Mats Hummels had no interest in joining the crowd of well-wishers who had gathered around Erling Haaland. Not in this moment of anger. He was far too charged for small talk. His teammates felt it too.
After the final whistle in Manchester, Hummels spoke enthusiastically to Marco Reus. The captain, on the other hand, said nothing, just looked to the side. Dealing with frustration varies from person to person. Reus didn’t want to say anything, probably nothing about the late goals conceded, which had meant that Dortmund, despite their best performance in many months, had to admit defeat to Manchester City 1: 2 (0: 0).
But Hummels spoke all the more and all the more clearly. “We sacrificed ourselves for 80 minutes, we had City exactly where we wanted them,” said the 33-year-old, who had also given an exceptionally good performance. This is probably one of the reasons why he found it difficult to cope with what happened at the end of the game. “Shortly before the first goal we concede we become passive and try to keep the game going,” said Hummels. “We allow two balls twenty meters in front of our goal,” he complained to DAZN. Tiredness is no excuse for that either. In fact, it was Reus who hadn’t attacked John Stone before his long-range shot to make it 1-1 (80th minute). Eight minutes later, Emre Can failed to prevent a cross from Joao Cancelo, which Haaland was able to use to score the winning goal for the English.
It was a defeat that almost everyone had expected in advance – but that’s exactly why it hurt so much. Because it documented the ambivalence in which BVB finds itself: On the one hand, it was clear what the team is capable of against one of the strongest opponents in European football – but it also showed predetermined breaking points: It is missing, even if almost everything is on the scales is thrown, in the end just a bit of quality at the highest level. This is a harsh conclusion as it disregards the unequal conditions between Dortmund and the English star ensemble. But Hummels pulled it anyway. Because “we can’t buy anything” for all the compliments.
With its consistent style of play, BVB had almost brought the co-favorites to win the Champions League to despair. No matter what Pep Guardiola’s team tried, Dortmund always had a way: They ran to every zone on the pitch and didn’t allow any chances to score. It was a tactical masterstroke from coach Edin Terzic, which the players implemented with great discipline. “I’ve rarely seen Manchester so unimaginative,” said sporting director Sebastian Kehl: “And that was due to the quality that we showed and that was necessary.”
These 80 minutes, during which BVB gave Erling Haaland no space at all, resulted from a clever match plan – but also from what Terzic has been demanding from the team since the start of the pre-season. It’s about a different, holistic approach to the game: everyone has to defend. On Wednesday, it was almost reminiscent of Diego Simeone’s approach with Altético Madrid in recent years.
Implementing these requirements is not always possible. There were relapses like the 2:3 against Bremen and most recently the 0:3 in Leipzig in the Bundesliga – or now in the last few minutes in Manchester. But overall, the team looks much more compact than last season. In all competitions, Dortmund have conceded nine goals in nine competitive games so far, and five times they have kept a clean sheet.
A development is visible. It’s not as easy to score against BVB as it was last season. Dortmund had conceded 52 goals in the Bundesliga. In the six games of the Champions League preliminary round there were eleven.
The greater stability is related to the commitments of Niklas Süle, who played as well as Hummels in Manchester, and Nico Schlotterbeck. BVB has made a leap in quality in central defence. What is even more important, however, is that the offensive players now support the defense significantly more. At least, most of the time.
Manchester was a real endurance test for this trend. “It’s good that we were able to try out what we’ve worked on. There aren’t that many challenges at this level in the Bundesliga,” said Jude Bellingham. In fact, it seemed as if the team was growing with their tasks.
Haaland also had this impression. “It was one of the best games I’ve seen from Dortmund in recent years,” said the Norwegian, who simply hadn’t happened when he met his former colleagues for a long time. Wedged between Hummels and Süle, he hardly got balls.
It is all the more telling that it was he who brought BVB the first defeat in the current competition – when he artistically maneuvered a cross ball from Joao Cancelo into the goal. “What flexibility, what elasticity,” enthused Guardiola about his new striker. He even compared him to Johan Cruyff.
Haaland’s goal, his third goal in the second Champions League game for City, was also a symbolic scene. She made it clear how much BVB had lost to him. “We’ve seen a lot of goals like that for us in recent years,” said Terzic. In the end, it’s mostly the quality that makes the difference. BVB played against City three times. Played well three times – “but we still stood there empty-handed three times”.