Football Features

“Erling Haaland is The Terminator” – Five things learned as young and dynamic Dortmund beat poor PSG

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:16, 18 February 2020

In a thrilling night of football, Borussia Dortmund beat PSG 2-1 at the Westfalenstadion.

Erling Haaland stole the show with two second-half strikes that give the German side a priceless lead to take to the French capital in three weeks. What did we learn?

1. Erling Haaland is The Terminator

Erling Haaland came into this knockout rounds with a frankly ludicrous 8 goals. His group stage with RB Salzburg was fantastic, but no one expected him to continue on so easily in the knockout rounds (of the Europa League). No one perhaps, except Borussia Dortmund.

The German club snapped Haaland up and unleashed him in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. And for an hour PSG were doing an alright job of keeping him in check, but with 69 minutes gone Haaland showed his goalscorer’s instinct: when an Achraf Hakimi cross was deflected into his path, the giant Norwegian span in a circle, shifted his weight, and used his right-foot to deftly lift the ball into the roof of the net. It was a glorious poacher’s finish, the kind of tap-in he’s made a habit of scoring.

Then after PSG had equalised, sub Gio Reyna found Haaland just outside the PSG area. The big man shifted the ball onto his left-foot and then showed the other weapon in his armoury: a ridiculous cannon of a left-foot. Haaland hit the ball so god damn hard that it was already in the back of the net before Keylor Navas could even move. The Costa Rican simply fell over in the face of Haaland’s power.

That’s his 10th goal in seven games in the Champions League (he’s the fastest to ever do this). It’s also his 11th goal in just seven games for Dortmund. What the hell can you say about those kinds of numbers? No matter what you put in front of him, Erling Haaland will keep on coming. He doesn’t feel remorse, or sorrow, or pity. And he absolutely will not stop until he has scored a goal.

2. Well then, Neymar

There is so much hype around Neymar that it can often be hard to tell if he is, in fact, that good. For the first-half against Dortmund, Neymar looked like a player disinterested in performing. Looked like all the criticisms were true, that he was a spent force.

Then suddenly he woke up. He began moving faster, passing the ball with greater accuracy. Suddenly the Dortmund defenders were struggling to keep up with him. In fact Dortmund’s two goals came against the run of play as Neymar had led PSG to be the dominant side in the game. He led PSG in shots (6), key passes (3), and made 3/6 dribbles which only Layvin Kurzawa could better.

He also was in the right-place at the right-time to tap home Kylian Mbappé’s cross drawing PSG level. He couldn’t quite force another away goal although he did his best, hammering a shot off the post. In just his second Champions League knockout match for PSG, Neymar reminded us that he is a player who belongs on this stage.

3. Tuchel’s caution works, to a point

Thomas Tuchel has always been an attack-first coach. A disciple of Pep Guardiola, his teams have played with even more attacking abandon than Guardiola’s have. His PSG are a sensational attacking unit but have been caught out on the counter in the Champions League before.

Tuchel was obviously wary of Dortmund’s fearsome front-line, and abandoned his usual 4-2-2-2 formation in order to put out a 3-4-3 that mirrored Dortmund’s own shape. The idea of the system was clear: to stop Dortmund’s counter-attacks.

To do this, Tuchel had the three centre-backs stay narrow and defend the width of the box (often not even that). This allowed them to swarm Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho when the youngsters led the Dortmund break. In turn, this meant that the wing-backs had to defend the wide areas, which Thomas Meunier did just fine but Layvin Kurzawa wasn’t as disciplined up against the engine that is Achraf Hakimi.

In the end, PSG’s shape was so defensive that it killed their potency as an attacking unit, but what it did do was limit how dangerous Dortmund were. The German side did create danger but for 69 minutes it was only through PSG players needlessly turning the ball over under a press or Kurzawa not tracking Hakimi.

And although Dortmund did score twice, the first goal was a lucky deflection and the second was an absolute thunderbolt of a shot. Dortmund never really opened them up, which must have been Tuchel’s big fear away from home. So Tuchel’s caution did work, kind of.

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4. Hakimi The Locomotive

Achraf Hakimi is a relentless locomotive of a footballer. Looking at him you’re not surprised that he’s strong, or technical, but the sheer speed that he can produce is breathtaking and is such a gamechanging weapon for Borussia Dortmund.

Hakimi is Dortmund’s top scorer in the Champions League this season with 4 goals, and you can see how a full-back can pose such a goal threat when he hurtles forward on the counter-attack he can leave others in the dust. What’s more is he works his socks off defensively, today he won 4 tackles and made 3 interceptions, both team-highs. PSG couldn’t get past him (Neymar had to roam to find his influence) and then he was a killer the other end, creating 2 chances (only Sancho had more) and almost scoring a third with a late shot.

Hakimi is truly sensational and Borussia Dortmund’s understated game-changer.

5. Game on in Paris

Borussia Dortmund beat PSG at home. They outplayed them too. There will be lots of joy about the place, but they need to calm down and realise that thanks to Neymar’s strike making it 2-1, the tie is still very much open. In fact 2-1 is a better result than 0-0, really, because that away goal could be priceless when it comes to the second-leg.

Paris are a completely different animal at home than they are on the road. Everyone remembers the famous Remuntada against Barcelona, losing 6-1 at the Camp Nou. But for that to happen they first had to destroy the Blaugrana 4-0 at home.

And now they’ve gotten through the away leg without getting smashed, they can bring Dortmund back to their place. Alright they’ll be missing the suspended Marco Verratti and Thomas Meunier, but with the home crowd roaring them on and hopefully the presence of one (or both) of Mauro Icardi and Edinson Cavani you’d expect PSG to play a more aggressive and proactive game to try and finally get back to the Champions League quarter-finals.