And suddenly, it felt like 2011 again...
Sometimes, you have these days when everything you do totally goes wrong. You can try everything but no matter what you do, reality punches you back in the face. And in the end, you get the feeling that it would have been better to stay in bed in the morning and decide not to live that day you just went through. For Borussia Dortmund officials and supporters, September 18 2013 may go down in the books as just this borrowed day. Not only the finalist of last year's Champions League lost the first encounter in group F away at SSC Napoli, but Borussia also lost Mats Hummels, Roman Weidenfeller and even coach Jürgen Klopp in one night, in fact, they lost all of them in just 45 minutes. And for a few moments, you felt like it was 2011 again where Borussia faced Arsenal London, Olympique Marseille and Olympiacos Piräus in the group stage of the Champions League, gave everything they had in each and everyone of the six matches but ended up being on the last place in the ranking. The black and yellows ended up winning the double of the German championship and the national cup that year, but nearly lost everything in European competitions. Hard to imagine that it will be like that this year as well, but the match in Napoli was a kind of friendly reminder.
Before the match
SSC Napoli was seen as the opponent from pot 4 nobody wanted to have in their group before the drawing for the new season took place. Well, by the end of yesterday, Europe knew why. After selling Cavani for over 60 million Euros to Paris Saint-Germain, the former club of Argentinian legend Diego Maradona used the money to increase the quality of a squad which managed to gain rank two in last year's Seria A. Before the match, BVB manager Jürgen Klopp often stated that Napoli will be a tough challenge, especially with the great atmosphere with maybe the most passionate supporters in Stadio San Paolo. The arena was packed with 55.000 fans, around 1.800 supporters coming from Dortmund, willing to see more of the squad which surprised Europe during their last Champions League campaign. However, the black and yellows had to face several personal problems. The double six was formed automatically because alternatives to Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender were missing because of the injuries of Ilkay Gündogan and Sebastian Kehl. Lukasz Piszczek was missing as well, of course and shortly before the match, it was announced that Sokratis could not make the squad because of a bruised bone which he suffered in training. Jakub Blaszczykowski, however, was back after his minor injury he suffered while playing for Poland last week. Kuba took the place on the right wing, replacing Speedy Aubameyang.
Just from the beginning, we saw a very intense match and you could get a feeling for the saying that Napoli adopted Borussia's style of gameplay with much pressing and the will to fight for every inch on the pitch. We saw many tackles (some of them – especially the Italian ones – at the edge of legality) and 22 players who quickly understood what Champions League means because every ball was followed and nothing was given away. Furthermore, Napoli seemed a little bit more motivated while Borussia appeared to be in a frenzy during the first – let's say – 20 minutes of the match. This also resulted in the home team having the first opportunity of the first half at the hands (or better the feet) of Insigne who got the ball at the edge of the box and slightly missed the goal with a nice curve ball (13th). No sixty seconds later, Gonzalo Higuaín who joined Napoli after Cavani had been sold) appeared in front of Weidenfeller who saved the ball with a good reaction and another two minutes later, Neven Subotic created memories at the way he rescued a Bayern Munich ball in the final at Wembley when he stopped the former player of Real Madrid with a brilliant tackle right in front of the penalty area. Napoli clearly found the better start into the match but Borussia fought back and created some opportunities for their own as well. First, a minor chance by Nuri Sahin was not a real challenge for goalkeeper Pepe Reina (22th), but Robert Lewandowski storming through the Italian defense and only being beaten by Reina could really have been the lead for the away squad. The second ball found Marco Reus who took the risk and directly tried to score – and would have scored – but Zuniga's head was in the way and the defender cleared the ball at the cost of a corner kick (26th). However, this corner kick was the beginning of the end for Borussia Dortmund.
That is because Neven Subotic got busted open and needed medical help at the sideline. A few minutes later, he seemed to be fine and wanted to get back into the game, but the fourth official was not happy with the way the bleeding was stopped so Subotic needed to stay outside while Napoli was starting an attack. In minute 29, he was allowed to come back eventually but it was too late. Maybe the absence of Subotic caused some confusion in the defense of Borussia but the allocation was terrible, Marcel Schmelzer tried to stop Higuaín after a cross from the left side but could not manage to do so. Higuaín got his head on the cross and left no chance for Weidenfeller, Borussia was back 1-0. Klopp saw the absence of Subotic as one of the reasons for the goal and therefore argued with the fourth official in a very aggressive way – an euphemistic expression for his kind of behavior. Therefore, the coach was sent to the stands directly after the goal against Borussia. Klopp later apologized for it and took the blame for the defeat but the evening continued to get worse and worse. A terribly misdirected pass by Subotic resulted in a quick counter attack for Napoli, Higuaín was sent through the Dortmund defense only hunted by Bender when Weidenfeller decided to leave the box, eventually managed to clear the ball but used his hand outside of the penalty area which resulted in a free kick and a clear red card for our number 1. Seconds ago, Mats Hummels could not continue the match and was replaced by Aubameyang and now, Dortmund had to replace its goalkeeper as weller. Of course, Mitch Langerak was brought into the match and Kuba left the pitch just moments before the halftime break. It could not have come much worse. One goal behind, Napoli one man up and Kloppo on the stands. Things did not look good for last year's finalist even though Langerak saved the free kick that followed Weidenfeller's sent-off.
The second half was no big difference to the first 45 minutes. Of course, Napoli stood tall being one player more but opportunities got more rare for both sides. Inler's shot from the distance was saved by Langerak and seconds later, Schmelzer could have been happy that his bad pass in the box surprised SSC's Hamsik so that he could not take the big opportunity to double the lead (60th). Borussia tried to find a way to equalize but it was a very tough challenge against strong Italians not willing to give away anything. And very often, missing luck is accompanied by misfortune as well. Another set piece, this time a free kick from around 25 to 30 meters, taken by Insigne left Langerak – and no goalkeeper on this planet – a chance. A beautiful goal to double the lead for the home side and Langerak would have been better off by just standing in his goal and watching the ball hitting the net because he unluckily hit the post with his face when trying to save the ball (67th). Two broken teeths were the result, Langerak visited a dentist today. In German, there is a saying "Haste Scheiße am Fuß, haste Scheiße am Fuß" (translation: "When you have shit on your feet, you have shit on your feet"). It has never been more fitting. To even underline this saying, a great shot from 25 meters by Aubameyang only hit the crossbar three minutes later. Black and yellow prayers and hope were destroyed so often that day that joker Hofmann's missed chance from 18 meters was no big surprise anymore. Therefore, it was a kind of irony that Borussia even scored eventually – well, at least kind of, because Napoli's Zuniga conceded an own goal after a cross from the right by Reus (87th). A bit of belief always is in the hearts of Borussia supporters (especially after last year's match against Málaga), but not this time. Napoli smartly took time off the clock and eventually got the deserved victory even though Reus' free kick was a last great opportunity for Borussia but saved by Reina.
I think there is nothing more to say about this match. Everything that could go wrong actually went wrong in Napoli on Wednesday but in the end, it is just one defeat. Five more matches are still to be played, three of them in the beautiful Westfalenstadion where Olympique Marseille needs to be beaten in two weeks time. Furthermore, the goal scored away at Napoli could become an effect eventually so there is no big reason to condemn the whole Champions League campaign at this point right now. However, the personal issues around our defenders are some real thing to worry about because it is not sure whether Hummels or Sokratis will be able to play on Saturday in Nuremberg.
However, another thing is worth to be pointed out. After the match, the Napoli supporters applauded the guest supporters of Borussia for a good performance and a great atmosphere. Before the match, lots of pyro techniques were presented and the black and yellow fans once again never stopped to support their team and therefore deserved the respect of the Italians which is a pretty cool gesture. The Dortmund supporters answered with a round of applause for Napoli as well, the rematch in the Westfalenstadion could be interesting in terms of atmosphere in a few weeks. You see, even though the result on the pitch is not something that could be celebrated, Borussia Dortmund still shines bright in Europe. And with a victory against Marseille, everything could be possible again. Don't worry. Days like Wednesday are very unlikely to happen again.
SSC Napoli: Reina - Maggio, Raul Albiol, Britos, Zuniga - Inler, Behrami - Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne – Higuain
Subs: Mertens for Insigne (73rd), Pandev for Higuaín (77th), Mesto for Hamsik (90th)
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller - Großkreutz, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer - Bender, Sahin - Blaszczykowski, Mkhitaryan, Reus – Lewandowski
Subs: Aubameyang for Hummels (45th), Langerak for Kuba (45th), Hofmann for Mkhitaryan (76th)
Goals: 1-0 Higuaín (29th), 2-0 Insigne (67th), 2-1 Zuniga (87th, own goal)
Bookings: Behrami, Britos, Insigne – Schmelzer
Red Card: Weidenfeller (45th)
Attendance: 55.000 (Stadio San Paolo)