Bremen - The New Year could barely have started any better for Borussia Dortmund. In sub-zero temperatures at Werder Bremen on Matchday 18, the Yellow-Blacks produced a sizzling display to romp to a 5-0 win and announce to the rest of the Bundesliga that their title challenge isn’t over yet.
For the Cause
Of the five different goalscorers was a certain . The 26-year-old is usually used as back-up to the first team and was given the nod due to an injury suffered by Neven Subotic. After his commanding display at the Weserstadion, however, head coach Jürgen Klopp could well have a selection headache when Subotic returns to fitness.
Indeed, Santana was a rock at the back, so much so that the injured Subotic was barely missed at all. The Brazilian won 74 per cent of his tackles and also enjoyed an 88.3 per cent pass success rate, and with the ever-reliable Mats Hummels next to him, Bremen barely came close to scoring. Yet such an outcome appeared wholly unrealistic nine days ago, when he suffered a broken nose in La Manga, Spain, Dortmund’s base for the winter break.
The initial prognosis was that he would be definitely miss the game in Bremen, but his hard work in training, and the use of a protective face-mask, meant he was able take his place in the team. “The mask pressed against my face the whole game, which didn’t make it easy!” said the Brazilian after the game. “But I don’t mind making a few sacrifices if it means us winning.”
Dortmund produced, in Santana’s words, “the whole BVB package” to brush aside their northern hosts and move on to 33 points. It was also the first clean sheet that Klopp’s side had kept in the Bundesliga since November, something which Santana was particularly satisfied with. “We conceded a lot of goals in the first half of the season, and that’s something we wanted to put right after the winter break. We’ve made a good start here.”
The man from Rio Clara, Brazil, is set for a run in the side now, and although he expressed sympathy for his teammate’s current predicament, his joy at being able to play far outweighed that sentiment. “It was very sad to hear of Neven’s injury, but his loss is my gain because now I can play. When I play, I want to help the team as much as I can, and I was able to do that in Bremen”, he said happily.
Strength in depth
Since joining the club in 2008, Santana has averaged 19 Bundesliga appearances a season, a good proportion of which have come from the bench. Yet when called upon to play his part, he usually delivers. Subotic had a similar injury lay-off at one point last season and Santana filled in admirably, producing a stunning display away in the Allianz Arena in a 1-0 win over FC Bayern Munich.
In that respect, Dortmund fans needn’t be too worried about Subotic being missing, since they have a squad good enough to compensate for missing players. “We have quality in this team, and we’ll need it for the games we have coming up in the league, the [DFB] Cup and the [UEFA] Champions League.” Santana reminded the media on Saturday evening.
He is a perfect example of that strength-in-depth, but it isn’t just the weight of matches that will ensure he tastes more first-team action this term. His footballing ability has a lot to do with it, too.
Dietmar Nolte and Bernie Reeves