Borussia Dortmund have tasted defeat for the first time in the UEFA Champions League this season. BVB were heavily beaten at the Johan-Cruyff-Arena in Amsterdam on Tuesday evening and deserved to lose by a 4-0 (2-0) margin to Ajax.
Boris Rupert reporting from Amsterdam
A sell-out crowd of 55,000 spectators in the Dutch capital saw Ajax, playing like men possessed, surge into a 2-0 lead. Kobel subsequently pulled off a string of saves to prevent the deficit increasing. Haaland was denied twice – shortly before and after the break – by spectacular stops from Pasveer in the Ajax goal. Antony and Haller then added to the lead in the 57th and 72nd minutes respectively to seal the 4-0 victory.
The two teams had started their respective campaigns by beating Besiktas and Sporting, though Ajax topped the group prior to this one due to their superior goal difference (7-1 vs. 3-1). This was the fifth meeting between the two clubs (previously two wins each). The Dutch outfit had won 14 of their previous 17 European home games against German clubs, with their only defeat coming at the hands of Borussia Dortmund in 2012.
BVB made one change compared with the league game against Mainz last Saturday, which ended in a 3-1 win, with Witsel replacing Can in defensive midfield. Zagadou returned to the squad for the first time in seven months.
The systems mirrored each other at times. Ajax lined up in a 4-3-3 with Alvarez in a central role in front of the back four. Reus made the difference with his positional play – sometimes down the right, sometimes centrally behind the strikers (4-4-2) and sometimes in attack alongside Haaland and Malen. Witsel occupied his usual central defensive midfield role, flanked by Bellingham and Brandt on either side.
The match & analysis:
Borussia were initially unperturbed by the heated atmosphere and even had slightly more of the match in the opening stages. But then Ajax sprang into life. Right-back Antony was allowed to escape in the ninth minute, though a combination of Hummels and Kobel thwarted the threat at the last moment. The Dutch applied further pressure from the ensuing corner, which was poorly cleared and Blind's shot from the left of the box forced Kobel into a save. Sixty seconds later, Hummels fouled Antony just outside the box on the left. Tadic stepped up from a tight angle and his shot took a decisive deflection off Reus that carried it past both Haaland and Kobel. Ajax led with 10 minutes played.
BVB looked to respond immediately but lacked precision in the final third, with a Bellingham shot that lacked placement the only time they came close to threatening. The hosts were more direct and did not give the ball away. Blind's tenacity paid off in the 25th minute when he played a one-two with Haller before shooting from around 18 metres. The ball slid slightly across his left instep and the shot took the perfect trajectory, flying into the net off the inside of the Dortmund post for 2-0.
The goal had the effect of spurring Ajax into life while paralysing Borussia, who were spared worse before the break thanks to a total of four saves from Kobel in a first half in which Ajax had 11 shots to Dortmund's two. He turned a free-kick from Gravenberch onto the post in the 43rd minute, and it was only in stoppage time that Dortmund had their first chance – a big one. But after latching on to Malen's long ball, Haaland's shot from eight metres was kept out by goalie Pasveer.
Can replaced Schulz in the left-back position ahead of the second period, which began in exactly the same way the first had ended: Tadic was free on the left but Hummels made the intervention in the centre as Haller readied to shoot. Then Hummels initiated the second top-chance for the visitors, playing a 50-metre pass towards Haaland with the outside of his boot. The forward carried it perfectly into his own path but Pasveer turned the ball onto the crossbar (48). Kobel was then tested at the other end, pulling off another world-class stop – this time from Gravenberch's strike – to stop it from being 3-0 (49). He was eventually beaten soon afterwards, though: Antony was afforded far too much space on the right of the box and set himself up to shoot with a feint, before curling the ball inside the far post (57).
Dutch goalie Pasveer then came out on top again in a third one-on-one with Haaland, pulling off a strong save to keep out the striker's well-placed shot on the turn (67). BVB also had chances – but Ajax had a lot, lot more and Blind's cross was soon headed home by Haller for 4-0 (72).
The two teams will meet again in the return fixture in Dortmund in two weeks. Before then, BVB will take on Bielefeld (23 October at 15:30 CET) and Cologne (30 October at 15:30 CET) in the league, as well as hosting Ingolstadt in the cup (26 October at 20:00 CET) Tickets are available here.