“We won in the first half and defended it in the second,” Edin Terzic memorably summed up after the whistle.
Great saves from the goalkeeper Gregor Kobel and a healthy dose of late luck, already Newcastle United hit the bar twice, were needed to come away with a win from a rainy, dreary St. James’ Park. But as Terzic suggested, Borussia Dortmund had also made their fortunes. Theirs was a performance of stereotype-defying maturity and rawness, a product of truly historic proportions.
Even in their golden years under Jurgen Klopp, Dortmund did not manage a similarly successful game away from Signal Iduna Park at this level. It was 2-1 at the Emirates in 2013-14, yes. But it came against the late Wenger era Arsenalwho were, quite frankly, the absolute buzz of the competition.
Since Klopp’s departure in 2015, Dortmund have been a byword for fragility and volatility in Germany, a team that fails to live up to its considerable talent. Last season’s result against Mainz, a 2-2 draw that cost them the championship, did little to dispel this damaging narrative. But there are signs that things are changing. If you look at this calendar year, it is no coincidence that Dortmund have become the best team in the top five leagues in terms of points per game.
They have become consistent and even tenacious over the past 10 months, winning games they might have drawn in the past and conceding only once in the league: 4-2 against Bayern Munich.
Wednesday’s all-important 3-pointer didn’t come in a vacuum, either. Dortmund had gone into the game on the back of five league wins in a row. But until the trip to Newcastle, they had yet to win a genuine statement win, the kind of positive experience that breeds an incredible amount of belief. “This will give us confidence and help us grow,” said sporting director Sebastian Kehl, full of smiles. He has won the championship three times with two Dortmund incarnations nine years apart and understands the importance of goalscoring results to the development of a team’s winning mentality.
Terzic’s early season moves proved hugely successful once again. Veterans Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, two of the more surprising players this season, were again outstanding in different ways at St. James’. While Hummels played a classy, hyper-focused game at the back, Reus’ movement and silky touches set up devastating counter-attacks that silenced the crowd before the break.
The 34-year-old will never be the most natural of ball-winners. But he did his best to chase down the outside left position which saddled him with increased responsibility as Terzic was forced to change his system to cope with losses Julian Brandt due to a muscle injury, depriving him of Dortmund’s best player this season.
Captain Emre Can’s departure at half-time with a penalty added to the sense of adversity, along with the absence of Julian Ryerson, the industrious full-back. But Dortmund weathered the storm admirably.
The club’s management were particularly pleased that some of the more mature players they had recently signed to offset the capriciousness of young talent were quite excellent. Center Nico Schlotterbeck made a key tackle, broke through and set up Felix Nmecha for the winner. The 23-year-old’s first goal for his new club could not have come at a better time. In parallel Germany international, their arrival had led to fan backlashMarcel Sabitzer was impressive throughout, substitute Salih Ozcan ran tirelessly to fill the gaps and the striker Niclas Fullkrug led the line with great personality. It was also a good job by the substitutes. Karem Adeyemi looked to have stretched Newcastle on the break, while Niclas Sule, Sebastien Haller and Geo Reyna batted down the hatch to help their compatriots over the line in the final twelve minutes.
The next five games — away to Eintracht Frankfurt and Stuttgart, home to Bayern and TSG Hoffenheim, plus the return leg against Eddie Howe’s men – will test Dortmund’s newfound resilience to the limit. But don’t underestimate the boost that should come from a tournament-breaking win that will change the perception of this side, most importantly inside the dressing room.
If you can do that on a wet and windy Wednesday night in northeast England, there’s no need to fear anyone else.
(Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
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