Felix Nmecha posted Bundesliga over after 45 minutes of a thrilling first half and Newcastle never managed to equalise, losing Alexandra Isak to injury in the first half and Jakob Murphy in the second.
Here, our writers break down what happened and what it means for both teams.
Nmecha, Bellingham’s replacement, has his moment
Felix Nmecha has had a slow start. One of the complaints about him has been his tendency to play only momentarily, or to tease his talent rather than play with it.
This performance showcased his full potential. He benefited from the way Dortmund started to play and was able to break into space almost at will in the first half. He crossed the field brilliantly, on both sides of the ball.
But Nmecha is not just a runner. He is not Jude Bellingham either, even if he was cursed with trying to replace him, but he has plenty of technical ability – and his goal showed that. Half-time on a very wet pitch, from a pass drilled at him; it was not easy.
He actually did little to find the space he scored from; he got himself into position without Newcastle seeming to notice. But his goal capped a performance where he showed what he can be as an 8 and why Dortmund spent almost €30m to sign him from Wolfsburg. It was a little bit of everything. The hard runs and fine finishing, yes, but also some skill and, when needed, fitness that the Terzic team needed on a dirty night away from home.
Nmecha has so far played without a presence this season and without performing in a way that spoke to his personality. That changed tonight.
Trippier’s attacking attacks resulted in Newcastle losing the ball
Newcastle are not a team that makes sloppy fouls, especially not in dangerous areas. But with Kieran Trippier press up right, plus Fabian Schar and Jamaal Lascelles not the quickest midfield pairing, Dortmund would have sensed the opportunity to hurt Newcastle in transition.
In the first half in particular, Trippier had 48 touches, including 31 in Dortmund’s quarter. As defensively sound as we know Newcastle’s right-back is, there was space at the back to exploit.
A warning came after 10 minutes, with Sean Longstaff driven in the middle. There were cries from Eastfield for a break, but the challenge seemed fair – and Newcastle were counting on Nick Pope to couple on equality.
His first save from Donyell Malen was instinctive, playing strategy and deflecting the ball off the hip – but the latter was outstanding, with Niclas FullkrugThe low drive was somehow stopped by a turbine rotating in an arm.
The warning was not heeded – or rather, Dortmund did well to isolate individual players with their compact midfield. Gordon cut in from the left and Schlotterbeck’s intervention was perfectly timed. The centre-back moved up the pitch with the poise of a player wearing his double jersey number and ran out to the flank to cut in for Nmecha. Dortmund’s true number 8 let the ball slide across his body before firing past Pope.
Jacob Whitehead and Mark Carey
Isak limps again after an injury
Alexander Isaacthe irritation was palpable, two-handed in the damp grass as he lay near the center circle.
The 24-year-old striker arrived at Dortmund as a cold-blooded 17-year-old, never given a proper chance as bigger names arrived in the Ruhr Valley. It took a loan spell with Willem II and a permanent move to Real Sociedad to revive his career.
Of course, everything is circular. Now at Newcastle, his return to the Champions League was heralded by a reunion with Dortmund – which lasted barely 15 minutes. The flashes were short – acceleration, a ball slipped through Anthony Gordon.
He had injured his groin in the final minutes of the 2-2 draw with West Ham United October 8, his best performance of the season to date. That day his two goals dragged Newcastle back into a game that their flat performance did not deserve. Eddie Howe was ruled out of international duty as a result and was cautious enough to start Callum Wilson against Crystal Palace this weekend.
Those measures were not enough. An innocent gathering, and Isak was down, clutching the same leg. Newcastle travel to Dortmund in less than two weeks. His return to the Westfalenstadion is now up in the air.
Wilson had two chances in the second half and scored one Gregor Kobel from close range and flicked the other one onto the post. They were Newcastle’s best – and almost only – scoring chances, with Anthony Gordon’s late shot deflected off the post.
Wilson is widely regarded as Isak’s peer as smarter – yet there was a palpable sense of ‘what if’.
Brandt’s absence makes Dortmund … creative
Dortmund may be unbeaten in the Bundesliga this season but they have not created chances at the rate expected. They have also scored fewer goals from open play than any other team in the top six in the league and without Julian Brandt in their group, who is probably their best player and certainly among their most technically expressive, this game promised little to correct that trend.
Strangely enough, it seemed to benefit BVB, with Newcastle not sure where the attacking pressure was coming from. Within fifteen minutes, Dortmund had created two excellent chances with decisive, vertical movement of the ball and attacking players breaking through the middle of the pitch. Malen was conspicuous, Fullkrug should have scored, Nmecha looked more savior in his support than he has done all season.
It may sound typical of English fans who still associate Dortmund with the Klopp-Tuchel brand of football, but they are no longer them. Their style of play is usually much slower and in recent years has become more dependent on individuals. Like Jadon Sancho, Erling HaalandJude Bellingham and currently Brandt.
Injuries forced a dependence on the system, it seemed, and a counter-attack – three players spread across the field, one or two players supported at the back in the centers – which Newcastle could not handle initially. By the time Nmecha took one of the chances, at the end of what was typical of the first half, Terzic’s side might have been a goal or two ahead.
And no one saw it coming.
Injuries hamper the impact of Howe’s rotations
Newcastle fans arrived at St James’ Park rightfully full of confidence after their first home game in the Champions League. The momentum didn’t quite build in the same way against Dortmund, with smart counter-attacks from Edin Terzic’s side.
In Newcastle, things were busy—partly out of necessity, but partly in an attempt to find a spark in the game. An injury to Alexander Isak after 15 minutes didn’t help matters but it took until the 65th minute for Eddie Howe to change systems as well as personnel.
After came Jacob Murphy and Sandro Tonali for Joelinton and Sean Longstaff, which meant Newcastle switched to a less familiar 4-2-3-1 system to get more bodies around Callum Wilson – with Miguel Almiron drifting into midfield to ignite a creative threat with his relentless energy. However, this plan only lasted about 90 seconds.
A nasty shoulder injury to Murphy meant further changes were necessary, with a substitution Joe Willock meaning Newcastle quickly reverted to 4-3-3. Yes, the weather conditions didn’t help, but Howe’s side couldn’t find the same magic that saw them pounce on PSG earlier in the month – despite their best efforts to influence the game on a tough night on Tyneside.
The night Schlotterbeck needed
No question who wrote the best piece of the night: Nico Schlotterbeck.
His contribution to the Dortmund goal was a perfect display of modern, progressive defensive play. First in the way he robbed Anthony Gordon of the ball in his own half, then in the ambition he showed by making the supporting run forward to create the overlap that led to Nmecha’s goal.
Schlotterbeck has not had an easy time leaving Freiburg. For club or country. His slender frame and technical defensive style have left him open to criticism at times. Some of the mistakes he has made have also damaged his self-belief and hampered him.
What a moment this could turn out to be, for all the players expected to wither at St James’ Park, he would surely have been top of the list. Not so; he was magnificent. The goal was the highlight, but Schlotterbeck was impressively determined on the sidelines Mats Hummels and dealt with all the physicality Newcastle could muster.
Dortmund needed this win. Schlotterbeck needed this night. Both will be better for it.
Where does this leave Group F?
Nice balance. Paris Saint-Germain top the group with six points after a 3-0 win over AC Milan, but their weaknesses were dealt with at St James’ Park three weeks ago.
But this is why Group F was in a circle after the draw – each team has the potential to embarrass the other.
Dortmund sit ahead of Newcastle at the top, both teams on four points, with AC Milan at the bottom with two.
Crucially, Newcastle have now played two of their home games and face successive away trips to Dortmund and Paris. It already looks like Newcastle need to win their last game, at home to Milan, to be sure of progress.
(Top photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
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