Borussia Dortmund were beaten 4-2 at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Friday evening in the headline clash of Bundesliga Matchday 18.
Boris Rupert reporting from Mönchengladbach
The score was 2-2 after only half an hour of this frenetic and at times downright wild match! Gladbach struck first through Elvedi (11), only for BVB to turn the game on its head via a Haaland brace (22, 28). The Black & Yellows had several chances to extend their lead, but Elvedi levelled the scores (32). The third goal from a defender – Bensebaini in the 49th minute for 3-2 – put the hosts back in front before Thuram sealed the 4-2 triumph on 78 minutes.
Only a point separated seventh-placed Gladbach and fourth-placed Dortmund. The Foals had taken 10 points out of a possible 12 from their latest four matches and were unbeaten since going down 2-1 to Hoffenheim on 19 December. The Black & Yellows had won every single one of their 11 league meetings since the start of the 2015/16 campaign. During that run, they had netted 31 goals – an average of almost three per game – and conceded only seven.
In addition to Witsel (torn Achilles tendon), Delaney (suspended) and Zagadou (muscle injury), Dortmund were without Hazard and Schmelzer. Can, who was eligible again after serving his suspension, was one of two changes to the BVB starting line-up; the other was Morey, who came in for Meunier.
Gladbach diverged from their usual 4-2-3-1 system, and instead played a 3-4-1-2 formation with a back three and Hofmann as the central attacking midfielder directly behind forwards Plea and Stindl. They looked to play direct upon regaining possession. BVB took to the field in their by-now familiar 4-2-3-1 system under Terzic, with Bellingham positioned significantly further forward than his defensive midfield partner Can.
The match & analysis:
The ball was already in the back of the net after 43 seconds. Sancho intercepted a Gladbach attack just inside the penalty area and played a pass to Brandt just outside the box, who in turn found Bellingham. But Hofmann charged into the Englishman, regained possession of the ball and passed to Neuhaus, whose shot was deflected into the net. Following a lengthy VAR review, the goal was disallowed.
It marked the start of a game that was far from normal, in which the players found themselves in unusual amounts of space and (almost) every attack seemed like it might end in a goal.
Gladbach registered the next opportunity on the six-minute mark, with Hofmann latching onto a ball from Neuhaus and forcing Bürki into a superb save with a shot from 18 metres. But only four minutes later, the Swiss shot-stopper was powerless to prevent the unmarked Elvedi from heading home Hofmann's cross from the penalty spot (11).
BVB restored parity and put themselves back in the game through their first meaningful attack. Guerreiro won the ball back from Plea on the halfway line and immediately picked out Sancho, who surged into the centre and fed Haaland. The Norwegian provided the precision finish – in off the post from a tight angle to make it 1-1 (22).
BVB almost took the lead four minutes later, though Akanji's effort following a corner drew a spectacular save from Sommer and Stindl made an even more spectacular intervention on the line to head Can's follow-up onto the upright and away to safety.
But the goal came soon afterwards when Bellingham intercepted the ball. The 17-year-old linked up with Reus and Sancho in close confines inside the Gladbach box and the move was finished off by Haaland, who received the ball with his back to goal, swivelled on a sixpence and powered it home (28). The lead barely lasted four minutes, though. Bürki, whose vision was obscured, could not gather Stindl's ferocious free-kick from 20 metres out and Elvedi slotted home the loose ball. Then BVB went close at the other end: Sommer saved Hummels' header (36) and Sancho missed by a matter of centimetres after being teed up by Reus (39).
BVB started the second half by conceding yet another unnecessary early goal. Left-back Bensebaini pushed forward and received the ball just outside the box, before turning inside an opponent and curling the ball into the far corner of the goal (50). Gladback were back in front – and all three of their goals had come from defenders. Plea had a chance to get a striker on the scoresheet minutes later but he fired narrowly wide from an unmarked position (53).
Gladbach – who switched to a 4-4-2 system with Zakaria on the right of the attack midway through the second period – let BVB take the initiative in the ensuing minutes and were focused on not replicating their mistakes from the opening half. As such, their ventures forward were few and far between. But one on 78 minutes did lead to a corner, which Neuhaus took and Thuram met in plenty of space to head home and make it 4-2. The goal was a knockout blow; subsequent crosses from Reyna, Moukoko and Tigges could not bring the Black & Yellows back into the game, with only Moukoko forcing Sommer into a save (90).
There is now an eight-day break until BVB are next in action against Augsburg on 30 January. That home game will be followed by an "English week", with a DFB Cup tie against Paderborn on 2 February and a trip to Freiburg in the league on 6 February.