Borussia Dortmund sneaked through to the Champions League knockout stages at Inter’s expense, defeating Slavia Prague 2-1 at Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday evening.
Jadon Sancho gave Dortmund the lead on just ten minutes, slotting home Marco Reus’ cross after the captain collected Julian Brandt’s defence-splitting pass. The England international’s sixth goal is his last five games, and came just minutes after Roman Burki brilliantly saved Peter Olayinka’s header with his feet.
Falling behind failed to dampen Slavia’s spirits, and they continued to create before levelling on the brink of half time. A quick passing move caught the Dortmund back three out of shape and allowed Tomas Soucek to slot home Milan Skoda’s through ball.
An equaliser for their Group F rivals Inter at almost the exact same moment meant that Dortmund were facing a Champions League exit as the referee’s whistle blew to call a pause to proceedings.
Lucien Favre’s side were back in the driving seat on the hour, Sancho picking out Brandt’s run towards the near post to turn provider. The German midfielder smashed beyond Ondrej Kolar to make it 2-1 and the qualification pendulum swung back in Dortmund’s favour.
Slavia should have restored parity again, and wasted three glorious opportunities in the space of a minute. Mats Hummels cleared off the line and Burki made another fine stop, before Ondrej Kudela headed wide of an open goal. It was kamikaze defending as Dortmund nerves appeared to be shredded.
Julian Weigl’s poor challenge on Tomas Soucek resulted in his second yellow card, leaving his already-panicked side with just ten men to hold onto their slim lead – but news of Barcelona’s late winner at San Siro sent a large roar around the stadium and saw the home side through to the knockout stages.
Key Talking Point
On a night where they had to better Inter’s point return, Dortmund needed to play on the front foot from the start. Lucien Favre obliged and once again deployed the 3-4-3 formation which put five past Fortuna Dusseldorf at the weekend. If it wasn’t for Marco Reus’ wastefulness in front of goal, it could have been 3-0 inside 25 minutes.
However, this approach (and wastefulness) left the back door open to Slavia – who have been a tough nut to crack in Group F and better than their pre-match tally of two points would suggest. Roman Burki denied the Czech champions twice before they equalised, and they found creating space and chances far easier than they should have.
Favre’s inability to react and commitment to a gung-ho style of play will certainly have worried Dortmund fans in the second half. With their hopes of a qualification hanging by a thread, Die Borussen continued to offer room behind their back three and space for Slavia to attack in the wide areas.
Burki’s heroics and Barcelona’s victory ensured their passage beyond the group stage, but Favre will have to rely on tactical improvement rather than luck if they are to progress further.
Starting XI: Bürki (8); Akanji (6), Hummels (7), Zagadou (6); Hakimi (6), Weigl (5), Brandt (7), Guerreiro (6); T Hazard (7), Sancho (8*); Reus (7)
Substitutes: Balerdia (5), Piszczek (5), Dahoud (5)
Still just 19 years old, Jadon Sancho was one of the coolest Dortmund players on a high-pressure evening and showed precisely none of the strain as he drove his side’s bid for qualification. With a goal and an assist in a game of the highest stakes, Sancho has truly put his recent off-field problems behind him.
The clock had barely ticked over to three minutes before Sancho made his first driving run at the Slavia defence, cutting onto his right foot and winning a corner. It only took a further seven for the winger to demonstrate his composure, calmly slotting home to put Dortmund ahead.
Jadon Sancho’s last five games across all competitions:
⚽️️ vs. Paderborn
⚽️ vs. Barcelona
⚽️ vs. Hertha
⚽️⚽️️ vs. Fortuna
⚽️️ vs. Slavia Praha
Scored *and* assisted in three of them. pic.twitter.com/dGP4RYjkAe
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 10, 2019
If it wasn’t for Marco Reus’ lacklustre finishing, Sancho would have claimed an assist long before he set Brandt away with a perfectly timed and weighted ball. It was his excellent movement and change of pace that gave him the time and space to pick out his colleague as Dortmund took the lead.
To say the game opened up in the final 20 minutes would be a monumental understatement, but it gave Sancho a chance to demonstrate both his pace and trickery as he tried to latch onto a number of balls over the top.
Starting XI: Kolar (7); Coufal (6), Kudela (6), Takacs (5), Boril (6); Sevcik (6), Soucek (6); Masopust (6), Stanciu (7), Olayinka (7), Skoda (6)
Substitutes: Helal Abdulrahim (5), Traore (5), Husbauer (5)
Dortmund face Mainz when Bundesliga action resumes at the weekend, before welcoming title rivals RB Leipzig to Signal Iduna Park.
Czech league leaders Slavia will be hopeful of extending their 14 point lead when seventh-placed SK Dynamo visit the Sinobo Stadium on Sunday.