After a run of just two wins since the turn of the year for Borussia Dortmund, including drawing each of the last three Bundesliga games, Lucien Favre finally has a win to celebrate again.
Their frustration at a goalless stalemate at bottom of the table Nürnberg replaced with relief at overcoming an in-form Bayer Leverkusen.
One of the prominent narratives going into this game was that this was also Peter Bosz returning to the Westfalenstadion to face his former club for the first time since his sacking in December 2017.
His short tenure at Leverkusen has largely been a positive one, mostly down to him moving Julian Brandt into an attacking midfield position which allows him to get all his main attacking players on the pitch, and get his team playing to their strengths.
With Brandt and Kai Havertz in those marauding attacking midfield positions they have been a joy to watch and bringing with it an avalanche of goals.
Going into this game, they were not just in-form, but were the form team in the league. A run of four consecutive Bundesliga wins, including the impressive 3-1 victory over Bayern, saw many onlookers expecting an upset on Sunday.
However, as I mentioned in this column last week, Dortmund had a full week to recuperate and prepare whilst Leverkusen faced Europa League action in midweek. With Karim Bellarabi already lost to injury, perhaps the fresher legs would work in Dortmund’s favour.
Another talking point leading into the game was the six point lead BVB enjoyed heading into the winter pause had completely eroded.
Bayern chalked up a 1-0 win on Saturday afternoon, this time at home to Hertha Berlin and it was again, not without talking points.
Hertha were unhappy with what they saw as histrionics from Robert Lewandowski that resulted in Karim Rekik being sent off.
The red card came late in proceedings and didn’t change the game, but it certainly didn’t help the visitors chase for an equaliser. Bayern’s winner came from the unlikely source of Javi Martinez, a player who’d put in such an impressive display against Liverpool in the Champions League.
It was another unconvincing performance from Bayern and the victory did not come without a cost. Kingsley Coman, who had played through the pain and struggled to make an impact midweek, made a very brief appearance as a substitute before pulling up injured.
It was later confirmed by Bayern that is a hamstring injury and he is expected to be side lined for at least two weeks.
A couple of other Bayern-related talking points which have emerged over the weekend are defender Rafinha being quoted as claiming coach Niko Kovac has not been respectful to him because he has trained well but played very little. That may have something to do with the fact that Bayern have David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich as their first choice full-backs and both are infinitely superior to Rafinha.
The other talking point came from Uli Hoeness; who else, right?
He curiously said that Bayern have been willing to sacrifice the league for a year to give players like Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery a decent farewell.
Uli is certainly never short of something to say.
Thoughts, Bayern Munich fans? pic.twitter.com/JRGTos5A6a
— DW Sports (@dw_sports) February 24, 2019
Anyway, back to the action in Dortmund, who were still without their talisman Marco Reus. However, there was a welcome boost in the sizeable shape of Manuel Akanji, who was returning to the back-line after missing two months through injury.
If Dortmund did have the fresher legs, the opening 25 minutes lacked any proof of that because it was the visitors who started the game stronger and looked more dangerous.
Indeed, it’s probably fair to say that when Dan-Axel Zagadou became Dortmund’s 18th different goal scorer this season with the opener at the half-hour mark, it was against the run of play.
👏 BVB-Torschützen in der @Bundesliga_DE 2018/19:
15: Bruun Larsen
1️⃣8️⃣: Zagadou pic.twitter.com/mtCbNFQ4tA
— Borussia Dortmund (@BVB) February 25, 2019
What shouldn’t be so surprising is that it came from a corner, because irrespective of who the head coach is, Leverkusen have an issue defending set pieces.
Leverkusen soon set about drawing level and it didn’t take them long. Some nice interplay between Kevin Volland and Havertz just outside the box ended with a Volland shot sneaking inside Roman Bürki’s near post.
It was a goal the visitors deserved, but one Bürki won’t be too pleased at conceding when he sees the replays.
Incredibly, Dortmund re-took the lead within two minutes as Jadon Sancho spectacularly volleyed home an Abdou Diallo cross from the left-wing into the bottom corner.
It was harsh on Leverkusen to be behind, but Dortmund began to grow in confidence and it seemed that the game was in the bag when Mario Götze latched onto a loose ball and finished smartly.
Just a few minutes later, Paco Alcacer thought he’d got the fourth, but it was ruled offside and the VAR review showed he was indeed offside. However, it was by the slenderest of margins, in fact there were literally just millimetres in it.
Interestingly, VAR in Germany adds in any part of the body that can be scored with, rather than just a line at a player’s boot as is the case in the UK.
From looking all but done, the game was soon in the balance again as a needless free-kick conceded by Raphael Guerreiro resulted in Jonathan Tah heading home to give Leverkusen hope. It was another goal which should make Bürki uncomfortable when watching the replays.
Memories of that late capitulation to Hoffenheim a few weeks ago came flooding back as the nerves began to jangle for Dortmund. They did manage to hang on, though, for what was an important win to restore a three point gap at the top of the table.
More good news followed for Dortmund as Reus returned to training on Monday and is expected to be in their squad for Friday night’s trip to Augsburg.
He’s back! https://t.co/ouJ15WPtIH
— Alex Chaffer (@AlexChaffer) February 25, 2019
— Florian Groeger (@RN_Florian) February 25, 2019
One final piece of news came from Schalke, where Sporting Director Christian Heidel has announced he will be stepping down from his role once the club appoint a successor.
Speculation is that Domenico Tedesco is likely to follow him out of the door at the Veltins Arena, following a very disappointing campaign for the Royal Blues.
It’s a story I’ll cover in more detail as it develops in the coming weeks.