FEATURE | Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League campaign in precarious position after Ajax defeat

Matthew Marshall, Westfalenstadion – Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League campaign is in a precarious position after suffering a 3-1 defeat against Ajax. The main talking point was Michael Oliver’s decision to show Mats Hummels a red card in the 29th minute without watching replays on the touchline monitor.

Jude Bellingham won a penalty eight minutes later, Marco Reus scoring from the spot as the hosts led at the break. The big question was could they hold on?

Marco Rose’s side held on until the 72nd minute, but were ultimately unable to stop the onslaught, Brazilian winger Antony providing all three goals for Dusan Tadic, Sébastien Haller and Davy Klaassen.

Straight red

Borussia Dortmund created the opening opportunities. Mats Hummels headed over the bar, Jude Bellingham headed wide and Thorgan Hazard saw his shot blocked.

The match took a sharp turn in the 29th minute when Hummels was controversially sent off.

He slid in on Antony and appeared to have avoided dangerous contact, but despite multiple protests and a significant delay, Oliver, in consultation with the video assistant referee (VAR), stuck to his original decision without watching replays.

Thorgan Hazard was sacrificed for Marin Pongracic and three minutes later Dortmund took the lead.

Julian Brandt released Bellingham who was clipped by Noussair Mazraoui, the penalty claim initially waved away by Oliver, then given after another consultation with the VAR. This time he watched replays on the touchline monitor and Marco Reus made no mistake from the spot.

Ajax finished the first half strong, an ominous warning and psychological boost. Antony’s shot was saved by Gregor Kobel, Steven Berghuis’ shot was deflected wide, a volley from Lisandro Martínez sailed wide and another Berghuis effort was saved.

Second half onslaught

Jude Bellingham went close to start the second half, making space in the box and firing a fierce shot that narrowly missed the top corner.

Ajax soon took control and dominated possession. Mazraoui and Antony were seeing plenty of the ball and enjoying acres of space, space that only increased when an injured Maruis Wolf was replaced by Felix Passlack.

Borussia Dortmund were on the ropes and being boxed in, sitting deep in a compact low block and inviting Ajax to try and go around them. Their resistance lasted until the 72nd minute.

Antony’s cross took a touch off Pongracic, but only as far as an unmarked Dusan Tadic who beat Kobel at the back post.

Donyell Malen and Ansgar Knauff were introduced for Steffen Tigges and Marco Reus, Malen immediately breaking clear and forcing save from Remko Pasveer. It was a short respite as Antony had unfinished business.

The Brazilian was not being marked, closed down, or nullified and he made Dortmund pay. In the 83rd minute his cross was met Sébastien Haller who headed past Kobel, and in added time he was afforded time and space to pick out Davy Klaassen who scored from a yard out.

Oliver takes the headlines

The public pay to see the players, but Michael Oliver became the main protagonist in Dortmund after his decision to stick with his red card decision against Mats Hummels. He had a chance to watch the incident again, but chose instead to take the word of the VAR.

Oliver was close to the incident, there were obvious reasons for it to be looked at again, but to reject that opportunity was incredible.

Hummels and Marco Rose were not shy in their assessments of the decision: “I have no idea how you can give a red card there, how a referee at an apparent Champions League level can have the idea to give a red,” Hummels said to DAZN.

“An absurd mistake… It’s a farce.”

Marco Rose was just as scathing: “To have the opportunity to check the decision with people who can take a look at it… for them to say you can give that card then I’m sorry, then something is wrong in football.”

Antony, who stepped on Hummel’s ankle in an attempt to avoid a collision, milked it with a theatrical overreaction which may have influenced in the decision.

Hummels’ wasn’t too pleased with Antony’s antics: “It’s unsporting. Antony came to me and told me it wasn’t a red… He’s a super footballer but he needs to learn to be a sportsman.”

No left back, no hope

Antony has produced some outstanding performances in the Champions League. He ripped Rúben Vinagre apart in Lisbon, schooled Nico Schulz and embarrassed Emre Can in Amsterdam, but somehow Dortmund didn’t get the message.

The 21-year-old was a danger throughout and even more so when Felix Passlack replaced Marius Wolf. The winger was left wide open, in an area directly in front of Marco Rose, and he created all three goals.

There are some excuses with Raphaël Guerreiro, Nico Schulz, Mateu Morey and Marcel Schmelzer? injured. Playing against Ajax with 10 men for over 45 minutes offers some explanation.

Marco Reus, Felix Passlack and Ansgar Knauff did their best to stop the Brazilian, but they were predominantly half-hearted or empty attempts. It was baffling to see Antony repeatedly given so much time and space.

Bellingham the bright spark

Almost everything positive for Borussia Dortmund came through Jude Bellingham. He headed wide early on after Remko Pasveer vacated his goal, and beat Edson Álvarez twice in quick succession before providing a chance for Thorgan Hazard.

The 18-year-old won the penalty that put Dortmund ahead, showing great awareness and skill early in the second half with a shot that narrowly missed the top corner.

He continues to be one of Dortmund’s most influential players, and in Erling Haaland’s absence, is increasingly becoming the most influential player.

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