FEATURE | Three things we learned from Borussia Dortmund’s win against Chelsea

Edin Terzic’s Borussia Dortmund will head to Stamford Bridge on March 7 clinging to a 1-0 aggregate lead following a gut-wrenching win under the lights of the Signal Iduna Park. In a match which promoted individual heroism on the part of Karim Adeyemi, Gregor Kobel, and Emre Can, it simultaneously will have left supporters with a reasonable sense of uncertainty heading into the second-leg.

Terzic did little to mask the sentiment in his post-match comments: “It’s great to come out on the winning side. There was a little bit of luck involved and we had an exceptional goalkeeper. But there’s no need to apologise after winning at home against Chelsea in the last 16.” You’d be hard-pressed to disagree with the statement, especially when considering the immense pressure on the Dortmund goal as the game progressed.

Dortmund’s league form has been fantastic since the start of the new year. To the extent that the club can truly stake their claim to legitimate involvement in a domestic title race. Yet, as history has so often revealed, European nights can inspire the best and pull the curtain on a club’s true status. Dortmund could hardly have been handed an opponent with more question marks.

Todd Boehly’s persistent efforts to provide financial aid to the various accounts of football world have been well documented in recent weeks. Though it’s hard to imagine that Chelsea won’t find long-term success in their astronomical level of investments, the short-term, and their squad’s cohesion, were anyone’s guess.

Wednesday night’s fixture reinforced some of the speculation about the respective teams. Dortmund knew that denying Chelsea of the ability to impose their style of play wasn’t in the cards. In the end, the result managed to shed light on a few key characteristics of Terzic’s squad.

Here are three things that we learned in the aftermath of the first-leg clash.

Tie-altering quality exists up front and in goal

Make no mistake about it, results like this are truly a team effort. There were moments of brilliance across the pitch. Julian Brandt, Jude Bellingham, and Emre Can showed flashes of what they can be. The defensive unit was mostly solid. However, it takes more than that to advance to the latter stages of the Champions League.

Enter Karim Adeyemi and Gregor Kobel. While Dortmund failed to offer much in attack for large portions of the match, it only needed one moment of supreme speed and determination from the 21-year-old Germany international to unlock Chelsea’s defence. “(Adeyemi) executes with extreme prejudice…the counter-attack is devastating!” Ray Hudson’s commentary encapsulated the efficiency of one of the games defining moments.

Indeed, Adeyemi demonstrated that the club has that crucial difference maker up front that forces Chelsea to remain honest in defence. Enzo Fernandez may end up being one of the best midfielders of his generation, but when called upon to win his individual duel with Adeyemi, he appeared helplessly displaced when trying to deal with the speed of the former RB Salzburg forward.

The former would have his opportunity for revenge during the matches final breath as he gathered a loose ball just outside of the penalty area. His swerving effort to the top corner of Dortmund’s goal looked certain to find the back of the net, but Kobel stepped up yet again to deny the World Cup champion his equaliser. Kobel was insurmountable in this game. As he has been since putting on the Dortmund shirt. The club possess a goalkeeper that’s capable of carrying his side beyond this round and he’ll surely be called upon with even more urgency in the second-leg.

Borussia Dortmund possess the resiliency required to advance

“We work hard for success. We talk to each other a lot. It can always happen that we don’t play well and that it doesn’t work, but what we can always do is be there for each other, fight, and that’s what we’re doing at the moment,” Emre Can’s remarks speak to the unity and grit that exists in the squad.

There was a defensive swagger against Chelsea that hasn’t often been present for Dortmund in this stage of the Champions League. A pride in defending that resulted in thunderous praise from the towering yellow wall. It wasn’t always perfect in the first-leg, but the execution of the game plan will have to be pretty close to it in the second.

The return fixture will require various moments of poise under Chelsea’s high-pressing endeavors. But the team understands the mission at hand and what it asks of them as a unit. Niklas Süle and Nico Schlotterbeck must play like Germany’s future centre-back partnership.

Can will need to successfully toe the line between physically imposing himself and getting an early booking. Bellingham will once again have to cover every inch of the pitch until his lungs burst. They’re aware of these assignments and appear to be fueled by the desire to change the narrative about the club’s ability to fight their way past an elite opponent.

There is no plan B vs Chelsea

Terzic has demonstrated that he he’s got the unrelenting support of the squad. He has a genuine sense of the heartbeat of his team and where their limits lie both individually and collectively. It’s because of this that he will head into the final match of the tie with virtually the same tactical approach and line-up.

Julian Ryerson will be ineligible for the match in London following a booking he received in the second half. This will see Marius Wolf retain his place at the back. Youssoufa Moukoko will likely be unable to feature through injury and Marco Reus’ profile doesn’t suit a scenario where he’ll be asked to track back and defend for 90 minutes.

With the exception of Mats Hummels, it’s very likely that Terzic deploys the same lineup with even more of a commitment to formulating a compact and deep-lying defence. In this regard, his hands appear to be tied. Dortmund will look to hurt Chelsea in the same manner that they did the first time around.

Sébastien Haller and Anthony Modeste looked pedestrian for much of their time on the pitch in the first leg and will have to improve their ability to hold up play long enough for Adeyemi and Brandt to make runs in behind when the chances arise.

Chelsea’s mercurial attack will be looking for blood early to set the tone and pin Dortmund back into an uncomfortably deep line. Again, it comes down to execution of the game plan and the ability to avoid the needless mistakes. Graham Potter’s side will be confident heading into the game and rightfully so. But for the first time in years, it looks like Dortmund have the found the necessary mental fortitude to potentially advance past elite opposition.

GGFN | Reece Edwards

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