Having fallen behind Bayern, Dortmund visited Hertha, hoping a first league win there since 2014 would return them to the top of the Bundesliga. Ryan Hunn reports from an epic encounter at the Olympiastadion.
Berlin is famous for its wild nights, but they rarely begin so early on a Saturday. As the rain and a sea of black and yellow descended on the Olympiastadion, there was a sense of prime time in the German capital. Hertha against Dortmund might not sound like a traditional heavyweight contest, but as the pre-game show saw the lights go out and the music go up, it felt the only things missing were the ropes and canvas.
It was those in the blue and white corner who started brighter. Dortmund looked nervous, acutely aware of the importance of the result — as well as every result from now on — in maintaining a title challenge after seeing a nine-point lead over Bayern completely evaporate. It took Hertha a few minutes to land the first blow after Dortmund keeper, Roman Bürki, spilled Maximilian Mittelstädt’s shot into the path of Salomon Kalou, who slotted home to give the Berliners the lead.
Dortmund couldn’t settle and, without Axel Witsel, Paco Alcacer and Mario Götze due to injury, struggled to control the game. With ten minutes on the clock, Dortmund were still to create a real chance and Pál Dárdai would have been forgiven for believing his side might deliver the sweetest of gifts on his 43rd birthday. It took a shot from Jacob Bruun Larson — starting in an unfamiliar role upfront — to be saved by Rune Jarstein to get Die Schwarzgelben into anything resembling a rhythm.
A minute later, they were level. Thomas Delaney intercepted a poor Valetino Lazaro pass and drove towards the Hertha box, his shot deflecting off Karim Rekik out of the reach of Jarstein. During the celebration, Marco Reus could be seen urging the players to calm down, advice they seemed to take. Bruun Larson could have put Dortmund in front soon after, but they still struggled to control a game that was starting to resemble a slugfest.
Based on their first half performance, its not hard to see why only Freiburg and Wolfsburg had taken more points than Hertha against sides starting the day in the top three. Going toe to toe with Dortmund, they were rewarded with a penalty given after a Julian Weigl handball. Kalou sent Bürki the wrong way as Hertha again took a deserved lead, a lead they would take into the break.
After a poor first half, the Dortmund that emerged in the second seemed more recognisable and with Christian Pulisic and Jadon Sancho swapping flanks, they looked far more dangerous. A goal for the away side seemed more inevitable in those opening two minutes after the break than it had at all during the first period and it did indeed arrive. A Sancho corner was met by Dan-Axel Zagadou, leaving the visitors 43 minutes to find a winner.
Hertha were struggling to deal with Dortmund as well as they had in the first half, but both sides continued to trade blows. In a crazy few minutes, Hertha hit the post and had what looked like a clear penalty not given. Ondrej Duda was through on goal when he was brought down by Abdou Diallo, who would most likely have seen red if it was given. However, despite Duda’s disbelief, it wasn’t, and Dortmund raced up the other end where Sancho sliced wide. Duda continued to protest, Sancho lay frustrated, face down on the turf and Dárdai was furious in his technical area. A happy birthday this wasn’t turning out to be, and an already absorbing game went up another notch.
As the noise in the Olympiastadion increased, the game threatened to boil over when Hertha defender, Jordan Torunarigha, was booked for a foul on Marius Wolf and Sancho was also shown a yellow in the aftermath. Torunarigha received a second yellow after pulling down Achraf Hakimi with six minutes to go, Dortmund sensed their opponents were on the ropes, hitting the bar soon after from a Delaney shot from outside the box.
The game had entered added time when Sancho, now back on the left, had the ball inside the Hertha box. With the outside of the foot he cut it back into the path of Reus, whose shot found the bottom right hand corner. It was a smart finish from a smart assist, Sancho’s twelfth in this league this season. Only one player has as many assists in one of Europe’s top five leagues this season: Lionel Messi. And whilst undoubtedly a tough game for the England youngster, Sancho’s two assists helped Dortmund secure a first league win at Hertha since when he was a junior on Watford’s books.
Hertha finished the game with nine men after Vedad Ibisevic saw red for throwing the ball into the face of Bürki, and Lucian Favre’s assessment in the press conference seemed to echo what everyone was thinking. ‘The game was crazy,’ he said, before adding, ‘That [win] is good for our morale.’
Crazy? Good for morale? Sounds like a weekend away in Berlin.