Should Dortmund somehow advance out of the Champion’s League Group of Death, or compete through the Winter and into the Spring for the Bundesliga crown, Dortmund fans will have to look back at the last few days of October and first two weekends of November as the turning point in the season. After being crushed in Milan and producing only 4 draws in the last 6 league games, Dortmund’s season certainly stood at a precipice at the beginning of the week. This was especially true after last weekend’s Revierderby, where they were completely outplayed by rival Schalke in Gelsenkirchen, failed to score and were very fortunate to escape with a goalless draw. Dortmund could only thank Hitz in goal and the frame of the goal, itself, for their escape. They produced no legitimate scoring opportunities of their own, and looked helpless and sloppy trying to contend with Schalke’s high pressure.
They were also fortunate at times in the League Cup mid-week to prevail over Moenchengladbach. Gladbach are certainly the team with all of the momentum, sitting on top of the Bundesliga standings with their incredibly potent front line of Thuram, Plea, and Embolo. Both teams had long lists of injured players missing the Cup fixture, though, with Alcacer still out for Dortmund and no Reus available. Hazard produced a great chance early that rattled off the top bar, and BMG put Hitz to the test in the Dortmund goal. Dortmund continued to struggle to find goals in Alcacer’s absence. Revenge for a recent league loss, one of Dortmund’s only two wins in recent memory, was on the mind of the Foals, who emphatically grabbed the lead A powerful and long cross into the box by Wendt found Thuram all alone in front of goal. His header was powerful to say the least with goaltender Hitz powerless to do anything about it. An impressive and well deserved goal from the French teen, who has shown glimpses of being an emerging superstar like his legendary father.
The lead didn’t last long and good fortune really came to the aid of the yellow and black. Piszezek found Julian Brandt on the edge of the box and after only a couple of steps into the box, Brandt took what was far from his most powerful shot ever. Somehow, though, he put enough on it to slide into goal after deflecting off both Elvedi and Zakaria. The frustration on the goaltender Sommer’s face was readily apparent, as what should have been a nothingburger allowed Dortmund to level the game due to a couple of fortunate deflections.
At that point, though, the apprehension, nerves and lack of confidence that plagued Dortmund through so much of the game was quickly forgotten, and Hazard and Brandt quickly followed the first goal a few minutes later with a far more impressive goal. Dortmund was working the ball up their right side with several players working the ball with short passes, when Hazard spotted Brandt alone in the box. Hazard, who was deep near goal, fed a perfect short cross back to Brandt, who finished with a powerful header down near the corner of the goal. Just as impressive as that goal, was their defense holding up with the lead for the remainder of the game. Zagadou and Akjani, surprisingly, held up to the challenge.
But with the league’s toughest defense coming to town over the weekend in Wolfsburg, who had not lost a league game this season, and Inter followed by Bayern Munich following over the next week, the Dortmund players, coaches, and fans all understood that the next seven days could make or break the season. It didn’t help that there were still rumors of Favre’s demise circulating, even as he approached his 62nd birthday on Saturday. Zorc tried to calm the storm over the last week, but the endless series of draws and recent impotence in the derby did little to curb the growing frustration.
The first half of the Wolfsburg game did little to convince Dortmund fans that the mid-week Cup win signified light at the end of the tunnel. Dortmund didn’t seem to look all that dangerous against Wolfsburg’s five-man back wall anchored by American John Brooks, and Wolfsburg made it more than apparent they would defend at all costs while hoping their Dutch giant, Weghorst, could steal a goal somewhere. It did not help that Dortmund was without Alcacer, and Reus’s return ended early and abruptly when he re-injured his ankle and had to withdraw.
But, Favre’s 62nd birthday would not end in disappointment. After the half-time break, the Dortmund starters re-emerged with the confidence and attacking vigor the Dortmund faithful expected to see all season. Early in the second half, Hazard found himself alone in the box and really wound up on one that he ripped into goal with no opportunity for the goaltender to make any play on the ball. That was followed by his earning his sixth assist of the season by finding Guerriero for the finish. Down two goals is just not a position Wolfsburg is accustomed to this season, though they were recently shredded by Leipzig in the Cup, and they had no answer. Goetze added a penalty late, though the handball that led to the penalty was a fairly weak call.
Now Inter head to Dortmund. Conte will be determined to leave Germany with at least a draw and will lineup as fortified of a wall in front of goal as imaginable. The first half of the first matchup between these two was so lifeless that French defensive legend Frank LeBeouf described it as setting the sport back by decades. In the second half, Inter flashed some superior offensive skills taking advantage of their limited opportunities to simply destroy the too often shaky Dortmund defense. Dortmund rested Sancho and Weitsel over the weekend for this fixture, and hope to have Alcacer back at top form as well. Assuming Barcelona advances from the group, the mid-week matchup between these two takes on a Thunderdome appeal, as only one team will survive. Hopefully, Dortmund’s yellow wall, youth and speed can step up against Conte’s 80s style defend to the death tactics, and Dortmund can take a renewed confidence South into Bavaria to finish off a struggling Bayern side that have lost 2 recent league games and are the verge of a public and player revolt against the ineptitude of doomed manager Nico Kovac. The next week means everything.