Dortmund – The Bundesliga title may be mathematically in the bag already for FC Bayern München, but the race to finish directly behind them promises to go right down to the wire after Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 shared the spoils in their derby head-to-head at the Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday evening.
Fährmann the intimidator
After a fairly even first half, played out with its habitual intensity in front of a heaving 80,000-strong crowd, the hosts upped the pressure in the second 45 and Schalke had keeper Ralf Fährmann to thank above all for the clean sheet that allowed them to make the short journey home with a hard-earned point in the bag.
At the other end of the park, there were slim pickings on the night for in-form Royal Blues frontman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who went into the match with six goals bagged in his previous three league outings. The Dutch star acknowledged afterwards that finding the net was not always the priority after the interval, “when we weren't quite as aggressive and kept giving our opponents an extra metre or two of space. When that happens, you immediately find yourself tracking back more".
That said, and despite Schalke paying a price for their high-octane pressing before the interval, Huntelaar was satisfied that “over the game as a whole, we did a good job and Ralf Fährmann pulled off a few fantastic saves”, adding with a laugh that “he scared Dortmund so much they ended up missing the target”. The hosts' fit-again defensive coordinator Mats Hummels didn't go so far as to corroborate the latter assertion, but he did agree that BVB's failure to finish was in great part “down to Ralf Fährmann – he really is an excellent keeper – and to ourselves, of course. We did put a few chances wide”.
'The moments you play football for'
All-in-all though, Hummels reckoned Dortmund “played really well and we were the better team by some distance. Unfortunately we couldn't score, which is a pity – but still a lot better than putting in a poor showing at home and losing, like against Gladbach”. As to the no-nonsense approach adopted by both sides from the off, the 25-year-old Germany international found it to be “just the right intensity for a derby. Hard, but not overhard or unfair, just good, hot-blooded tackling.” Huntelaar agreed, echoing Hummels' praise for man-in-the-middle Florian Meyer's performance: “The ref didn't blow up straight away for every tackle, which was great. Emotion, passion and one-on-one tussles are part of any derby.”
A great goalkeeping performance was also a big part of this one and man of the match Fährmann modestly acknowledged he was “happy to have been able to avert the danger in one or two situations”. But he was even happier "to get the chance to give something back to the club. The response from the fans after the game was something else again. Those are the kind of moments you play football for.” The bottom line for Hummels meanwhile was “a mixture of disappointment and satisfaction.” Disappointment as, “When you get four or five massive chances, you really have to put one away,” but satisfaction nonetheless with “our best home performance in months. It was important for us to see that we can actually play the way we want, even if we haven't been doing so consistently for quite a while.”
Two teams, one goal
Consistency meanwhile has been one of Schalke's strong points so far in 2014, give or take a couple of high-end pummellings from which they have bounced back well. Next up is a home game against Hertha Berlin in Friday evening's Matchday 28 opener and Huntelaar is confident that “the point we took from the derby will give us even more confidence. We've put a really good run together since the league restarted, and only lost to Bayern. Obviously we want to keep that going in our next game”.
The race for second place thus continues apace, with Dortmund's next assignment coming at relegation-threatened VfB Stuttgart on Saturday. Despite failing to capitalise on that outfield superiority against their great rivals, the BVB camp remain distinctly upbeat about their prospects for the rest of the campaign. “If we keep playing the way we did here,” Hummels reflected, “we've a very good chance of ending up in the position we're aiming for – which is the one we're in now.”
Check out the official Bundesliga YouTube channel to find out just why the Revierderby is such a big deal: