DORTMUND, Germany — Three quick thoughts from Monaco’s 3-2 Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on Wednesday.
1. Dortmund, Monaco unite after attack
Speaking to Sky Sport before Wednesday’s match, Thomas Tuchel said he had the feeling UEFA felt “helpless” when making the decision to go through with the Champions League quarterfinal between his Borussia Dortmund and Monaco despite Tuesday’s attack that left Marc Bartra with a broken wrist.
But the match had to be played regardless of the explosion that hit Borussia Dortmund’s team bus the previous day. The BVB coach only called up 17 players to his squad, and left the last one open for Bartra.
Throughout Wednesday, groups of supporters could be seen chatting to each other, embracing each other and celebrating their new friendship. A friendship forged when Dortmund supporters opened their doors to those stranded in Germany’s west following Tuesday’s incidents. Outside the ground, Monaco fans displayed banners, thanking their hosts for a bed and a warm meal. Inside, they chanted “Dortmund, Dortmund” when the teams walked out to test the pitch 70 minutes before kickoff.
It was the essence of football, scenes that might be remembered longer than Monaco’s 3-2 win against a visibly shaken BVB side. And indeed, it was a peculiar opening to a Champions League quarterfinal, with Dortmund players warming up with shirts showing their support for Bartra, who had to watch the match on TV following surgery.
Inside the famous Westfalenstadion, armed police assured all that everything would be just fine after the attacks. German politicians turned up in forces. Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s minister of the interior, and Hannelore Kraft, prime minister of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, were among those witnessing Dortmund’s struggles against the Ligue 1 leaders.
The famous Sudtribune, Europe’s biggest standing terraces but an all-seater for European games, unveiled a giant black and yellow BVB logo after all of the stadium joined in for a particularly heartfelt rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The supporters sang throughout the night, which all but ended Dortmund’s hopes of reaching their first Champions League semifinals since 2013.
2. Monaco exploit Dortmund nerves
Coach Leonardo Jardim made four changes to the side that beat Angers 1-0 at the weekend. Andrea Raggi, Joao Moutinho, Thomas Lemar and wunderkind Kylian Mbappe returned as Monaco made a giant step toward the semifinal. For major parts of the match, they were the classier of two teams pushing for goals.
They took advantage of Dortmund’s nerves going into the tie. Having won and missed an early penalty, Monaco did not stop. Mbappe, picking up a ball in midfield, broke away at top speed and found Lemar, who waited to cross into the box. Mbappe was there. They had more chances and bossed the midfield.
Captain Radamel Falcao showed all his experience when patiently escorting Sven Bender to score his own goal.
It all changed at half-time when Dortmund forced Monaco back into their own half. The Ligue 1 leaders were no longer able to fight back, wanting to hang on to their slim lead for the reverse fixture at home next week. They picked up three bookings and granted Borussia set pieces in dangerous zone. Counter attacks were stopped before the halfway line, and they barely made it out of their own end.
But as the minutes passed during the second half, Monaco awoke, found stability, moved the play up the pitch and slowly freed themselves of the pressure Dortmund put them under.
Falcao could have sealed it after 75 minutes, but he placed his left-footed shot over the bar. Four minutes later Mbappe intercepted a Lukasz Piszczek pass, ran past Sokratis and with a surgical shot from just outside the box into the top right corner, opened the door to the semifinal — even though Kagawa pulled one back after 84 minutes.
However, there will be bigger and, most importantly, better defending sides awaiting Monaco in the last four. And given Dortmund’s showing in the second half, they must avoid allowing BVB to get on a role in the first half in the principality.
3. Dortmund endure more turbulence
It has been quite a turbulent season for Borussia Dortmund. They have gone through a number of high-profile incidents domestically, where the club’s fans’ violent outbursts against RB Leipzig supporters made headlines as well as the postponed cup match at third-tier club Lotte following snowstorms.
In the Bundesliga, Dortmund have yet to secure an automatic berth in next season’s Champions League, and the draw against Monaco had widely been regarded as a challenging but doable task to reach the last four in Europe this term. And maybe it would have been had it not been for Tuesday’s incidents.
But the show had to go on. Seventeen minutes into the match, referee Daniele Orsato awarded a penalty to Monaco following a challenge from Sokratis Papastathopoulos. And while Fabinho put the ball past the left post, two minutes later young Mbappe opened the scoring from an offside position at the far post. Lemar’s cross from the left had passed Dortmund’s defence.
The hosts had their moments; Shinji Kagawa could have levelled the score, but got his shot from 12 yards out all wrong. In an eventful first half, Bender, making his first appearance for Dortmund in 2017, doubled the lead for Monaco with an own goal. BVB complained. They claimed Falcao touched Bender prior to the defender’s clumsy header.
At half-time, Tuchel brought on United States international Christian Pulisic and midfielder Nuri Sahin. He changed his formation, moved Portugal’s Raphael Guerreiro to a wing-back position, with Pulisic speeding down the right wing, making his presence felt. It worked wonders. They looked much better.
They had the support of the home fans, the famous Westfalenstadion roar could be heard a number of times, but they were unable to find a way past keeper Danijel Subasic until the 57th minute, when Ousmane Dembele slotted home from short distance after a textbook attack initiated by Pulisic and Sahin, who showed all his class when sending the ball over from the right to Guerreiro on the left. Kagawa and Dembele did the rest.
Sahin, a Dortmund outcast for a number of months now, was the leader Borussia had been looking for. He gave his side a new stability, set up plays and recovered balls.
With the stadium now in full swing, showing why it is recognised as one of the great grounds in the world, the static of the match completely changed. Dortmund had the upper hand again, but it was not enough.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.