Borussia Dortmund’s struggles this season started in Leipzig, and fans were clearly hoping the return fixture might herald a turnaround. Jon Harding was at a stadium desperate to show RB Leipzig what it was not.”There wasn’t any room to breathe, for us or the spectators,” Roman Bürki said afterwards. The pressure has been tightening around Borussia Dortmund’s neck of late, and looking at the sea of banners covering the Yellow Wall before kick off against RB Leipzig, it was clear why winning this one mattered.
“For football, against those who are ruining it,” “whoever loves football, hates RB,” “Beer is a passion, RB only a fashion” read the banners. There were plenty of others, some less tasteful, all making the same rather blunt point.
That was only half the story though. Beyond the pressure of winning for the football purists was Dortmund’s need to show they could win the big games, and that they wouldn’t miss out on another three points.
Ousmane Dembele played a key part in assuring that they did not. The Frenchman’s breathtaking speed and agility were the only reasons Dortmund led at the break. In one devastating moment, Dortmund’s fans had the success they were yearning for, judging by the eagerness on all those banners.
Audibly, and visually, it was clear that this game meant more – even the scoreboard harked back to an era before their opponents existed (although the retro appearance was ironically not without a sponsor). It was a clash of cultures, tactical approaches and coaching styles.
Thanks to Dembele, Dortmund shed that pressure the way big teams should for big games. There were few, if any, signs of a side troubled by defensive errors, unsettled players or an under-pressure head coach.
Strong second half, but still profligate
After another banner interlude – “Only marketing for you, our reason to live” – the sport resumed. And so, seemingly, did the Dortmund of old. Marco Reus spurned a hat trick of chances to extend BVB’s lead, and were it not the narrowest of offside decisions in stoppage time, Dortmund would have paid for their poor composure yet again.
“If we don’t beat Darmstadt, we didn’t win here,” Sokratis said afterwards, referring to their next game in the Bundesliga. And he is right. Dortmund had gone from fantastic to watch to frustrating, again. Given the opponent, the crowd, and the headlines, though, this was a very encouraging display from Tuchel’s team.
Much has been made of how bright the club’s future will be, but too often this season their present has been a concern. Unsettled, unsure, uncomfortable, Dortmund haven’t been at their best. Against Leipzig though, there were more flashes of how good this team is, rather than of how good it could become. From Dembele and Christian Pulisic to the experienced Sokratis and talented Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they stepped up. The team tipped for future glory delivered it tonight and finished the night back in third.
And so did their fans. Borussia Dortmund are what Leipzig can never be – the sign at the bottom of the Südtribune before the game read as much (“We are what money can’t buy”). Leipzig’s fans spent the evening doing their best to emulate the Westfalenstadion’s cauldron-like atmosphere, but the truth is that however rough around the edges Dortmund are, however great the pressure gets, however tight the situation is, they wouldn’t want it another way.