The Bundesliga has a new leader, at least for one night, after Borussia Dortmund saw off Hoffenheim. Julian Brandt’s goal made it nine wins in a row for BVB, who also benefited from a controversial penalty decision.
“Spitzenreiter! Spitzenreiter!” was the cry from the travelling Borussia Dortmund supporters after their team won 1-0 away at Hoffenheim on Saturday, the German equivalent of: “Top of the league!”
It was a word those in black and yellow have not been able to chant for 1,275 days. And even then, in August 2019, it was on matchday two. Indeed, you have to go back to the previous season, the 2018/19 campaign, for the last time that Borussia Dortmund were top of the Bundesliga at this stage.
Then, they won’t care to be reminded, Lucien Favre’s side led the league for 19 straight weeks before conspiring to surrender a nine-point lead as Bayern Munich won their seventh title in a row.
This time, Eden Terzic’s side’s stay at the summit could prove to be even more fleeting, with Bayern able to go back on top on goal difference should they beat fellow title challengers Union Berlin on Sunday.
Brandt: ‘We’ve often lost these sort of games’
It’s for that reason that goalscorer Julian Brandt was keen to use as many cautious metaphors as possible in his post-match interview: “We’ll take this wind with us and keep riding this wave,” the 26-year-old told Sky. “But let’s leave the church in the village” – the German way of saying “let’s not get carried away.”
Perhaps he just didn’t want to take too much credit for his rather fortuitous 43rd-minute strike, having actually tried to duck under Marco Reus’ free-kick which nevertheless skimmed off his back and into the net.
But Brandt can certainly take credit for his role in Dortmund’s incredible form since the turn of the year. His winner against Hoffenheim was his fourth goal in as many games, while he has also been an impressive source of creativity, running and tenacious tackling in recent weeks.
“We’ve often lost these sorts of games,” he said after seeing off concerted second-half pressure from relegation strugglers Hoffenheim, who have now extended their winless run to a club record equalling 12 games. “But today we earned ourselves a bit of luck, and Gregor [Kobel] made some great saves.”
A game of two goalkeepers
Indeed, if the scoreline in Sinsheim remained low, it was largely because both goalkeepers excelled.
In the first half, Dortmund’s Kobel got a minimal but vital touch to a lose ball which resulted in Ozan Kabak heading over the bar rather than under it from one meter out, before pulling off further saves from Christoph Baumgartner and Kasper Dolberg.
At the other end, his opposite number Oliver Baumann was even more impressive, parrying well from Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Sebastien Haller before half-time, before pulling off a stunning double save in the 76th minute, first from Brandt and then an immediate follow-up from Jude Bellingham, in a man-of-the-match performance.
Controversial penalty decision
But Brandt was also correct that Dortmund rode their luck, especially when Hoffenheim – and everyone else at the Pro Zero Arena – thought they were about to be awarded a second-half penalty after Emre Can appeared to foul Kevin Akpoguma.
When referee Martin Petersen went to view the replay on his monitor, it was seemingly to confirm that the contact had occured inside the box, as the replays clearly showed. Instead, Petersen decided that the contact didn’t merit a foul at all and restarted play with a drop-ball, to the confusion of all and the fury of the home team.
“Akpoguma turns away, Can catches him on the foot and brings him down, and what does the referee give? Drop ball!” said perplexed defender Kevin Vogt. “Now it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Dortmund fan or a Hoffenheim fan, but drop ball? I don’t know. I just don’t understand. For me, it’s a clear foul.”
Dortmund, understandably, saw it differently. “When you see how Akpoguma continues to fight for the ball, you can tell that even he didn’t feel enough contact for it to be a penalty,” said head coach Terzic, before adding praise for the referee.
“It wasn’t easy to make a decision immediately at that speed,” he said. “There are many referees who wouldn’t have had the courage to not give a penalty there.”
Can was just as convinced. “It’s not a penalty, he’s barely moving, he’s just standing and he’s standing. He feels some contact but goes down much later. So I think the referee got it right. Many would have given a penalty but it was never a foul in my eyes.”
Petersen himself revealed that he had initially given a foul for a Can push on Akpoguma with his hands and only told of the foot contact by his video assistant, hence the check. “I saw that the contact was in the box I ultimately decided that the push didn’t merit a penalty and neither did the foot contact,” he explained.
Terzic: ‘A good away performance’
The video assistant referee worked in Hoffenheim’s favor moments later when Nico Schlotterbeck was ajudged to have clipped Ihlas Bebou in the build-up to Marius Wolf’s rocket into the top corner, as Dortmund were forced to defend their one-goal lead until the end.
“It was the narrow, hard-fought game we had anticipated,” said Terzic. “For twenty minutes before half-time, it was a very good away performance and we could have led by more. The second half was more open and rode our look, but we also had chances. So it was a deserved win against a strong team.”
A deserved win which will have the traveling fans singing “Spitzenreiter!” all night, and at least until Sunday.
Author: Matt Ford