Football Features

Marcel Sabitzer inspires Borussia Dortmund to rare Champions League comeback vs Atletico Madrid

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:44, 16 April 2024

Marcel Sabitzer was the star of the show as Borussia Dortmund came from behind to knock Atletico Madrid out of the Champions League quarter-finals.

Twelve months ago, Sabitzer was sitting out of a 2-0 win for Manchester United over Nottingham Forest due to an injury and would play just three more Premier League matches before the end of the season. The Austrian, who was only on loan from Bayern Munich, did not make his move permanent and returned to Germany in the summer.

But he didn’t have a future at Bayern either, being sold to Borussia Dortmund. And it’s a move that has absolutely paid off. Over the course of the season, Sabitzer has looked closer to the player that caught the eye at RB Leipzig, the midfielder Bayern thought they were signing in August 2021.

Against Atletico Madrid, he had perhaps his best game in a Dortmund shirt to date.

Dortmund went into the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final 2-1 down on aggregate, but confident of turning things around. After all, they had progressed through eight of the 16 knockout stage ties in major European competitions when losing the first leg away from home.

It was a nervy opening 30 minutes as Atletico Madrid looked to protect their lead, soaking up the pressure while hoping to hit Dortmund on the counter. But the hosts finally got the breakthrough in the 34th minute through Julian Brandt. Five minutes later it was 2-0 and this was Sabitzer’s first goal involvement.

With Dortmund keeping possession well, Sabitzer found room inside the box with a good run off Axel Witsel, also opening up space for Ian Maatsen to run into. A stretched first touch, Sabitzer’s second was a backheel into the path of Maatsen who drilled the ball across goal to put Dortmund 3-2 up in the tie.

But after 64 minutes, Dortmund were trailing once again. First the equaliser in the tie came through an own goal from Mats Hummels — who was otherwise excellent — and then Angel Correa made his impact off the bench to make it 2-2 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate.

Ten minutes later, Sabitzer had turned the tie on its head. He set up the equaliser for Niclas Fullkrug with a good cross, again finding space in the final third with a great run. Dortmund really utilised his quick bursts to open up the right side of Atletico Madrid’s defence. The cross was perfectly-weighted onto the head of Fullkrug who diverted it past Jan Oblak.

And then Sabitzer finally got on the scoresheet, the most-deserving man to score the winner. Again, Sabitzer made space for himself on the edge of the box, but this time it was with a lovely first touch to wrongfoot the defender. After another touch to compose himself, Sabitzer drilled the ball into the bottom right corner, sending the Dortmund support into raptures.

In total, Sabitzer had four shots, six touches inside the opposition box, created one big chance and created two chances, as well as 13 passes in the final third and two possessions won in the final third.

“Sabitzer has literally had the game of his life. He was everywhere in the big moments. Everything he touched today, Sabitzer, turned to gold,” former Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves told TNT Sports after the game.

“To be fair you need players to step up in the big moments, Sabitzer was the guy that stepped up and changed the game.”

The result made Dortmund just the second team to lose the first leg of a Champions League knockout stage tie away from home against Atletico Madrid, but go on to eliminate the Spanish side — after Juventus in the 2018/19 last 16. Paris Saint-Germain await in a replay of the group stage.