Well, that was nice, wasn’t it? It’s seems like a long time since we have done that to a team. I honestly can’t remember any side, never mind a rival, that came to Signal Iduna Park and was played off the pitch the way Bayer Leverkusen were on Saturday. They simply had no answer in any department – defence, midfield or attack. There was nothing Heiko Herrlich could do to influence the game and neither could his players. They were powerless to stop the black and yellow wave that washed over them continuously over that ninety minutes.
It was like that from the first minute, although there were questions before the game regarding the team selection. Peter Stoeger chose to leave out club captain Marcel Schmelzer in favour of the more inexperienced Manuel Akanji. It was almost treated as an outrage. The club captain, the talisman of Borussia Dortmund, not even on the bench. In his place, a young lad who isn’t even a natural left-back and is still recovering from a slight knock. Akanji even beat Jeremy Toljan to the starting berth. What did this say of Stoeger’s gameplan? Were we in for another tepid display where the team wouldn’t know whether to attack or defend? Not on your nelly.
Akanji was an inspired choice at left-back. Up against the marauding Benjamin Henrichs and the incomparable Leon Bailey, his natural instinct to defend was exactly what was needed. It covered for Jadon Sancho’s attacking nous and gave the young England winger license to get forward. Akanji’s inclusion underpinned the impressive performance of Sancho. Akanji himself didn’t play too badly, looking like he had played at left-back all of his life and not putting a foot wrong. Not bad for a young centre-half.
It wasn’t just Akanji though, the whole defence looked much more serene. Maybe that was because the presence of a third centre-half helped gave Sokratis and Toprak extra security. They no longer had to rely solely on each other, now they had a partner who could sweep up alongside them and cover a dangerous winger. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a back three, but they certainly complimented each other well. Those three and Lukasz Piszcszek were impregnable all afternoon and made the front four of Bailey, Lucas Alario, Kevin Volland and Julian Brandt practically ineffective – with the help of Julian Weigl of course.
Now to the fun bit.
What an attacking performance. Honestly, there hasn’t a display of offence that good since the early days of Peter Bosz’s reign earlier this season. Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Max Phillipp, Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic. It looks scary, doesn’t it? Reus and Gotze are now the experience of this team and that really came to the forefront here, especially from Reus. Gone is the blistering pace thanks to those horrific knee injuries, although he is far from sluggish. Here is the intelligence of an elder statesman. But that was never really in dispute from people who really knew Marco Reus’ game. His intelligent runs were always a key reason why Robert Lewandowski found himself in so much space in the glory days of Jurgen Klopp. Now is no longer as impressive physically he is using that wily brain to full effect and how scary that can be to the opposition.
He was flanked though by two of the most promising forwards in the Bundesliga though. Christian Pulisic is already head and shoulders above any player in this Dortmund side. You can see it in the way he carries himself these days, he knows just how good he is. He is expected to turn up for the big games and it is rare that he doesn’t. Not many expected a performance like this from Jadon Sancho though. Pace, delivery, incisive passing, threatening runs. This is everything we were promised would come in time, not in his first season at the club as a 17-year-old. Sancho showed the class that will propel to a similar level as Pulisic one day. He provided two assists and scored one goal here but that doesn’t tell the true story of his display. This was one of those games when a promising player matures in front of your very eyes.
This result and performance was the closest thing to perfect that Peter Stoeger has produced in his short time at the club. He has had many detractors since his arrival, me being one of them, and it is still a fair assumption that he won’t be at the helm come the start of next season. He is, however, keeping up his end of the bargain. With just three Bundesliga games remaining we are now five points clear of Hoffenheim in fifth, and a point against Julian Nagelsmann’s men on Saturday will practically guarantee Champions League football next season. If that is gained, then Stoeger has done his job. He has steadied the ship, gained Champions League football and not (entirely) disgraced himself or the club. A short but successful stint in charge? I’ll let you be the judge of that.