With all of the attention and accolades being thrown at Dortmund’s latest super-teen, Erling Haaland, it seemed only appropriate that it would be Dortmund’s other unstoppable teen that would so effortlessly decide the game in Haaland’s first-half absence. Sancho’s goal in the 15th minute, set up by great work by Brandt and Hazard on the left side followed by a casual pass to Sancho for the easy goal was all it would take for Dortmund to dispatch of Freiburg and win their third straight.
With 17 goals and 18 assists, calling the 19-20 season as being a great season for Sancho is a massive understatement. Sancho has more than established himself as one of the elite wing players in the game. That it will take a bid in excess of 130 million euros to even get Dortmund’s attention this summer is also an understatement, and that is even assuming the 19 year old Sancho is ready to move on and doesn’t sign a lucrative extension and play for another half or complete season. Having tripled their Puma sponsorship contract, added a new league sponsor for their shirt (1&1), with Evonik staying on for Cup and Champion’s League games, and with other lucrative opportunities on the way, holding on to Sancho with an extension for at least another season is far from outside of the realm of possibilities.
As for this season, Dortmund is still in contention. Wins over a collapsing Bremen and middling Freiburg were far from the most impressive wins of the season. In fact, Freiburg seriously threatened the Dortmund goal twice in that game, but for some excellent play from Burki in goal and a surprising save from Pisczcek, who seems much more comfortable in a back three the past few games. But there is much more of a confidence with this Dortmund team, as they were patient early in the game against a Freiburg stacked deep in front of their own goal, while Dortmund showed far more intent in their attacks without the frustration they would have showed earlier in the season against a team playing all 11 deep in their own end. When Freiburg had to come out and press in midfield in the second half, it seemed inevitable that Dortmund would score a second and put the game out of reach. The second never came, but the quality and opportunities were there. Though the game was only 1-0, Dortmund never appeared nervous or desperate, as they would have earlier in the season under similar circumstances.
The Bremen match was never in doubt. Though it was in Bremen, Werder have completely collapsed in every phase of the game this season and is a likely relegation candidate if they can’t put together some sort of a run at some point in the ruckrunde. The Black and Yellow exacted their revenge from an inexplicable Cup loss with goals from Zagadou and Haaland, while Bremen posed no serious threat on goal in 90 minutes.
The real confidence boost for this team came against Paris St. Germain. Sports fans knew there was a chance that Dortmund could take out PSG in the Champion’s League, following the tough draw of the petrodollar-fueled-superteam. PSG has the half-billion euro roster with Neymar, Mbappe, DiMaria, Verratti, and Silva, but they have simply never coalesced under Tuchel. While the stats were somewhat even, Dortmund simply looked the far more dangerous team all game, but for the incredibly quick response PSG had to Dortmund’s first goal, with Neymar flashing his speed on the quick answer. But Haaland put Dortmund up first, and even after PSG answered with the lightening quick response from Neymar, Haaland finished one more for the well deserved Dortmund victory. Haaland took his Champion’s League total goals this season to an impressive 10, and Dortmund is well positioned heading to Paris on March 11 to advance.
Impressive in my mind was the fact that Dortmund scored so easily against PSG, while missing Marco Reus and Julian Brandt. Certainly, Sancho and Haaland have emerged as world class in their own right, but Reus and Brandt have been the creative playmakers in the opponent’s third that have made this team go this season.
Yes, Sancho has that incredible speed, and has proven this season he is a legit scoring threat to say the least. And Haaland is no slouch in the speed department, and is emerging as one of the most prolific scorers on the planet. Hazard is also no slouch in either the quick burst nor assist department. Yet, there was just this suspicion on my part and others that without Reus or Brandt to distribute the ball that opportunities might be few and far between.
The skepticism was misplaced. First, because the Sancho, Haaland, and Hazard line up top was just far more formidable than even Dortmund fans expected. Sancho and Haaland are not one trick ponies, as both add incredible speed over distance in addition to the incredible threat they pose near the box, allowing them to drop into midfield and be part of the buildup or take a counter all the way from midfield on their own. Both also have incredible vision to see the opportunities coming long before everyone else. Haaland also makes a huge target in the opponent’s end for Hummels or Witsel to launch long balls and foil an opponent’s high or mid-stripe press.
Of course, I also far underrated what Emre Can would bring to this team. I anticipated that he might be an upgrade over the options of Delaney and the departed Weigl, sitting deep in midfield next to Witsel. But his impact is exponentially higher than I ever expected. He combines the physical abilities of Delaney with the distribution skills of Wigel, and is a massive upgrade in the attack over both. Witsel’s play has also improved, as he doesn’t have to cover for Delaney’s lack of speed or technical abilities, nor does he have to cover for Weigl’s lack of physicality.
At the end of the day, the defense has become far more comfortable each game with playing a back three, the midfield is far more effective with the addition of Emre Can, and especially now with Brandt returning and Reus returning soon, and the supermen pairing of Sancho and Haaland with their olympic sprinter type speed, vision and ability to score has kept this team in contention for the Bundesliga title and in a great position to advance past PSG in the Champion’s League. And, while PSG will be home in front of their Parisian fans, Veratti and Meunier are both suspended for the second leg, while Dortmund should be back close to full health. No excuses, the opportunities is there yet this season for Dortmund to make it special.