With the Bundesliga title race going down to the wire, Dortmund faced Schalke having not beaten their rivals at home since 2015. Ryan Hunn was at the Westfalenstadion for the first time and reports back from an action packed 175th Revierderby.
On Saturday evening it was over. On Sunday evening it was back on. And so this quite wonderful, exhilarating and exhausting Bundesliga title race will go on into May, after Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich both failed to capitalise on a weekend where both sides dropped points.
Exhausting: it’s a good word to explain the Revierderby. Monday’s edition of German football magazine Kicker featured the headline, ‘Wieder mal Wahnsinn’: madness once again. It’s a madness that ends way after the final whistle, when the weary seas of yellow and black are still everywhere to be seen, and one that starts long before a ball is kicked.
More than an hour ahead of kick off, with fans were slowly filing into the other three sides of the Westfalenstadion, its famous Südtribüne was already full. The noise collectively generated by the 25,000 for the warm-up alone would rival any experienced at a ground during game time. But it got louder, starting with the traditional rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sung by almost the whole stadium, now full with over 81,000 fans. The Schalke end countered with their own chants, as a cloud of blue smoke filtered out from the away corner of the ground.
The noise was deafening and it got even louder, as Dortmund capitalised on their early dominance by taking the lead inside a quarter of an hour. Jadon Sancho chipped a beautiful ball over the Schalke defence for Mario Götze, who had timed his run brilliantly and headed past Alexander Nübel. As the Dortmund players celebrated, Sancho went down after being hit with a lighter thrown by an away fan.
It was one of a few incidents that showcased the negative side of this fixture. A small section from both sets of fans briefly unveiled banners in extremely poor taste, which were rightly criticised after the game. In the away end, one called for the release of the Dortmund bus bomber - following up a similar banner displayed in the reverse fixture - and one in the home end containing a homophobic slur directed towards the away fans.
On the pitch, Dortmund’s lead had barely three minutes when referee Felix Zwayer blew his whistle and, to some confusion, signalled for a VAR review. Despite barely an appeal, replays showed that Breel Embolo’s had struck the arm of Julian Weigl at full speed and from barely a yard away. It seemed harsh, but a penalty was given and as Daniel Caligiuri waited to take it, there it was again: the noise. This time, whistles, ear piercingly loud. Caliguiri made it 1-1, plastic pints of beer flew into the air from multiple points around the stadium.
There would be a lot more beer thrown, with Lucien Favre seen collecting empties that had landed in the technical area in the second half. By that point, Schalke had already taken a lead into the half-time break, as Dortmund’s difficulty with crosses was on display once more. This time it was Salif Sane who headed past Roman Bürki from a corner. Up went the beer.
The mood had worsened around the Westfalenstadion and even the weather was doing its bit to provide a clichéd analogy. The pre-game rain had stopped during the warm-up, with the clouds clearing and the sun coming out ahead of Dortmund’s opener. But during five wild minutes, just after an hour had been played, it was to become worse for the home side. Marco Reus saw red for a tackle behind on Suat Serdar which was, depending on who you asked, either fully deserved or extremely harsh. Caligiuri sent a brilliant free-kick into the top left corner to make it 3-1 to Schalke.
Less than five minutes later, Marius Wolf committed an almost identical, but slightly worse looking foul, again on Serdar and was also shown a straight red. Dortmund were losing their discipline and whilst Reus received a standing ovation leaving the pitch, Wolf did not. Up went the beer, back came the clouds. Then it rained.
Fans had already started to leave when a late volley from Axel Witzel gave the home side hope, brought the sun back out and lasted all of about 100 seconds. Schalke went up the other end, Embolo made it 4-2 to Schalke and up went the beer one last time.
Despite much of the focus being on how big a defeat this was for Dortmund, it was massive win for Schalke, who remain six points clear of the relegation zone after Stuttgart beat Borussia Mönchengladbach. With three games to go and Stuttgart at home on the final day, Huub Stevens’ side are now favourites to stay up. Dortmund, on the other hand, may count themselves lucky they ended the weekend just two points behind Bayern, who drew away to Nürnberg. But with Nürnberg’s Tim Leibold missed a 91st minute penalty, they make count themselves unlucky, despite Favre effectively conceding the title in the post match press conference.
It may have been premature and with three games to go and a two-point gap, who knows how this Bundesliga season will end. Bayern are still to face RB Leipzig away and Eintracht Frankfurt at home, and Dortmund have trips to Werder Bremen and Gladbach. One thing that is certain is that there’s a lot more beer to be thrown this season, but who will be doing so in celebration of a league title is still too close to call.