Despite the bitter cold, 1. FC Nürnberg and Borussia Dortmund both put on a great show for spectators at easy Credit Stadion, but the more talented team took all three points with Dortmund shutting out Der Club and scoring two second half goals. Dortmund’s win sets the bar for the remainder of MatchDay 20, with Bayern Munich, Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach needing wins to keep pace with the club that now is atop the league table, at least for a day.
Coming into Friday’s match, Dieter Hecking’s club stood in 13th place in the table, fashioning a 6-3-10 record thus far in the campaign with a -10 goal differential. Seemingly no match for Jürgen Klopp’s high-flying Dortmund side that hadn’t lost in league play since September, Hecking’s club proved otherwise for at nearly 50 minutes before succumbing.
Nürnberg: R. Schäfer – Feulner, Maroh (Bunjaku 80′), Wollscheid, Hlousek – Simons, Cohen (Chandler 59′) – Hegeler, Didavi, Eigler (Esswein 59′) – Pekhart
BVB: Weidenfeller – Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer – S. Bender (Leitner 22′), Kehl – Blaszczykowski (Gündogan 88′), Kagawa, Großkreutz – Lewandowski (Barrios 72′)
First Half Superlatives
Each team started the match a bit cautiously, feeling their way in the Arctic cold, but it wasn’t long before both caught fire. The fact that the first half ended scoreless belies the quality exhibited by both clubs. Early on. a ball from the back looked to provide a BvB threat to Nurnberg, but target man Robert Lewandoski was called offside. Nurnberg responded with a flurry of attacks down the left side, earning four corner kicks during their hectic pressuring of Dortmund around the 10 minute mark. Unfortunately for Der Club. Adam Hlousek’s set-piece offerings weren’t converted into goals, as Dominic Maroh had a close range shot blocked and Timmy Simon’s fine headed flick across the goalmouth was denied by Shinji Kagawa at the far post. Dortmund’s defense looked a bit rattled, despite their leaping defenders knocking away balls into the box, as shortly afterwards Neven Subotic made a pass near midfield to no one, and Nurnberg pressed enough to cause some anxious moments for Klopp.
But Jurgen Klopp’s men got their act together quickly, and the remainder of the half was a display of exciting, attacking football by both opponents. Tomas Pekhart had an attempt on goal from a bad angle that Dortmund’s Weidenfeller slapped away, while Nurnberg keeper Raphael Schafer kept Dortmund’s Lewandowski from the scoreboard with a fine save in a 1 v. 1 situation in the 21st minute. Kagawa laid a great low cross near Nurnberg’s goal near the half hour mark that no teammate could get on, while minutes later Sebastian Kehl flicked a cross into the Nurnberg box that was too deep to cause trouble. In the 34th minute, Kagawa laid out a magnificent ball for Lewandoski, but Shafer again saved the Pole’s powerful shot, and later had to smother a soft shot by Kagawa on the line. Despite Nurnberg’s obvious preparation for this match, the good news for Dortmund was that they held off Nurnberg’s attack without their goal being breached. The bad news was the injury loss of midfielder Sven Bender, who limped off the field and was replaced by Moritz Leitner in the 22nd minute.
Dortmund Takes Control in Second Half
Jurgen Klopp’s team isn’t a good team — they are a great team. After withstanding the best Nurnberg could give them in the first half by a combination of good defending and good luck, Dortmund for all intents grabbed all three points in the first three minutes after intermission, as Sebastian Kehl slotted home a goal following a brilliant display of effective passing initiated by Kagawa and Leitner, with right back Lukasz Piszczek pulling back a ball for Kehl to guide in. The goal seemed to take a step out of the Nurnberg side.
Nurnberg did seem to regain their liveliness at the hour mark with the dual introduction of Alexander Esswein and especially Timmy Chandler. The American international hadn’t played since before Christmas, and though he seemed a degree out of sync with his teammates, his energy and pace contributed to the threat that Nurnberg still imposed even after conceding. One wonders, if Nurnberg had been able to convert one of their first half opportunities, would Chandler’s forays down the right flank have found more success with Dortmund having to chase the game, opening up more space in their own end of the field. Nevertheless, it was Dortmund that scored the game’s only other goal as Lucas Barrios, rumored to be on his way out of the Ruhr Valley during the recently concluded transfer window, notched his first goal of a season plagued by his summer injury in Copa America. Despite a fine one-handed stop by Schafer on Kagawa’s low 81st minute shot, Barrios was able to pounce on the rebound and score. Even with a two goal lead and only minutes remaining in the freezing cold, Dortmund was ruthless enough to go for another score, though Kagawa’s goal was called back for offsides, and the match ended 2-0 in Dortmund’s favor.
Nurnberg actually had more shots (12-11) than Dortmund and earned seven corner kicks to the solitary one earned by the yellow-blacks. Dortmund dominated possession by a 61 to 39% margin, with Lewandowski leading the team with four shots while Pekhart had three to lead Der Club.
Dortmund are in outrageously fine form — displaying the type of confidence wed of teamwork and ability. It was no shame for Hecking’s team to lose this match. Though Hecking will rue the lost points, few clubs would beat Klopp’s side playing at this level of clarity. It will be up to Nurnberg’s leader to persuade his players that performances of the type exhibited Friday will most often result in points, which they need to earn in next weekend’s away contest with FC Augsburg. The club needs more skill, and luck, in finishing also — they’ve only totaled 19 goals in Bundesliga play thus far this season, not enough even with Schafer performing so well in goal.
Meanwhile, Dortmund have thrown down the gauntlet to the other title contenders playing later this weekend. Klopp’s men weren’t perfect, but whatever temporary lapses suffered by Nurnberg’s pressing of their defenders were overcome by sheer determination. This is a club that not only reflects the working-class ethos of its fanbase, but also displays pure artistry on the pitch approaching that displayed by Barcelona. Different styles, but each joyful to observe.
It’s often difficult to determine a man of the match for Dortmund side when so many play well, but Shinji Kagawa perhaps shone brightest on Friday. The Japanese international has regained the exciting level of form that he displayed last season before being breaking his foot during the Asian Cup, putting together consecutive outstanding performances. His displays of creativity and quality are abundant and reason enough to purchase a ticket. He completed 31 of 37 passes Friday, while continually displaying pace and vision. Personally I’m very happy that Dortmund resisted any thoughts of selling the young star after purchasing Marco Reus during the winter transfer window.
Bothersome, though, is the potential extent of the injury suffered by Sven Bender. The midfielder, too, has been in excellent form, and despite the amount of talent at Klopp’s disposal, match commentator Phil Bonney pointed out that it may be difficult to replace Bender, who is so strong both in attack and in defending. Leitner played well today, though, coming on for the injured midfielder.
Dortmund will play on Tuesday away in the DFB Pokal quarterfinals to surprising Holstein Kiel. On Saturday they face Bayer Leverkusen at the Signal Iduna Park. Before those matches, though, we’ll see if their Bundesliga rivals can keep pace this weekend with the current table toppers.