BUNDESLIGA

Dortmund clear another hurdle to set up ‘title-deciding’ Klassiker

Borussia Dortmund reaffirmed their status as genuine title contenders with a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg on Saturday and gave themselves a boost ahead of Tuesday’s 'Klassiker'.

Dortmund clear another hurdle to set up ‘title-deciding’ Klassiker
Pool Michael Sohn/Pool via Getty Imag

For the first half of this season Dortmund’s title push looked like it would let down by their leaky defence and inefficiency in front of goal but this afternoon’s win at Wolfsburg showed that they are indeed capable of ‘winning ugly’.

Wolfsburg happy to sit back

The home side came into the match with a clear game plan and were content to allow their visitors the lion’s share of possession. Both Wout Weghorst and Daniel Ginczek were deployed as defensive forwards, pressing and harrying the Dortmund midfield and offering little in the offensive third.

Dortmund control the early stages without creating any particularly clear-cut chances until Achraf Hakimi found Thorgan Hazard in the box on the half hour mark. The Belgian’s low cross evaded the right boot of Erling Haaland but found Raphaël Guerreiro arriving late at the back post. The wing-back had been one of the best performers in last week’s victory over Shcalke, scoring two, and he calmly slotted the ball into the Wolfsburg net.

It was no more that Dortmund deserved and they coasted to half-time without breaking a sweat. But any notion that this game was over was disrupted by the news that Mats Hummels had been substituted due to a re-occurrence of a foot injury that he had picked up last week. Hummels has been one of the key figures in Dortmund’s defensive solidity this year and would be a big loss if he were to miss an extended period.

Can replaces injured Hummels

On in his place came Emre Can, himself only recently returned from injury, but without Hummel’s experience Wolfsburg grew into the game and began to pose a threat. Just minutes into the second half Can appeared to misjudge his positioning and allowed Renato Steffen a free run at goal. Steffen took a touch, drew the goalkeeper from his line, but his thunderous effort clipped the wrong side of the crossbar and flew harmlessly into the empty stands. The finest of margins.

Oliver Glasner’s team talk had clearly been an effective one and his side could have equalised again on the hour mark when Wehorst made a powerful run down the left flank and fired in a brilliant low cross. There was a moment of panic in the Dortmund ranks as Manuel Akanji lost his footing at the vital moment but the ball missed everyone and ran to safety on the far side.

Achraf doubles the lead

Dortmund knew they were in a game by this point and sent on Jadon Sancho to add to their threat on the break. The young Englishman looked a touch rusty at times but his incisive running caused problems and the balance of the game began to tilt back in Dortmund’s favour. Receiving the ball on the halfway line with 15 minutes remaining, Sancho burst through the middle and slid the ball through to Achraf Hakimi to slot past Koen Casteels in goal. As was the case last week, the boundless energy of Dortmund’s full-backs were too much for tiring defences to deal with and both Hakimi and Guerrerio were on the scoresheet.

Wolfsburg reduced to 10 men late on

With the game won Dortmund eyes switched to Tuesday and Hazard, Guerreiro and Thomas Delaney were all withdrawn to rest their legs. There was however time for one more piece of VAR-assisted action as a challenge from Wolfsburg substitute Felix Klaus was given a red card after a late challenge on Akanji. It did not look intentional but summed up Wolfsburg’s fortunes against Dortmund, a side they have now taken just a single point from in their last nine league fixtures.

Wolfsburg will slip out of the final automatic Europa League spot if Schalke win against Augsburg tomorrow and will feel they need to improve on Saturday’s showing. For Dortmund, this match was one that they simply had to win to ensure they keep the pressure up on Bayern before the two sides meet in Der Klassiker. If their title challenge is to continue into June, they will need to be at their best when they face the leaders on Tuesday.