Borussia Dortmund have given themselves an excellent shot of reaching the UEFA Champions League last 16 thanks to a 3-2 (0-2) victory over Inter Milan on Matchday 4. BVB found themselves 2-0 down at the interval but completed a brilliant second-half comeback with Achraf Hakimi (two) and Julian Brandt the goalscorers on a wonderful evening of football for the Black & Yellows.
Boris Rupert reporting
The 66,099 spectators at a sold-out Signal Iduna Park experienced an evening of Champions League football that will live long in the memory. BVB performed well in the opening half but conceded two unnecessary goals while missing two clear-cut opportunities at the other end. But with the South Stand in front of them in the second half, they restored parity through Hakimi (51) and Brandt (64) before the Moroccan sealed the win in the 77th minute.
Inter moved level on points with Borussia Dortmund after winning the reverse fixture 2-0 three weeks ago. BVB went into this pivotal clash with an even record from their first three UCL matches (W1 D1 L1). "We're aware of the table," said Brandt at the pre-match press conference.
Favre made five personnel changes to the starting line-up that beat Wolfsburg 3-0 in the Bundesliga three days ago, with Hitz (back pain), Piszczek, Guerreiro, Dahoud (all substitutes) and Reus (ankle) making way for Bürki, Schulz, Witsel, Sancho and Götze.
Having played a 3-4-3 formation in the reverse fixture, BVB reverted to their usual 4-2-3-1 system with Hakimi and Schulz in the full-back positions. They were immediately pressed by Biraghi and Candreva – who themselves dropped back into the defensive line whenever Dortmund crossed the half-way line – whenever they had the ball. Inter defended in a 5-3-2 system but switched to a 3-1-4-2 when going forward.
The match & analysis:
The game got off to a nightmare start for the Black & Yellows when Martinez opened the scoring for Inter Milan in the fifth minute. Candreva played a long ball downfield from the right-back position and Akanji slipped as he challenged Martinez for the ball, allowing the Argentina international – the scorer of the goal that had put Inter 1-0 up in the reverse fixture – to get in behind Hummels down the right-wing. He cut in from the flank with Hummels in pursuit and coolly fired home once inside the box to edge the visitors in front.
BVB appeared to have recovered from the early setback around the 10-minute mark and began to attack with structure and speed – almost restoring parity soon after. Brandt played the ball out to the right flank into the path of the overlapping Hakimi, who squared it to Götze. The Germany international controlled it perfectly and immediately shot on the turn, but goalkeeper Handanovic was on hand to parry the attempt and Schulz headed the follow-up wide.
While Dortmund pressed, Inter played predominantly on the counter and hit the post through Lukaku in the 23rd minute. The goal would not have counted, though, as the flag was up. Dortmund were edging the stats (71% possession, 55% tackle win rate, but three shots to Inter's four) in this phase of the game, with Hakimi the standout performer – the Moroccan was practically occupying two positions and involved in every attack.
As the half wore on, the Black & Yellows began to pressure their opponents into giving the ball away. Hazard, for example, intercepted a pass and played a one-two with Brandt in the 35th minute but his subsequent effort lacked accuracy and was not powerful enough to pose Handanovic a serious problem.
The second goal came in a period when Inter were trying to slow the game down. Brozovic was not closed down in time by Götze and Brandt, allowing the Croat to feed Martinez on the left flank. He floated a cross-field pass to Candreva from the half-way line and the wing-back cut the ball back to Vecino, whose well-placed shot from 13 metres nestled inside the far corner (40).
BVB had several opportunities to halve the deficit before the interval, but Handanovic produced an outstanding stop to deny Sancho's effort following a cross into the centre by Schulz (45), Witsel missed the target by centimetres from 18 metres out 60 seconds later and Hazard's attempt to latch onto a dangerous through-ball by Götze was blocked by the knees of Handanovic.
Although the home side found themselves two goals down at the break, they were welcomed back to the pitch for the second period with a round of applause – and soon rewarded the fans for their unwavering support with a goal. Brandt and Hazard started the move before Götze drove a low cross into the path of Hakimi, who managed to squeeze the ball into the far corner. Handanovic had dealt with every shot that had come at him, but it was an unconventional effort that finally got the better of him.
Inter now began to wobble as Dortmund piled on the pressure, and the hosts would have levelled had Witsel made it to Brandt's flicked header towards the back post on time (55). The excellent Götze was replaced by Alcácer in the 64th minute. Barely five seconds later the Spaniard intercepted a throw-in from Candreva and fed Brandt, who cut into the box from the left and rolled the ball into the far corner from a tight angle.
The attacks kept on coming, with Alcácer narrowly missing a Hakimi cross on the 65-minute mark and Witsel heading a Brandt cross centimetres wide of the left post three minutes later. But the sustained pressure paid off in the 77th minute when Hakimi broke through down the right and played a one-two with Sancho before slotting a low shot inside the near post. It was his fourth goal in the competition this season.
Sancho was forced off with an injury eight minutes from time, with Piszczek slotting in at right-back and Hakimi moving forward onto the wing. Inter mounted a late surge but the only other moment of danger came as Sensi forced Bürki into a save in the 90th minute.
A congested fixture schedule of seven matches in the space of three weeks comes to an end on Saturday when BVB travel to Bayern Munich. The match at the Allianz Arena kicks off at 18:30 CET.