredients were there for what could be a major disappointment in Leipzig.
And the Dortmund fans stayed on edge through much of the second half. The first half was all Dortmund. Dortmund commanded possession and got the first goal nearly midway through the first half. Of course, it was the all everything signing Axel Witsel who grabbed the first goal. Witsel has two goals this season for Dortmund, both have come against Leipzig. Guerriero sent in a corner kick that just cleared over all of the heads. Witsel was waiting on the far side, knocked it down and fired a line shot for the far corner just under the bar. Nothing Leipzig could do about that.
And the single goal was all Dortmund would need. Hakimi had a nice header on a free kick late in the first half, and Alcacer just missed by inches on a late shot in the second half that bounced down off the underside of the crossbar but didn’t completely cross the line.
This game, though, was all about players smelling the title and stepping up big. Start with Julian Weigl, who not only played well but had a game high 9 clearances including two interceptions. Now, there are certainly some fans who will never be happy and complain that he looks a bit out of place at times, playing aggressively for a centerback with some risky challenges, but at the end of the day it was an emergency assignment and he passed with flying colors. Diallo was also excellent, and Burki likely had as good of a claim to the title of player of the match as anyone. He had two world class saves on Sabitzer, the first of which was extraordinary, as Sabitzer was close to goal with a tight angle that looked like Burki should have no chance. The second, Burki barely got a leg to. A fantastic day for the Dortmund shot stopper who has 6 shutouts on the season so far.
Of course, it was Witsel that played as well as anybody and scored the games only goal. He simply owned midfield shutting down Leipzig counters before they could get started, and showcasing some extraordinary passing skills including at least one remarkable ball deep out on the right to spring Sancho. Witsel’s long diagonal passes are as good as anyone in the league and comparable to anyone in Europe right now. Delaney joined him in midfield with an extraordinary game. He was credited with 6 breakups, where his physical presence simply created problems for Leipzig in organizing any counters all day. Rangnick tried to throw as much pressure on Dortmund as he could, and Dortmund didn’t create as many good chances as they should have. Goetze, Sancho and Guerriero, along with Witsel and Delaney, put in the extra-effort in this game, though, running full speed to make every play that they could. Pulisic came on for the last fourteen minutes, and also played hard, as did Alcacer who nearly put it away with his late blast off the underside of the cross bar.
After the game, Leipzig’s Poulsen stated that Leipzig played the better game, and he wasn’t necessarily wrong concerning the second half. But Dortmund has the players this season that are making the extraordinary plays when they need them, and the team doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Without question, the second half of the Bundesliga season is going to be a fun race for the title and Dortmund is going to fight for it.