With the motorway closed, and the team coach and fans alike stuck in traffic, near the town of Haiger, two dozen or so supporters took it on themselves to serenade the stationary team bus with an impromptu rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Gänsehaut – goose bumps, Dortmund said. Following Die Schwarzgelben is rarely dull.
There was the entertaining heavy metal football under Jürgen Klopp, they scored goals for fun under Thomas Tuchel and while Dortmund remain a work in progress under Peter Bosz, they are yet to surrender the ingredient that makes them so affable and entertaining: their full-throttle approach in the opposition half. More often than not it makes for entertaining fare. “It could have ended up 4-4 or 5-5,” Lukas Hradecky, the Frankfurt goalkeeper said. However, Dortmund’s defensive frailties should be of concern to Bosz. As he said after the 2-2 draw: “You must win the game” with a two-goal cushion. This was the first time they had failed to win a Bundesliga match after opening up a 2-0 lead since November 2014, in Paderborn. “One point is not our target when we come to Frankfurt,” Neven Subotic said. The flipside is that you could argue this result displayed some form of improvement, given Dortmund had been defeated on their three previous league visits to the Commerzbank Arena. They also remain the only undefeated away team in the Bundesliga.
However, Dortmund never really put a foot on the ball to gain control. Nuri Sahin, who opened the scoring, described the second half as a “wild ride”. After a difficult week, in which they came undone against RB Leipzig and were held to a draw at Apoel Nicosia, they capsized inside four incredibly naive second-half minutes. An analogy used by Rafael Benítez, while discussing Klopp’s Liverpool last month, seems pertinent. “I have talked in the past about the short blanket – if you cover your head, your feet are cold; if you cover your feet, your head is cold,” he said. “Sometimes when you attack too much, you are exposed in defence and to find the balance is the key to have chances to win titles.”
In fairness, Frankfurt were unrelenting – and perhaps unfortunate to trail at the break but Dortmund were the architects of their own downfall and essentially invited them to pull level. The finger was again pointed at Roman Bürki, whose error in Cyprus dented Dortmund’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League last Tuesday. By Friday, Bürki had signed a new contract until 2021, with Michael Zorc insisting the Swiss is the “perfect fit” between the sticks. The Dortmund sporting director also confirmed the 37-year-old Roman Weidenfeller will depart the club at the end of the season. It was Bürki, though, who gifted Frankfurt a route back in, clattering Ante Rebic to give away a penalty after the hosts exposed Bosz’s high defensive line. “Boateng jubelt, Bosz jammert” – Boateng cheers, Bosz whines, Bild said.
A mixture of injuries and suspensions continue to be felt among the Dortmund backline. Bosz fielded an uncomfortable centre-back pairing of the midfielder Julian Weigl and Subotic – making his first Bundesliga start for Dortmund for 598 days – while Jeremy Toljan shifted to left-back and Marc Bartra to right-back. Toljan finished the game at right-back once the 18-year-old Dan-Axel Zagadou replaced Weigl. The former Hoffenheim defender Toljan’s difficult start to the season has hardly been aided by such regular change. Put simply, Dortmund look terrifying – if a little profligate – going forward (they had 20 shots on goal, seven on target) but worryingly fragile at the back, without a clean sheet in six matches. Subotic said his playing return “felt like a World Cup match” – so rare are his appearances for Dortmund these days. “I’m like the fire brigade. If you call, I’m there.”
But Die Adler repeatedly found joy with a routine ball over the top. Before Sahin’s opener (after which he ran to celebrate with Bürki), Rebic rang the alarm bells, slotting home only for the offside flag to keep the scores level. For Frankfurt’s equaliser, Marius Wolf ghosted in behind Maximilian Philipp, perhaps Dortmund’s best player on the night, all too easily before the Hannover loanee beautifully dispatched his first Bundesliga goal beyond Bürki for the equaliser. “When Marius joined us last year we had to beef him up a bit first,” Niko Kovac, the Frankfurt manager said. “This is his reward for his great work in training.”
Any breathing space between Dortmund and Bayern Munich may have evaporated but they still sit top of the division on goal difference (scoring has scarcely been a problem). The rhetoric post-match for Bosz was the importance that his young side – for which the 17-year-old Jadon Sancho made his debut as late substitute – comes back stronger. On Saturday they have a chance to show they have learned their lesson when they visit Hannover, after a trip to third-tier Magdeburg in the DFB-Pokal second round on Tuesday. As for Sancho, recalled by his club from the Under-17 World Cup in India last week, an injury-time nutmeg on Frankfurt’s Branimir Hrgota lit up his seven-minute cameo. Sancho became the first Englishman to pull on the Dortmund shirt and the youngest player to feature in the division this season.
After one victory in five for Dortmund (and none in three), plus wins for Leipzig (their fourth in a row) and Bayern Munich, over Stuttgart and Hamburg respectively, Kicker declared the Bundesliga ein Dreikampf – a three-way fight – with only a point separating the leaders from Ralph Hasenhüttl’s third-placed side. “Everybody got their money’s worth,” Kovac said, smiling. Hopefully the same can be said for the next seven months or so, with – an overdue – photo-finish increasingly likely.
• One glance at Dortmund’s hiccup in Frankfurt was enough for Bayern to seize the initiative. Just ask Corentin Tolisso, who scored the only goal of the game against 10-man Hamburg to move Jupp Heynckes’ side level on points with the league leaders. “We saw the Dortmund result before the game and we knew we had a chance to get to them in the table,” Tolisso said. Bayern have been galvanised by Heynckes, who has won 18 of his past 19 games in charge of the club. As Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said, the 72-year-old has a knack of finding “the hair in the soup”. The only anomaly was a draw with Dortmund five years ago. Still, Bayern lacked zip and huffed and puffed, leading Bild to stick the boot into Carlo Ancelotti despite a third straight victory. Ancelotti-Rückfall – Ancelotti relapse, they said. Another bum note for Bayern was the thigh injury sustained by Thomas Müller while Mats Hummels is said to have an ankle niggle. Bayern expect Müller to be out for “approximately three weeks”. Regardless of injuries, Leipzig’s visit to the Allianz Arena on Saturday evening will provide for many the benchmark to measure the progress of this Bayern side.
• The wait goes on for Cologne and Werder Bremen. Both teams are winless in the league this season after they played out a painful stalemate on Sunday. Just when will it end? Things go from bad to worse for Peter Stöger’s side, too, with the veteran striker Claudio Pizarro – drafted in to try to cure their goalscoring troubles – set for an MRI scan on his right leg after sustaining a thigh problem in the warm-up at the RheinEnergie Stadion. Pizarro had urged his team-mates to allow him to shoulder the mounting pressure over their poor form. The most agonising moment, though was when Sehrou Guirassy somehow missed from two yards out with four minutes to play. Cologne have mustered only three goals all season and continue to prop up the Bundesliga. “I am not looking for a way out,” Stöger said.
• Leon Goretzka is a man in form and his third goal in as many games kickstarted Schalke’s 2-0 win over Mainz. Goretzka is out of contract at the end of the season and displays such as these are only going to heighten interest in the former Bochum midfielder. The match – refereed by Bibiana Steinhaus, the first female referee in the Bundesliga – resulted in Schalke climbing to fourth in the table for the first time since midway through the 2015-16 season.
• Hannover returned to winning ways, thanks to two late strikes from the second-half substitute Niclas Füllkrug. “The key to both goals was that I did not overthink them,” the 24-year-old said. Füllkrug, an industrious and hard-working forward, certainly means business – judging by these goal GIFs anyway. Another unforgettable image, from the same game, was the amusing manner in which Philipp Tschauner bent his “slapstick” goal kick straight out of play for a corner. “I wanted to be on those funny videos on Facebook and Instagram,” the Hannover goalkeeper said.
• Felix Uduokhai ensured the running theme under Martin Schmidt at Wolfsburg continues, rescuing an injury-time equaliser against Hoffenheim. Schmidt may be held up as the king of marginal gains – he makes his players brush their teeth after matches to supposedly aid recovery – but it is difficult to look beyond five straight record-equaling draws, matching Jörg Berger, who also drew his first five games in charge at Cologne in 1991. Schmidt has at least stabilised the club after a rocky start but they remain 14th.
• Bayer Leverkusen ran riot as they scored five second-half goals in a 5-1 win at Mönchengladbach. Fabian Johnson’s opener ended up as a mere consolation as Kai Havertz took centre stage. Unsurprisingly, Dieter Hecking tagged it as his side’s “best half of the season”. Further south, Salomon Kalou scored and missed a penalty in Hertha Berlin’s draw at Freiburg, leading Kicker to bill Sunday as “the day of draws”. Kalou converted 10 minutes from time after Davie Selke had been brought down, having fired another penalty over the bar only three minutes earlier.
Results Schalke 2-0 Mainz, RB Leipzig 1-0 Stuttgart, Eintracht Frankfurt 2-2 Borussia Dortmund, Augsburg 1-2 Hannover, Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-5 Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg 0-1 Bayern Munich, Cologne 0-0 Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg 1-1 Hoffenheim, Freiburg 1-1 Hertha Berlin
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