Having gone into the winter break on the back of a six-game run that included four defeats - three of them at home and two of those to direct rivals FC Bayern and Bayer Leverkusen - Dortmund began the year with a home draw against FC Augsburg and an equally laboured but nonetheless welcome 2-1 win at strugglers Eintracht Braunschweig. At the Weserstadion on Saturday, normal service was finally resumed for die Schwarz-Gelben.
“Best counter-pressing performance of the season”
“The team played really fantastic football and thoroughly earned the win. We passed up a few chances but still managed to bag five goals. It was just tremendous,” Klopp enthused after the match. A particular source of satisfaction for him was the fact that, “in terms of counter-pressing it was our best performance of the season. It served as a first-hand reminder of just how vital a part of our game that is.” A necessary part as well, considering the hosts were second only to Dortmund in terms of their involvement in one-on-one challenges this season.
With Bremen seeking to fulfil a pre-match vow to run themselves into the ground in a bid to turn around their own ailing fortunes, BVB had to be focused from the off and they duly delivered. A goal apiece from Robert Lewandowski and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had them firmly in the driving seat by half-time, and the duo both doubled their personal tallies following Manuel Friedrich’s first for the club to round out a comprehensive victory, with debutant Levent Aycicek coming off the bench to net a late consolation for Werder.
Mkhitaryan back on form
All three Dortmund scorers had varying grounds for relief as well as pleasure at finding the net. Lewandowski’s brace took him to 13 goals for the season, leaving him in outright second place in the individual scoring chart. His much-publicised summer departure to domestic rivals FC Bayern is just “part of the football business,” for Klopp, who was “never in any doubt” that the Polish frontman would continue to produce the goods for BVB in the interim: “He’s got a very good attitude towards the game, and the team,” added the charismatic coach.
Mkhitaryan , for his part, responded in the best way possible to a degree of recent criticism of his performance level. “Miki didn’t just score two goals, he had a sensational game all-round,” said Klopp; “We know exactly what he’s capable of, which football fans and journalists sometimes forget. When it doesn’t go well for two or three weeks, everything’s called into question. We don’t do that.”
Leverkusen in their sights
That said, the coach acknowledged that Mkhitaryan’s showing at Bremen had been “incredibly important for him,” while the Armenian midfielder himself echoed Klopp’s assessment that there was room for further improvement in the area of consistency,” said the 25-year-old. “I’m still working towards the stage where I can turn in a shift like that regularly, I’ve never let my head drop and always tried to do my bit for the team, but days like today are certainly very satisfying.”
So it was, too, for Manuel Friedrich. The veteran defender, a free agent when drafted in late last year to help cover a crippling back-row injury list, admitted that “a weight dropped from my shoulders” when he nudged the ball over the line to put Dortmund three up from a corner early in the second half. After having had, by his own admission,“two or three bad games before the winter break,” the former Germany international was "able to pay something back to the club for the faith they've shown in me." His partner in a new-look central defence, Sokratis, was equally happy with “our best game in weeks. We’ve been too inconsistent lately, but now I’m confident we’re going to finish second.”