By Preben Gietz
Nuri Sahin, Dortmund’s 22 year old playmaker, wasn’t the only that was happy with the 1-1 draw in Hamburg on Saturday. His coach, Juergen Klopp, sprinted 40 yards down the sideline when Jakub Blaszczykowsk drilled the ball into the net in stoppage time. Roman Weidenfeller, Dortmund’s goalkeeper, ran all the way up the field to celebrate with his teammates at the corner flag.
To them it tasted like a victory – another big step towards winning the Bundesliga for the first time since 2002. Dortmund didn’t win. Leverkusen, in second place, won. Dortmund’s lead shrunk by two points – from seven to five. But, once again, this team showed resilience and class. It is about how they came home with a point. These guys believe in themselves.
Dortmund outplayed their opponent. The only missing link, a problem that has been around for most of the season, was clinically capitalizing on chances, scoring goals. Dortmund have a goal difference of plus 41 (Bayern’s is second best at plus 26), and have had a comfortable lead at the top of the league for months. If they slightly improved their goals to shots ratio, the goal difference and point total would border on the absurd.
Is there cause for concern? Should Dortmund feel Leverkusen’s breath creeping up on them, point by point? The answer is yes, and no.
Yes, because Leverkusen are on a roll. In 2011, they have won nine out of their twelve games. They have gathered 28 points to Dortmund’s 23. They have not lost a league game since February 5th and have won five in a row. On March 5th, Leverkusen were trailing Dortmund by twelve points. Five weeks later, Dortmund’s lead is down to five, with five games remaining.
And here’s where things brighten up for the Black and Yellows. In their five remaining games Dortmund play against teams with a combined point total of 177, with three home games. Leverkusen’s opponents have 207 points combined and they have to play on the road three times, including in Munich this Sunday. Dortmund’s two away games are at bottom of the league Moenchengladbach and 13th placed Werder Bremen.
It is in their own hands. Klopp and his players know this. They also know that while they have dropped points here and there, they dominated these games and never failed to create chances. After Saturday’s late equalizer, Sven Bender said, “At some point that stupid thing had to go into the net”.
This team knows what it is capable of. The players trust their system. They know this system inside out. A 4-2-3-1 with continuous movement, quick passing, relentless pressing, and a total commitment to the team. There are clear roles, and the players know that if everyone fulfills their role, which they have in almost every game this season, they have nothing to worry about. This is self-belief.
Besides, Leverkusen can’t afford one single mistake. Out of the remaining 15 points, they need at least 14 to stand a chance to win the championship. One loss and, most likely, the dream is over.
The pressure is on Dortmund. Leverkusen have nothing to lose. Usually, doubting is at the root of an epic collapse. But the leaders don’t doubt themselves. The late stoppage time equalizer in Hamburg was proof. This team is too intact, on the pitch and in the heads, to blow this.