There are still the long, dark nights of winter to get through but as far as statement wins go, this was about as big as it gets for Dortmund. Their Klassiker victory marks an important night for Lucien Favre’s side but also a turning point for the Bundesliga, writes Michael Da Silva at the Westfalenstadion.
The tectonic plates of German football are shifting, make no mistake about it. On a feverish night in Dortmund, there was a sense that we were witnessing not only a breathless victory for a thrilling young side, but the changing of the guard in German football after six years of Bayern Munich’s supremacy.
It’s taken some time to reach this point. Under Thomas Tuchel they were a work in progress, under Peter Bosz a disaster (though he wasn’t helped), and under caretaker coach Peter Stöger uninspired. Yet under the watch of Favre, their high octane style has made them the most exciting team in Europe. Dortmund are back, and the Westfalenstadion hasn’t seen the levels of jubilation witnessed at full-time since the heady days of Jürgen Klopp’s title-winning season in 2012.
But that’s the territory we’re in now. As of Saturday night, Dortmund are a commanding 7 points clear of Bayern going into the international break and four points ahead of Borussia Mönchengladbach at the top of the Bundesliga. Finally, they’re in a position to end Bayern’s monopoly of German football. And for the neutral, it’s not a moment too soon.
One of the most endearing things about this Dortmund team is that they’re youthful and fearless, yes, but also that they make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. Dan-Axel Zagadou gets caught out of position regularly and then fouls his man to recover, Jadon Sancho often overthinks things when he has the ball at his feet, and Paco Alcacer can be as wasteful as he is devastating. But what marks them out as different is that they don’t dwell on their mistakes. Favre has given them the confidence to rise again.
In the first half, Sancho faced his toughest challenge to date in the shape of David Alaba. The Austrian captain was more aggressive and more assertive than the 18-year-old, who was also getting some rough treatment from Franck Ribery, much to the distaste of the home fans. The past few weeks in particular have been a steep learning curve for Sancho, who only established himself as a regular starter ahead of Christian Pulisic this season and was coming off the back of an education in Madrid, where Felipe Luis succeeded where many other full-backs have failed this season in keeping the young lad from Kennington relatively quiet. But at half time in Dortmund, with the hosts a goal down, it seemed Sancho was having another difficult night and would make an early exit from the game. Instead, Sancho was a different player after the break. Forceful where he had been hesitant and direct where he ponderous, Sancho’s Jekyll and Hyde performance was Dortmund in a nutshell. Much to Favre’s credit, Sancho wasn’t the only player reborn after the break.
Marco Reus is Borussia Dortmund, and at 29, the elder statesman of this Dortmund team. His magical swoosh of his right boot levelled the game at 2-2, the second time Dortmund had fought back courtesy of Reus after a strike from the pantomime villain Robert Lewandowski. But this time, Bayern couldn’t contain the Dortmund surge. They wrapped it up courtesy of Paco Alcacer, who elevated an indifferent person display with a calmly taken winner which raised the roof in Dortmund. Once again, Alcacer proved the joker in Dortmund’s pack.
The eruption of pure jubilation at full time demonstrated what this victory means for Dortmund. But it also means a lot to fans of every other club in the Bundesliga, where Bayern’s dominance in recent times, while completely deserved, has become a destructive force for the league. Bayern’s quality shouldn’t be underestimated and, on paper, they are still the strongest team in Germany by a distance, but after this memorable Klassiker, there is a sense that these are two teams moving in opposite directions.