A Jadon Sancho hat-trick inspired an Erling Haaland-less Borussia Dortmund to a 6-1 demolition of Paderborn on Sunday.
Since joining Dortmund in January, Haaland has been a real force of nature, scoring 10 goals in 11 Bundesliga matches and, for a long time, looked set to drag the club to a first league title since 2011/12.
However, Lucien Favre’s men fell to a crushing 1-0 Der Klassiker defeat against Bayern Munich recently, effectively handing their fierce rivals the title. Much worse, Mahmoud Dahoud and Haaland both succumbed to injury, ruling them out of Sunday’s tie with Paderborn.
“Unfortunately, Mo Dahoud will miss the rest of the season. Erling Haaland will also be unavailable against Paderborn,” Favre said after the Bayern match. “We found out the day after the Bayern game [about Dahoud]. He felt something and has a little problem. It’s not bad, but he can’t continue.”
So, with Dortmund’s title hopes hanging by the thinnest thread and Champions League football anything but assured, who would step up in Haaland’s absence to provide the cutting edge up top? Well, the first half of this clash with Paderborn raised just as many questions as it did provide answers.
Slow out of the blocks
Without the threat of Haaland racing in behind the Paderborn defence, Dortmund were forced to be far more patient in possession, working the ball from left to right in a bid to create some gaps for the likes of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard to operate in.
Paderborn saw this coming and pressed the visitors high up the pitch, tackling hard and counter-attacking ferociously. The home side broke on a number of occasions and had they possessed a little more quality up top themselves, they might have taken an unlikely lead.
However, as the half wore on, so Dortmund’s superior quality showed. The likes of Achraf Hakimi and Jadon Sancho fired a number of threatening balls across the box, leaving the Paderborn defence scrambling to recover. However, the problem of Favre’s missing striker remained. Without Haaland making runs across the defence or behind the backline, Dortmund’s movement was static and the chances created were often first-time snapshots. According to Infogol, Dortmund generated just 0.64 xG during the first half.
— Infogol (@InfogolApp) May 31, 2020
Finding their groove
Dortmund flew out of the traps in the second half with wing-backs Hakimi and Raphael Guerreiro pressing high and looking particularly threatening.
First, Guerreiro worked the ball across the box for Hakimi to crash in on goal, only for Paderborn ‘keeper Leopold Zingerle to deny the Moroccan. Next, it was worked down the right flank and across the box, with Hazard shanking a great chance wide from close range.
It was starting to feel like Dortmund were never going to breach Paderborn without Haaland but finally, in the 54th minute, they got their breakthrough. Mats Hummels brilliantly switched the ball to the left for Guerreiro who fed the onrushing Emre Can. The former Liverpool man’s cut-back was flapped at by the unfortunate Zingerle, who spilt the ball right into the path of Hazard. This time, the Belgian couldn’t miss. 1-0, finally.
There was no mistake involved in Dortmund’s second goal, which came just three minutes later as Brandt superbly squared the ball across goal for Sancho to fire home. The England international finally blew off the cobwebs which had clung to him since the Bundesliga’s return to play and marked his goal by displaying a “Justice for George Floyd” message on a vest underneath his shirt. In doing so, Sancho joins fellow Bundesliga stars Weston McKennie and Marcus Thuram in giving his support to anti-racism campaigns and protests sparked by the death of George Floyd earlier this week, for which a white, now former, police officer has been charged with murder.
Having looked completely bereft of cutting edge in the final third during the first half, Dortmund found themselves two goals to the good shortly after the break, although it did very much feel like it was the sheer weight of pressure which cracked Paderborn, rather than the slick play we’ve come to expect from BVB.
Paderborn hit back with an Uwe Hünemeier penalty in the 72nd minute, rather fortunately awarded for a handball against Can, despite the midfielder having his arm tucked in and the ball hitting him from just a yard away. No matter, though, as Sancho once again stepped up just two minutes later with a stylish turn and emphatic finish to restore Dortmund’s two-goal advantage, while Hakimi and veteran Marcel Schmelzer also found the net in the final five minutes.
There was even time for Sancho to break away against a tired and exposed Paderborn defence to complete the first senior hat-trick of his career as the game moved into added time. Cobwebs? What cobwebs?
Jadon Sancho has scored his first senior career hat-trick for Borussia Dortmund.
27 games. 17 goals. 16 assists.
There's no stopping him. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/OHMjwXaUbd
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 31, 2020
Does this ease the pressure on Favre?
Since the defeat to Bayern, questions have been raised regarding whether or not Favre is the right man to lead Dortmund back to the summit of German football.
Is a hard-earned win with a flattering scoreline against the Bundesliga’s basement side going to ease that pressure? No. However, what Sunday’s game did prove was that without Haaland, Dortmund’s other attacking talents — and particularly the returning Sancho — have enough guile and creativity to break down a stubborn, narrow and tenacious side willing to ask questions of them.