Cologne - After many a false dawn this season, Matchday 23’s 3-0 win for Borussia Dortmund over bitter rivals FC Schalke 04 in the 146th Revierderby was the clearest evidence yet that the Borussia of old are back.
To be sure, Borussia’s momentum had been building on the back of three straight victories in the league, but so excitingly dominant was their display against the Royal Blues and so electric the atmosphere that it will take much to check the optimism that now pervades at the Signal Iduna Park.
‘Auba’s confidence is sensational’
Jürgen Klopp appeared slightly disappointed that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was booked for an over-elaborate celebration after the Gabonese international had opened the scoring, but even that was not enough to temper his joy at full-time. “It was a perfect afternoon for us. We didn’t become nervous and we burst the dam in the 78th minute," said the 47-year-old. "If there’s a good side to the goal celebration, it’s that Auba believed he would score. His confidence is sensational.”
Aubameyang now has five goals in his last four league games and is possibly playing the best football of his career, but luckily for Borussia, they have another player of whom the exact same thing can be said. Marco Reus has four in his last four matches and has played just as important a role in BVB’s resurgence of late.
Defending from the front
What was significant about the Schalke game was that this was an occasion to which Reus and Co. had to rise. There was no time to dwell on a curiously bad record of only two wins from their last 15 home derbies against their neighbours from Gelsenkirchen, nor that this was, in the eyes of many, the first big test of their recent upswing in form. For the fans at least, it was the biggest game of the season, and Dortmund delivered to a man.
Much had been made of BVB’s defensive vulnerability in the first half of the season, but one could argue that the bigger problem was in attack, since Dortmund defend by attacking from the front. With Reus, Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan leading the charge high up the pitch and the ever-improving Ilkay Gündogan snapping into tackles in midfield, defenders Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic had a far quieter afternoon than they might have imagined. BVB took a stranglehold of the opposition early on that they never relinquished, and once the goals arrived, Klopp’s remark of "a perfect afternoon" was an apt one indeed.
Timing is everything
Three of Reus’ last four goals have come because BVB have forced their opponents into errors, proving that Klopp’s energetic style of play combined with relentless pressing of the opposition is still a tactic that works - it just needs the correct execution, namely all ten outfield players participating at the same time.
Borussia were spot on in that regard against Robert Di Matteo’s side, and the game will no doubt be a major fillip ahead of a taxing fortnight of matches. A visit to SG Dynamo Dresden awaits in the DFB Cup this week, before league encounters against Hamburger SV and 1. FC Köln - both of whom beat BVB in the Hinrunde - and the all-important second leg at home to Juventus in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. Klopp’s charges have picked exactly the right time to return to form.