In a stunning night of football, Borussia Dortmund beat Sevilla 2-3 in the Champions League round of 16 first-leg.
The win gives Dortmund a massive advantage headed into the second-leg at home while it puts Sevilla in a tough spot. What did we learn?
1. Erling Haaland is The One
There’s this character in anime Seven Deadly Sins called Escanor. He’s a weedy human being who inexplicably turns into a hulking powerhouse during daylight hours and for one minute at noon becomes the pinnacle of all humanity, an invincible colossus who destroys everyone in his path, known as The One.
Erling Haaland is football’s Escanor. And the Champions League pitch is his one minute at noon.
Football hasn’t seen this kind of absurd combination of power and pace, perhaps ever. Adriano might have been the last player to possess such inhuman power levels. Haaland stands with the stature of Virgil van Dijk, runs with the speed of Ousmane Dembélé and shoots, well he shoots like Adriano with an almost offensive level of power. He hits that thing like it owes him money.
Erling Haaland across all competitions this season:
◎ 24 games
◉ 25 goals
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 17, 2021
Once that Champions League anthem sounds, you know you’re in for a show. Tonight Haaland saw his side go 1-0 down with Sevilla thinking they’d restore some La Liga pride, growled “who decided that?” and responded with a lovely bit of hold-up play and an assist for the equaliser then two stunningly well taken finishes to pull Dortmund into an unassailable lead in both the match and the tie.
Those were his 17th and 18th goals in the Champions League. No one has scored more goals in Europe’s top competition since Haaland’s debut than Haaland himself and remember he spent the first half-season playing for minnows RB Salzburg! Kylian Mbappé did devastating things to a dire Barcelona but Erling Haaland faced down a supreme Sevilla in the form of their life and annihilated them. Just as he has annihilated every team in his path. Doesn’t matter who you are, in the Champions League there’s no stopping a fit Erling Haaland.
He is The One.
2. Lopetegui struts his stuff
Last night Barcelona took the lead only to get overwhelmed on the break by their athletic opponents. The Blaugrana failed to react and in the second-half they got even worse. Tonight Sevilla took the lead only to get overwhelmed on the break by their athletic opponents. However Sevilla improved hugely in the second-half and even got a goal back at the end.
What was the difference? Well obviously the squad but mainly it’s that Julen Lopetegui is a brilliant manager. Ronald Koeman is not.
Lopetegui hooked Ivan Rakitic at half-time, instantly making his side 70% better. He then adjusted his team shape, playing Fernando much deeper to combat Erling Haaland’s movement and stop him gouging the space between Sevilla’s centre-backs. This coupled with Dortmund’s own lethargy allowed Sevilla to dominate the second period and get one goal back to make it 2-3.
Now, a loss is still a loss, but now the result they need to get in Germany in order to progress is within the realms of possibility. Given Dortmund’s troubles they will feel they can win 0-2, but even with Dortmund playing as they have been the idea that they could score three (and keep Haaland out for 90 minutes) is a bit far-fetched.
They have a chance, because their manager is magnificent.
3. Dortmund make their transfer pitch
This coming summer there’s sure to be a young starlet someone around Europe, likely in England, that Borussia Dortmund will approach to sign. Their pitch? Probably just game video of this match, where Jadon Sancho, Mateu Morey and Jude Bellingham started for them.
Jadon Sancho's game by numbers vs. Sevilla:
88% pass accuracy
6 penalty area entries
4/8 take-ons completed
2 chances created
1 through ball
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 17, 2021
Those are three incredibly young players given key roles in Dortmund’s first-choice XI. And while it seems obvious that Sancho would have such a role now, recall that when he joined Dortmund it was as an unproven teenager in 2017. He wasn’t signed like Haaland, where his talent had already been proven, Dortmund trusted Sancho and developed him superbly.
Sancho wasn’t just thrown in, he was trusted to get the job done. And he did. And he still is! Tonight Sancho got an assist as well as completing the joint-most passes for Dortmund and pulling off an impressive 4/8 dribbles. He’ll likely move this summer to one of the elite sides for a huge fee, Haaland will as well too more than likely, and in a few years you’d imagine Bellingham and Morey will do the same because Borussia Dortmund is one of world football’s foremost finishing schools.
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4. La Liga’s got issues
After Barcelona got absolutely wrecked by PSG, Sevilla got blitzed in much the same way against PSG. Admittedly not as dramatically but then they are demonstrably in better form with a much better coach.
The inability to cope with direct physical play has marked out not only Barcelona and Sevilla, but Real Madrid in the group stages as well. Los Blancos were atrocious and couldn’t live with the dynamism of Shakhtar Donetsk in particular, and only the fortune of getting two games against Inter (the most useless elite side in the Champions League) allowed them to sneak through.
La Liga has a problem with the sheer pace of the modern game. 2019/20 was the first time in over a decade that none of the quarter-finalists were from La Liga and the way things are going this year only the absurdly physical Atlético Madrid (who are surprise surprise runaway league leaders) might make the latter stages.
It seems like the Spanish sides need to hit the gym!
5. Dortmund can save themselves with a cup run
Borussia Dortmund are sixth in the Bundesliga. They are 16 (yes, sixteen) points behind league leaders Bayern Munich and are currently on a run of one win, two draws and three defeats in their last six league games. Their season was at risk of spiralling out of control.
But today they showed what they can do. Today they showed their incredible and potent game-winning ability. Through Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus this is a team who can beat anybody on their day. And although they struggle to hold their nerve, the sheer attacking power on display means that they could definitely go on a cup run and save their season with a bit of European glory.