Borussia Dortmund marked their return to Bundesliga action with an away victory in Leipzig on Matchday 18. The 1-0 (1-0) win against a Red Bull side previously unbeaten at home this term saw the league leaders re-establish their six-point lead at the summit.
Boris Rupert reporting from Leipzig
The 41,939 fans who attended a sold-out Red Bull Arena in temperatures close to freezing witnessed a completely dominant opening 30 minutes from Borussia Dortmund, who took a deserved lead through Witsel on the 19-minute mark. That advantage could have been extended when Philipp went close shortly after the restart and Alcácer hit the woodwork in the closing stages, while at the other end Leipzig spurned several chances to rescue a point.
Fourth-placed Leipzig were hoping to extend a 10-game home unbeaten run that stretched back into the previous campaign, while first-placed Dortmund – with only one defeat in their previous eight away matches – were counting on their consistency on the road. The reverse fixture ended in a 4-1 win for BVB.
The four absent centre-backs – Akanji (hip), Zagadou (lack of match fitness), Toprak (muscular problems) and Belardi (South American U20 Championship) – were joined on the sidelines by Reus, who took a knock in the final training session on Friday. A lengthy absence is not on the cards but the match in Leipzig came too soon for the captain, who started all 17 matches before Christmas. The decision to leave him out was only made in Leipzig today.
Diallo was partnered at the heart of the defence by Weigl, who continued in the role he had fulfilled in the 2-1 win against Gladbach before the break. His calm build-up play from the back allowed his team, who lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, to circumvent the high pressing game led by the three Leipzig frontmen and gave the Black & Yellows numerical superiority in the middle of the park (five versus three). The hosts, meanwhile, lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with only one defensive midfielder, Demme, and two midfielders in more offensive roles, Kampl and Laimer.
The match & analysis:
A short spell around 10 minutes before the break aside, BVB were rarely threatened in the opening period. They dominated proceedings and delivered a display that was convincing and mature in equal measure despite the numerous personnel absences and the resulting changes. The first attempt of note – by Witsel in the seventh minute – was followed by some outstanding defending by Leipzig centre-back Upamecano, who first made a last-ditch block to deny Götze (8) and then cleared the ball behind for a corner as Philipp prepared to pull the trigger in the six-yard box (13).
The breakthrough eventually came in the 19th minute when Witsel, whose only previous league goal came in the reverse fixture against Leipzig, smashed the ball into the top corner following a Guerreiro cross and a headed flick-on from Piszczek. A second was almost added five minutes before the break when Diallo headed a Guerreiro cross inches wide.
A BVB team who had been so dominant could have had more than a slender 1-0 lead at the break if they had managed to see one or two of their attacks through to the end. Leipzig came out all guns blazing after the break, flying into the challenges and almost going level two minutes after the restart when Sabitzer had an attempt from a tight angle kept out by Bürki. At the other end Götze set up Philipp, who was denied by the foot of shot-stopper Gulacsi in the 53rd minute. Seconds earlier, Sancho had failed to make the most of another good counter-attacking opportunity.
By this point it had become an open game with Leipzig offering much stiffer opposition since the break and BVB no longer looking as solid as they had done in the opening 30 minutes. Bürki made another stop to deny Sabitzer, who had found himself in plenty of space in a central position, in the 74th minute, while Werner drew another good save from the Dortmund keeper two minutes later.
Favre reacted by bringing on fresh legs in the form of Pulisic and Alcácer, while Rangnick bolstered his strikeforce by bringing on Cunha (81) and Augustin (88) as Leipzig went in search of an equaliser. BVB were a tad unlucky to see Alcácer's shot bounce down off the bar but not cross the line in the 90th minute, while Cunha came equally close at the other end in stoppage time with a header that sailed centimetres wide.
Borussia Dortmund are next in action next Saturday when they host Hannover 96 at SIGNAL IDUNA PARK. That game kicks off at 15:30 CET.