Resurrected optimism – Man City heartbreak unmasks Borussia Dortmund’s character

Borussia Dortmund. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
Borussia Dortmund. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images) /

Borussia Dortmund left Manchester after coming up frustratingly short following a 2-1 loss on matchday two of the Champions League group stage.

Following the lethargic display at Leipzig last Saturday, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Borussia Dortmund supporter that realistically believed Manchester City would serve as anything other than salt in the wound. Edin Terzic’s side was out of gas, wounded, and unable to formulate a plot to unlock a defense that had conceded 12 goals in its previous 5 games.

A collaboratively dismal offensive performance was supported by the same notes of carelessness at the back that have far too often summarized Dortmund’s reputation. There was plenty to question. Commitment, effort, and potential on the part of the players and coaching staff. Some questioned Terzic’s tactical setup, while others simply viewed the result as a wash in light of the severely limited options that the young manager had to work with.

Neither side seemed completely off the mark. Silence fell on the Etihad in memoriam of the late Queen Elizabeth just before kick-off on Wednesday evening. A last deep breath before the plunge into what many assumed was the inevitable Pep Guardiola-engineered possession labyrinth. A place that, in retrospect, Terzic’s men were actually firmly content to battle in. For over 90 minutes it was precisely what Dortmund did – battle.

Dortmund intentionally sacrificed the ability to prevent the ball from getting into wide areas for City’s Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez in favor of starving Erling Haaland of clear shooting chances. It’s a tactic that clearly, even when seemingly executed to near perfection, doesn’t prevent the other-worldly Norwegian from defying physical odds and finding the back of the Dortmund net nonetheless.

Yet, the club hierarchy and traveling supporters will surely be nothing short of proud of the relentless physical and emotional effort that was clearly exerted on Wednesday night. The squad was hardly recognizable. It embodied so much of what Dortmund hoped to become defensively before a ball was even kicked against Leverkusen on August 6th. It warrants a cause for renewed belief as Terzic aims to navigate his team through what will likely be both the most unforgiving and revealing month of the season.

Edin Terzic managed to hold his own against Pep Guardiola. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Edin Terzic managed to hold his own against Pep Guardiola. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images) /

It begins with a fresh chapter of the Revierderby, ends with a trip to current league leaders Union Berlin, and features notable clashes against the likes of Sevilla and Bayern Munich. The outlook for this road appeared alarmingly bleak after the loss at the hands of former head coach Marco Rose. Indeed, there are still a few unanswered questions surrounding the offensive tactical approach. Particularly, the center-forward position and who should occupy it. The returns of Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen will surely clarify that situation by throwing a lifeline to the desperately weak pace department upfront.

What is clear is that this team does believe in the leadership and development of its own trainer. It was motivated to fight tooth and nail to nullify the glamour of a City team that is the odds-on favorite to finally lift the Champions League trophy on June 10th. Mats Hummels provided viewers with flashbacks of his prime and imposed his physicality on virtually every challenge. Niklas Sule looked confident both in cutting off Haaland’s supply and also dribbling out from the back under intense City pressure.

Borussia Dortmund were unlucky to come away with a defeat on Wednesday. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
Borussia Dortmund were unlucky to come away with a defeat on Wednesday. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images) /

Even Thomas Meunier, widely criticized for a fairly uninspiring start to the campaign, showed defensive aggression and hunger that justifies reported interest from Catalunya over the summer. Whatever the picture painted on Terzic’s wall in the preseason, this was surely the best possible timing for a moral victory that could end up proving a turning point.

Developing a habit of finding comfort in moral victories won’t win you any trophies. The term isn’t found in the Bayern Munich dictionary. However, this Dortmund team has now set a standard for which they absolutely must uphold over the course of the domestic and European season. It has proven that it does have the grit and resolve to willingly place its hand in the fire until the final whistle if it means shutting down superior opposition.

Next. Borussia Dortmund player ratings from Man City defeat. dark

What remains to be seen is if this sort of warrior mentality toward defending can be demonstrated every weekend against domestic competition. Bayern is seemingly doing its best to supply portions of the fanbase with the long-lost hope of a serious challenge that’ll culminate in May. Sebastian Kehl and company couldn’t envision a more inspiring way to pursue that reality than to bury their fiercest rivals on Saturday.