Before Newcastle United came to town on Tuesday, the local press were scathing of the ‘crisis’ developing at Borussia Dortmund. A 4-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich in Der Klassiker on Saturday was never going to go down well, and the pressure was heavy going into a Champions League tie that could prove crucial for the direction of Group F as a whole.
The Magpies headed for the Signal Iduna Park on a high. Injuries were mounting, but none were enough to dent the momentum of Eddie Howe’s side, which has taken them to within two points of the top four in the Premier League and the League Cup quarter-finals. They were on the back foot in the Champions League, though; defeat to Dortmund at St James’ Park was unexpected for a lot of Newcastle fans, but showed the importance of tactical nous at the highest level. Dortmund nullified the Magpies to wrestle control of their own destiny, knowing they’d be favourites for the home match.
In the end, they barely had any trouble at all. Where they were patient and smart on Tyneside, waiting for Newcastle to show their hand and reacting to harness their intensity, at home it was they who set the tone. Their passing was crisp as they constantly moved forward with intent, and again they looked to hit Newcastle through the middle, but with movement and fluidity, pulling them out of position in order to break through the lines at ease.
Whether it were Julian Brandt, Karim Adeyemi or Niclas Fullkrug, somebody always dropped into the space behind Sean Longstaff and Bruno Guimaraes. That allowed the fullbacks to switch the play, go one on one with their opposite numbers knowing space had been created right in front of the Newcastle centre backs. Once that pattern set in, and the throng from the specularly imposing Yellow Wall only grew in ferocity, it became incredibly difficult for Newcastle to get a foothold in the match.
Both goals actually came at a point where Newcastle were finding their feet, but Dortmund were knocking on the door from the start. Fullkrug and Adeyemi both tested Nick Pope before the former opened the scoring. His cult status, as a 32-year-old journeyman who has worked his way through the divisions to become a full German international, was confirmed by the bellowing of his surname from the crowd when teed up by the stadium DJ.
In the second half, Dortmund wrapped the game up thanks to a brilliant Brandt break. Kieran Trippier’s free kick failed to beat the first man and the home side were soon on their bike, driven on by the Germany winger’s pace, determination and sheer single-mindedness. As he faced up to the last defender, Tino Livramento, his mind was made up. Shifting the ball onto his left foot, he unleashed a powerful effort to leave Pope helpless. It was good night Newcastle.
Dortmund started the league season well in terms of results, but their performances didn’t evade scrutiny. Their recruitment in the wake of Jude Bellingham’s sale, the third departure on a big scale in successive years after Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, also hasn’t seen Dortmund adjust to life post the England midfielder with ease. Defeat to PSG was chastening in their first European game too, and it was followed up by an uninspiring draw with Milan.
These two wins have put Dortmund on top of the group everyone dubbed the toughest to get out of. Now their challenge is to stay there.
The local media said that Champions League football shouldn’t be their priority after such a damaging loss to Bayern. Hyperbole in the wake of a hefty loss to a rival? Perhaps, but after Newcastle looked to the last two games as a good opportunity to build a strong foundation in the competition’s group stage, it feels as though Dortmund have proven a point to quite a few people in the last few weeks.
Ultimate competitors they may not be, but with their pace and electricity up front, excellent understanding of the level and thundering atmosphere, they’ll be a match for anybody.