Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho are proving to be Borussia Dortmund's saviours with some scintillating performances in a big week at home and abroad. The deadly duo have formed a connection that may well have turned BVB’s fortunes around in 2020/21.
After a 2-2 draw at home to Hoffenheim on Matchday 21, BVB's season was threatening to really falter. They sat sixth with a six-point gap to the top four and seemingly in limbo with the news that interim coach Edin Terzic would be replaced by Borussia Mönchengladbach's Marco Rose, but only after the campaign.
It was Haaland's determination that earned Borussia that late point against Hoffenheim the Saturday before last, after Sancho had opened the scoring in the first half. With only one win in six Bundesliga games, there was nonetheless a deflated feeling around Dortmund and, it would be fair to say, a little worry ahead of the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie against Sevilla – a team on a nine-match winning run who hadn’t conceded at all in seven games.
And storm clouds began to gather again after BVB fell behind inside seven minutes in southern Spain. Those were blown away in a first-half flash, though, as hurricane Haaland swept through the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
First, Haaland fought his way out of a tight corner to set up Mo Dahoud for a long-range cracker before the Norwegian and Sancho combined. Haaland led a breakaway before a one-two on the edge of the box with the winger, whose return pass was a deft chip, and a typically assured finish from the striker. He then ensured a first-leg lead with a brace before half-time, curling home another counter instigated by captain Marco Reus.
Dortmund returned home buoyed; Haaland with yet another accolade of being the first player to score 18 goals in their first 13 Champions League appearances. All that joy could have been short-lived, though, if they slipped up at the weekend against arch-rivals Schalke.
Watch: Dortmund claimed the derby spoils against Schalke
Sancho and Haaland made sure there would be no such possibility against the league's bottom side.
With half-time looming, the England international punished a Schalke loss of possession with a clinical finish beyond goalkeeper Michael Langer. It was Sancho's fifth league goal of the season, all of which have come in 2021 after a - by his standards - below-par start to the campaign. It also took him to 35 career Bundesliga goals, making him the youngest player to reach that mark at 20 years, 10 months and 26 days of age.
And minutes later, Sancho turned provider once again for Haaland in even more sublime style than in Seville. After seeing the big Norwegian in space in the box, the winger clipped a ball in from on the left. A routine cross was turned into a Goal of the Season contender as Haaland pulled out a scissor kick, finishing with both feet higher than the waist of the nearest defender.
Watch: Haaland: "It was a nice goal"
It means six of Sancho's eight assists in the Bundesliga this season have been for Haaland, who joked after the game: "Obviously, the assist is there. We have to get him on more goals."
Sancho added that he wasn't surprised by Haaland's finish, explaining that he and the big striker work hard together on the training pitch.
The record-breaking Haaland then rounded off the demolition Revierderby with his second goal - his 10th brace or better in 32 Bundesliga appearances - with more of a fox-in-the-box finish to tap home Jude Bellingham's ball across the face of goal after Sancho’s pre-assist.
Watch: Sancho on Haaland: "I'm not surprised to see what he did"
Haaland has therefore been directly involved in nine of Dortmund's last 12 goals in all competitions, scoring six and setting up three. His 10 goals in 2021 is also behind only Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi (both 11) in Europe's top five leagues per UEFA coefficient.
It has seen those storm clouds partially lift over the Signal Iduna Park, as Sancho acknowledged after the victory in Gelsenkirchen: "We knew today that today was a big game for us. The recent weeks haven't been so good. We knew today that we could show the fans that we've kept the fighting spirit. I'm just happy that we got the win and to contribute with the goal machine, who got two goals."
However, it isn't plain sailing for Dortmund quite yet. Haaland, Sancho & Co. face a defining couple of weeks in their precarious season. After the Matchday 23 encounter at home to Arminia Bielefeld, they take on future coach Rose's Gladbach in the quarter-finals of the DFB Cup only four days before a trip to Munich for Der Klassiker. The second leg at home to Sevilla follows three days after that.
"Motivation. I think we know what we are capable of," Sancho said Schalke game when asked what the key ingredient in their recent form has been. "The recent weeks haven't been so good and we haven't got the results we wanted. I think we showed the fans in the last two games that we are still fighting. It's not over until the end. We just keep working on the pitch week in, week out."
With 37 goals and 22 assists between them in all competitions, this season - coming in at a rate of one every 76 minutes - Haaland and Sancho are proving that Dortmund can never be written off, as long as that prolific pair are purring.