Borussia Dortmund have retained top spot in UEFA Europa League Group C and taken a huge step towards the knockout stages of the competition after recording a comfortable 3-1 (2-0) victory over Gabala FK. The match-winner for Thomas Tuchel's side was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Gabon international scored all three goals (31, 37, 72) in front of 9,000 spectators at the Bakcell Arena, taking his tally for the season to 17 goals in 16 games and paving the way for a BVB victory in the first 45 minutes. But it was not all plain sailing for the Black and Yellows, with Gabala's Dodo twice squandering chances to fire the hosts into the lead in the opening stages (7, 11), though the Brazilian did eventually pull a goal back in the third minute of stoppage time.
Felix Ulrich reports
With four points from their first two group games following a 2-1 home win over Krasnodar and a 1-1 draw in Saloniki, BVB knew that a win in Azerbaijan would see them remain in top spot and take a huge step towards the knockout stages. Gabala had drawn 0-0 against PAOK and lost 2-1 in Russia. "We need to be on our guard and will need to work just as hard as our opponents. We're aware that we're in a good position, but we need to deliver the goods," said coach Thomas Tuchel before the match.
With the exception of the injured Sahin and Durm, BVB had almost a full squad to choose from for the trip to Baku. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 26, was not included in the squad due to the tense political situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and remained in Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel made two changes to the team that won 2-0 in Mainz, with Hofmann replacing Mkhitaryan and Weidenfeller stepping in for Bürki. Gabala coach Roman Hryhorchuk fielded the same starting XI that lost 2-1 in Krasnodar on Matchday 2.
Though the two teams lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, they both adopted entirely different tactical approaches to the match. Gabala sat back and gave BVB space, letting the visitors have the ball and trying their luck with counter-attacks or long balls. The main danger posed by the men from Azerbaijan came down the right wing. Borussia made hard work of it at the start but their passing improved as the match progressed, with the visitors skilfully keeping the ball and making their possession count.
The match & analysis:
By the time Croatian referee Ivan Bebek blew the half-time whistle, Borussia Dortmund were already 2-0 up. And it was a deserved lead too. BVB dominated the first period, hardly giving their hosts a sniff of the ball between the 30th and 45th minutes and recording 65% possession.
The Black and Yellows, who had eight shots to their opponent's five before the break, had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to thank again. Having been denied by 'keeper Bezotosnyi (21) and defender Dashdemirov (23), the Gabon international fired a brilliant effort into the top-right corner from a centre-left position 18 metres out (31). It was a strike worthy of "goal of the month".
The striker's second came just six minutes later when he played a great one-two with Kagawa and beat Bezotosnyi from a narrow angle (36). The first half was going according to plan for BVB.
And yet things could have been so different if the home side had converted one of their chances. In the 7th minute Gabala's captain Dodo, under pressure from Ginter, missed an open goal. Four minutes later Ginter made a last-ditch clearance by clawing a Dodo lob over Weidenfeller almost off the line (11). Then, in stoppage time at the end of the first half, Stankovic fired the ball over the bar from less than two metres out following a free-kick. But at the break the score read 2-0 to BVB. The visitors were entitled to be happy.
BVB continued to dominate proceedings after the break, increasing their ball possession to over 70% and leaving Gabala chasing shadows. With 58 minutes gone, Bezotosnyi thwarted Aubameyang's long-range effort. Shortly afterwards the visitors made a double substitution, with Gündogan and Hummels coming off for Bender and Piszczek (63).
Aubameyang slots home the third
The visitors wrapped up the three points in the 72nd minute. After an unmarked Hofmann missed a chance to put BVB 3-0 up (71), Bezotosnyi saved a Bender shot from the resulting corner but could not stop Aubameyang from snapping up the rebound. It was a 17th goal in 16 games for Borussia's frontman.
That was it for the hosts, who up until that point had not had one single shot on Weidenfeller's goal in the second half. BVB continued to dominate until stoppage time and could have won by more if Reus (79), Ginter (80) or Aubameyang (90) had been able to add a fourth. Instead, it was Dodo who grabbed a consolation goal for the hosts in the 93rd minute.
BVB's next game in the Bundesliga comes on Sunday when they welcome FC Augsburg to Signal Iduna Park (15:30 CET). Three days later the Black and Yellows play host to SC Paderborn (19:00 CET) in the second round of the DFB Cup. On 5 November, Gabala FK will travel to Dortmund for the return fixture in the UEFA Europa League (19:00 CET).