Borussia Dortmund may have made a successful start to the calendar year with victories over direct rivals Wolfsburg (2-0) and Leipzig (3-1), but not much has changed in terms of the table, where the Black & Yellows have only moved up one position – from fifth place to fourth. They have closed the gaps to the teams above them, however.
BVB have picked up five points more than Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, while reducing the gap to Bayern and Leipzig by three points respectively. Though Edin Terzic did not wish to label himself and his team as the "winners of the round" in an interview with ZDF on Saturday evening, he did emphasise on several occasions: "After the results yesterday and today before our game, we knew that we could take a big step forward in the table. But we also knew that to do so we'd need to take small steps forward on the pitch."
Above all, they were tactically intelligent steps. Though Leipzig – usually such a formidable opponent going forward – lined up with three strikers, who were given support by the advancing Angelino and Haidara whenever they had possession, they could not find a way through. Because the Black & Yellows defended intelligently, Mats Hummels consistently kept the back four in a line and Thomas Delaney plugged every single gap before it could be exploited. Because the whole team fulfilled their defensive duties and played the kind of football that Hummels and Sebastien Kehl had called for during their respective interviews throughout the course of the week: "men's football". They were tough but not unfair.
"The defending was okay. But we did have a few problems with our pressing in the opening stages. We were able to correct that, though," said Terzic of an opening half in which his charges registered hardly any possession at the outset ("Of the 112 misplaced passes through the match, it felt like we had 110 of them in the first half"). But from around the 30-minute mark, his side became braver, played with more purpose and finished off some highly promising attacking moves later on. Terzic: "We were then able to link up better and get in behind more frequently."
Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho showcased their much-improved form and proved to be decisive figures, creating spaces for Erling Haaland that Leipzig were no longer capable of defending. Reus made almost two assists for the opening goal, flicking the ball behind him for Jadon Sancho to convert after having earlier played the third from last pass in what was a lovely move. The Englishman has now scored in three competitive matches on the bounce, and he also set up a goal for the third game in succession for Haaland to double the scoring. Then came Reus' pass for Haaland to make it 3-0, a textbook example of footballing artistry.
And what did Terzic have to say after what was, according to his opposite number Nagelsmann, "a deserved victory based on the clear chances over 90 minutes"? Rather than heaping praise on the attack, which had breached the league's best defence three times for the first time this season, he remarked: "It annoys me a bit that we didn't keep a clean sheet at the end." It would've been BVB's 500th shutout in the Bundesliga.
Mainz 05 the next test
Such statements from Terzic reiterate the importance of focusing on the basics. The coach is worried about Axel Witsel, who had to leave the field injured after half an hour – supported by the doctor and physiotherapist, and unable to put weight on his left foot. The Belgian flew back to Dortmund with the squad and will undergo a comprehensive examination in the coming days. Haaland said: "We were also playing for Axel. We wish him a speedy recovery."
Having faced direct rivals Wolfsburg and Leipzig, BVB will next take on bottom club 1. FSV Mainz 05. "That'll be a difficult game as well," Terzic said. There are still crystal-clear memories of the home game from June 2020, when the Zero-Fivers travelled to Signal Iduna Park with the two sides in similar positions (2nd vs. 15th) and came away with a 2-0 victory. The objective is to prevent a repeat next Saturday.