Borussia Dortmund tightened their grip on second place in the Bundesliga with a 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin on Saturday.
Bruno Labbadia’s men rarely threatened the hosts in the final third but made them work incredibly hard for their victory with a resolute defensive display.
In the end, a second-half strike from Emre Can was enough to seal the three points for Lucien Favre’s men.
So, what did we learn from Saturday’s late kick-off?
1. Another second-half rescue job
Dortmund simply couldn’t break Paderborn down during the opening 45 minutes of their last match but managed to demolish the Bundesliga’s basement side after the break, running out 6-1 winners. While they didn’t exactly flatten Hertha in the same manner, it still took another second-half rescue job to seal three points for Favre’s side.
A couple of wild shots off target with the sum of Dortmund’s efforts throughout the opening 45 minutes on Saturday — an opening 45 minutes which was punctuated more by slack passing and predictable movement than the slick interchanges we’ve come to expect from Dortmund.
After the break, however, and although still not vintage, Dortmund were able to up the tempo and refine their passing, hitting the mark for more often, as was on show from Jadon Sancho with his lovely chipped pass in the build-up to Can’s goal.
It’s now three Bundesliga games in a row without a first-half goal for Dortmund, who are very quickly becoming second-half specialists.
2. Labbadia finally tastes defeat
It’s been a basket case of a season for Hertha, who have spent big, struggled to fulfil their promise, then parted ways with manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who accused them of not backing him in the transfer market. However, since Labbadia has replaced the former Germany international in the dugout, they’ve been excellent.
Prior to Saturday’s match, Labbadia had guided Hertha to three wins and a draw out of his four matches in charge, scoring 11 goals and conceding just twice.
That defensive organisation was on show once again here, with Dortmund only seriously able to carve Hertha open on a couple of occasions despite dominating possession and territory, but it was at the other end of the pitch where the Berlin side struggled to make their mark.
A lack of ideas cost Hertha in the end and consigned them to a first defeat under Labbadia, although going toe-to-toe with Dortmund coupled with how they’ve improved under the 54-year-0ld will still leave fans feeling extremely optimistic.
3. A mixed day at the office for Brandt
Julian Brandt was absolutely superb for Borussia Dortmund during their 4-0 demolition of rivals Schalke 04 in the first game back but since then, it’s been something of a mixed bag.
The Germany international was absolutely woeful against Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich, while an assist against Paderborn last time out did little to suggest he was rediscovering his golden touch.
Brandt once again provided an assist in Saturday’s game, too, with a beautifully judged header into the path of Can from Jadon Sancho’s chipped pass. However, to use that assist to suggest he had a good game would be extremely wide of the mark.
Brandt completed just 74.5% of his passes throughout the match and was incredibly wasteful in possession, even when playing simple four and five-yard passes. Furthermore, the 24-year-old lost possession of the ball 20 times, more than any other Dortmund player by the time he was replaced by Gio Reyna in the 68th minute.
Credit to Brandt for contributing a defining moment but Favre will be looking for more than this throughout 90 minutes between now and the end of the season.
4. Champions League football all but secured
Even with this win, the Bundesliga title is surely beyond Dortmund, who remain seven points behind leaders Bayern Munich with just four games remaining. However, what this victory does is make their participation in next season’s Uefa Champions League almost certain.
Favre’s side are now seven points clear of fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen, who lost 4-2 to Bayern earlier on Saturday, while their status as runners-up looks assured, too, sitting four and seven points clear of RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach respectively.
One huge test against RB Leipzig remains in Dortmund’s penultimate match, but with fixtures against the struggling Fortuna Dusseldorf and Mainz to come ahead of that, Favre must be confident it’s job done now.
5. Dortmund’s production line keeps on rolling
By now we’re all well aware of the likes of Sancho and Erling Haaland but on Saturday, Dortmund flexed their youth development credentials even further, making full use of an increased substitute’s bench.
During the second half against Hertha, we were treated to the introductions of the 17-year-old Reyna, 20-year-old Spaniard Mateu Morey and 21-year-old Argentine Leonardo Balerdi.
No matter how many players Dortmund sell, there always seems to be a succession plan. That will almost certainly be vital once again in the summer as clubs continue to sniff around Sancho and Haaland among others.