In a match which had been billed a test of both teams’ title credentials, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig produced the most thrilling game of the Bundesliga so far – including eight second-half minutes of sheer madness.
In the pouring rain at a packed Westfalenstadion, over 80,300 fans were treated to ninety minutes featuring everything from sublime skill to catastrophic errors, all of which left fans shaking their heads in disbelief at both ends of the spectrum.
First, there was Borussia Dortmund’s best 45 minutes of the season so far, and perhaps ever under Lucien Favre. The home side went 2-0 up, leaving RB Leipzig looking unrecognizable from the all-conquering offensive machine which had gone top of the league at the weekend.
And then there was Borussia Dortmund’s worst eight minutes of the season so far, eight minutes of self-inflicted carnage in which they gifted Timo Werner – of all people – two early Christmas presents, two gift-wrapped opportunities to show exactly why he is one of the Bundesliga’s most devastating attackers.
Key to both of those spells, for good and bad, was Julian Brandt. The 23-year-old is blessed with prodigious talent but also an infuriating ability to frustrate, and the Dortmund playmaker showcased both here either side of halftime.
Julian Weigl had already given the hosts a deserved lead when Brandt received the ball in the box. In one fluid movement, the former Bayer Leverkusen man controlled the ball with his left foot, swiveled and flicked it past Dayot Upemacano with his right, before firing home.
It was poetry in motion, a moment of genuine beauty which capped off an impressive start from the home team who, unusually, weren’t necessarily favorites ahead of kickoff, trailing RB as they did by four points.
The league-leaders were uncharacteristically subdued up front though, with Favre’s switch to a 5-3-2 formation paying tactical dividends again. And when Yussuf Poulsen and then Werner did get headers on target, Roman Bürki saved spectacularly – twice.
“That simply wasn’t the game we wanted to play in the first half,” admitted Julian Nagelsmann afterwards. “Dortmund were so much better than us in possession – I don’t think Julian Brandt lost the ball once.”
For Bürki and Brandt, heroes of the opening act on a night of high drama, the interval was also time for a costume change as the pair quickly emerged in very different roles.
Almost straight from the restart, the Swiss keeper rushed out of his goal to meet a long ball but inexplicably headed into the path of Werner who immediately pounced, sliding the ball into the empty net from 30 yards. Six minutes later, it was Brandt who blindly played a back-pass into Werner’s path. The Germany striker went round Bürki for his 18th goal of the season, taking him level with Robert Lewandowski.
“That was worth its weight in gold for me and for the team,” said Werner of the first error. And the second? “I speculated on that one and it worked. And that got us back into the game.”
“We gifted Red Bull two goals,” lamented Bürki live on television, before correcting himself: “Sorry, RB …” A Freudian slip which served as a reminder of the eternal subplot to this fixture.
“Zero tolerance for RB Leipzig!” read the huge banner on the Südtribüne ahead of kickoff – but RB Leipzig were finally contributing. Nagelsmann’s side were back on level terms with all to play for, and the small block of traveling fans from Saxony was suddenly bouncing. Until Jadon Sancho immediately restored Dortmund’s lead.
It was anybody’s game. Both teams had recovered from disastrous spells and rediscovered their confidence, ingredients for a second half in which both teams passed and probed, tricked and tackled.
“When you’re 2-0 up at home, you really should see it out,” said Bürki. “But unfortunately, we made it exciting again.”
Patrik Schick’s equalizer, a perfectly-timed half-volley purposely hit into the ground, rescued a point which the visitors will be much happier with. In eight second-half minutes, Dortmund had gone from two goals ahead, to drawing level, to leading again. In the end though, as was the case at home against Bremen (2-2) and Paderborn (3-3), Dortmund were left with only a point to show for their efforts.
It was certainly exciting – one might even say an advert for the Bundesliga. But both Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig have a long way to go if they’re to win the league this season, and Bayern Munich can close the gap on Wednesday night.