Borussia Dortmund lost the headline match of Bundesliga Matchday 17, as they suffered an unfortunate 2-1 (1-0) defeat away to third-placed Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday night. The Black & Yellows came close to completing a comeback after Brandt's equaliser.
Boris Rupert reporting from Leverkusen
In what was an evenly-matched encounter overall, Borussia made too many errors in the first half and found themselves deservedly 1-0 down at the interval thanks to a Diaby goal in the 14th minute. However, BVB came close to turning the game on its head in the second half: after Brandt's equaliser in the 67th minute, the Black & Yellows had several good chances to take a 2-1 lead before being dealt a fatal blow on the counter-attack by Wirtz in the 80th minute.
Only a marginally superior goal difference (+2) separated third-placed Leverkusen fourth-placed Dortmund. BVB came into the game having come out on top in four of the last five meetings between the two sides and scored at least three goals in each of these five games. Bayer had lost three of their last four league matches and hadn't managed to pick up a win since 16 December. No other side had notched up more away wins than Borussia (five).
Hazard and Schmelzer remained unavailable due to injury. They were joined on the list of absentees by Witsel (ruptured achilles tendon), Can (suspension) and Zagadou (muscle injury). Piszczek and Reyna made their return to the squad, although both started the game on the bench. Akanji and Delaney rejoined the starting XI.
Bayer looked to neutralise Borussia's 4-2-3-1 set-up with a 4-4-2 formation (with Alario and Amiri up front), while in possession, the hosts switched to a 4-3-3 system. In general, the Werkself sought to shut down BVB's attacking game, slow down the tempo, look for counter-attacking opportunities and, when they presented themselves, launch forward at lightning speed.
The match & analysis:
The first chance of the game fell to Leverkusen in the second minute: Wirtz drilled a shot on goal from 20 metres out but Bürki proved a safe pair of hands. After that, the Black & Yellows, who had lost just two of their last 13 away games in Leverkusen, managed to find their rhythm and soon created a couple of half-chances in and around the Leverkusen area for Brandt and Reus. Bayer goalkeeper Hradecky got a stroke of luck in the second minute as he ran out to make a clearance, just managing to get to the ball ahead of Haaland (2).
The match soon settled down, with the hosts consciously looking to slow down the tempo, and then, all of a sudden, came the opening goal. The BVB defence was carved open on the counter: Bailey received the ball on the halfway line and launched a pinpoint diagonal pass over the BVB defence and into the path of the onrushing Diaby. His first touch was perfect, but he perhaps got slightly lucky with the shot; Bürki came close to making the save, but he was ultimately powerless to prevent the ball crossing the line (14).
The Black & Yellows lacked precision in the final third and - much worse - found themselves making bad mistakes in build-up play. In any case, Bayer were the dominant side and had several good chances to extend their lead. Right-winger Diaby was at the heart of things, either as provider (such as for Alario's header in the 44th minute, which Bürki saved magnificently) or as the shot taker (27/35). In the end, Borussia solely had their keeper to thank for only being a goal down by the time the referee blew the whistle for half-time.
BVB came out the dressing room with improved structure and, seven minutes into the second half, they had a big chance to draw level: Bellingham threaded a precise pass into the box to Reus, who eluded Tah near the left-hand corner of the six-yard box but couldn't quite manage to slip the ball to Guerreiro for the finish. This was a strong phase for Borussia, who had efforts on goal from Sancho (from a central position) and Meunier, who blasted over from the right due to the ball bouncing up off the freshly-laid turf immediately before he made contact (56).
The Black & Yellows continued to grow into the game. A turnover forced by Delaney provided the springboard for the equalising goal: Guerreiro played the ball to Brandt, who capitalised on the space near the edge of the area to send a curling effort into the bottom-right corner for his first goal of the season (67). Barely a minute later, he almost made it two. After a ball in from Bellingham, the goal was gaping for Brandt, but Tapsoba did well to cover and clear the ball of the line. BVB didn't let up: Reus set up Sancho, who had acres of space in the left of the box. The Englishman took the ball in his stride but his effort flew well wide of the mark (70).
Not long afterwards, Sancho was replaced by Reyna. In the 75th minute, Leverkusen almost retook the lead through Diaby, but Bürki was once again able to deny him. With the clock ticking down, the game had finally evolved into the high-octane, back-and-forth encounter we expect between these two sides. Bayer soon pounced on a mistake in midfield to deliver the knock-out blow: Diaby slipped a pass down the middle to the wide-open Wirtz, who had a look up from 18 metres out and then unleashed an unstoppable shot to give the hosts a 2-1 lead with ten minutes left in regular time.
The hectic closing stages of the match saw Borussia unable to threaten the Bayer goal, despite the introduction of two additional centre-forwards (Moukoko and Tigges).
No time to catch breath: the Black & Yellows travel to the Rhine again on Friday for another heavyweight duel, this time away to Borussia Mönchengladbach (20:30 CET).