Borussia Dortmund faced the difficult task of a trip to Leipzig to open 2019. Michael Da Silva was at the Red Bull Arena as an Axel Witsel goal confirmed Dortmund’s ability to go the distance.
As far as season-defining victories go, Borussia Dortmund’s 1-0 win at RB Leipzig will take some beating. The league’s top scorers travelled to the Bundesliga’s tightest defense, with Leipzig going into the game unbeaten at home in the league this season. Something had to give.
Dortmund were without the injured Marco Reus, their captain, talisman, and so often their inspiration this season. Coach Lucien Favre was also forced to deploy midfielder Julian Weigl in defence once again as Dortmund’s defensive issues persist, but any concerns Favre may have had will be allayed after Weigl produced an impeccable display in an unfamiliar role.
This was a night when Dortmund needed to be streetwise and mentally tough, they needed to show that despite their individual youth they had collective wisdom and play the game with their heads – all the qualities that Reus offers. But Dortmund’s ace up its sleeve was Axel Witsel. The Belgian was the matchwinner with a 19th minute rasping drive that Reus himself would have been proud of.
Witsel offers so much more than the tackles, headers, crucial interceptions and, in this case, match-winning goals. The 30-year-old’s calmness in and out of possession was an example to his teammates and game management absolutely vital for Dortmund to see out this game. His shrewd acquisition from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian for €20 million already looked like good value, and this display underlined his importance.
Dortmund’s youthful exuberance is one of the reasons they are so likeable and it’s their sense of fearlessness that has got them results this season and won them so many new fans. But Leipzig are a quality side who have developed a solidity to their game under Ralf Rangnick, and Dortmund’s task was to show their maturity and get through it. And if they win the title in April or May, this will be a game they look back on as crucial to that success.
Bayern keep up the heat
A little under 24 hours earlier, Bayern had kept up the pressure on Dortmund with a 3-1 win at Hoffenheim. Leon Goretzka scored two first half goals as he continues to shine under Niko Kovac, and Robert Lewandowski added the gloss with a late third.
That win briefly closed the gap on Dortmund to three points and, although Dortmund’s result in Leipzig returns the lead to six points, Bayern look a more confident and organised outfit since their nightmare start to the season. Kovac’s side now look capable of least keeping Dortmund on their toes.
Kovac introduced James Rodriguez from the bench and the Colombian’s delightful pass led to the third goal, and Kingsley Coman returned to the side with a fine performance, playing against Niko Schulz, whose tackle on Coman back in August caused the Frenchman’s long lay-off. Schulz scored a fine goal but it proved little more than a consolation for a Hoffenheim side who battled well, but couldn’t convert their chances.
Gladbach ruin Bosz’s big day
Peter Bosz’s first game as Bayer Leverkusen coach ended in defeat as Borussia Mönchengladbach kept leaders Dortmund in their sights.
Gladbach’s impressive Frenchman Alassane Plea settled it to leave Gladbach three points behind Bayern and nine behind Dortmund.
Bosz succeeded Heiko Herrlich in December, despite Herrlich having won four of his last five games. But sporting director Rudi Völler had always had his eye on Bosz and made his move for the Dutchman, despite his doomed tenure at Dortmund still fresh in the mind.
Bosz had vowed to “learn from mistakes” and “win every single game” when he was unveiled earlier this month. He will have to press the restart button on that pledge this weekend, when the Werkself travel to high-flying Wolfsburg.