Like A Rolling Stone
The sun beamed down on Saturday afternoon in the Westfalenstadion on Matchday 31, and the shadows remind us that we are truly in the business end of what has been a complex season. The sun shining down and its stark mid-day shadows stand in deep, poetic contrast to the gray, punishing, spiritually combative dregs of four months ago. The winter break, normally annoying, was welcomed in and perhaps even begged to start early. Every match carried with it trepidation. A match without confidence was considered a success if no one vital in the lineup acquired an injury.
That directionless part of the season is a faint memory. It is almost May and the Pokal finale approaches with BVB as participants, not spectators. It's impossible not to acknowledge the positive momentum for Borussia Dortmund and the adversity this club has endured with impressive results. 1.FSV Mainz came to Dortmund and BVB had the chance to close out a one-month period with nine matches in three competitions. A victory here could end that stretch with only one loss and prove this stretch and rebound in form and mentality is not a fluke.
Fortunately for our collective blood pressure, Borussia Dortmund was firmly in command of possession and movement from kickoff. It was clear from the outset that 1.FSV had no answer for Reus and he was the cornerstone to every early threat. The relentless BVB pressure resulted in some close calls early on and with Jojic's dagger off of a Reus corner (while assisted by KirchÕs appendages), the result was an early 1-0 lead. Honest fans must admit two things-1) we were lucky and 2) no one felt confident Mainz would just sit there. Sure enough, the response came quicker than expected as Mainz' midfield pressure culminated with the ball at the feet of the current Best Shinji in the Bundesliga (Okazaki) and he found a fortunate (and slightly more legal) deflection off of Mats Hummels to level the score 1-1.
Rather than become frustrated or wayward like moments earlier in the season, BVB quickly recovered and Sahin found Mkhitaryan on the left wing with a perfectly placed throughball. Mkhitaryan stayed composed and then centered the ball to Lewandowski who took the right amount of delay for once and slotted the ball home. Not only was it the second goal, but it was a textbook display of fluid, quick counterattacking. Mainz' entire defensive unit was useless and disorganized in their retreat, but when executed that smoothly in the passing game from one side to the other, I do not know how many teams could have stopped that movement.
Mainz would continue their pressure, but they never really made Dortmund crack. BVB's control was never in question for the reminder of the half with numerous close chances. However, as we have learned this season, pressure, chances, and even slim leads are not always a laurels on which one can rest. The goals are what count at the end of the day.
The second half opened up and following an impressive tackle by Mats Hummels, Nuri Sahin collected the ball and painfully lapsed on his pass to the wrong Shinji, and he slid the ball past a stranded Mitch Langerak for a 2-2 score. BVB had already seen a few wasted chances deep into the match. I was left thinking, "This isn't going to be one of THOSE matches, is it?" Wasted chances and honest effort have given way to weeks full of questioning, wincing at the close shots, and the things we could have, should have or would have done differently.
Incredibly, the team stayed composed. This wasn't one of 'those' days from earlier in the season. A little bit of luck and redemption was long overdue and following a wickedly curved Reus free kick delivered with a bit of luck by Lukasz Pizczek's head into the corner (right place/right time, but let's be honest he wasn't exactly aiming that shot) BVB took a 3-2 lead which they would not give up. A few questionable calls missed, perhaps as a sort of absolution or redemption for the Jojic/Kirch miss earlier in the game, combined with yet more near goals, didn't help stop the veins from bursting out of my neck. Reus' stunning corner kick/hand clearance was yet another failed referee mistake, but with the second chance at a handball in the box call correctly made, Reus drilled home the 4-2 goal to end the day's tally.
It's hard not to end this Easter weekend beaming with optimism as the momentum just continues on. Second place is almost assured. Champions League is 100% guaranteed. Lack of rotation and missing depth, be it by quality or by injury, are two things that were a burden for the last three seasons and it feels like those days are possibly passing. Jojic's versatility proved yet again that his simmering talent is undoubtedly set to boil over next year. The kid is just damn good and has looked impressive whether attacking or in a more defensive role. Mkhitaryan has looked impressive in the middle and on the wing in recent matches, and he just needs to stay confident and consistent.
The 4-2 victory further punctuates a resounding positivity as we focus on the end of the Bundesliga and look to Berlin and beyond. Gundogan renewed his deal for another year. His injury situation is still mysterious to the point of well-executed comedy, but no one with his skill would miss a World Cup if it wasn't for a good reason. Regardless of what transpires in the telenovela that is the Gundogan experience, next season could see the defensive midfield rotation of Kehl, Bender, Kirch and Sahin and Jojic every so often- no matter what Ilkay's disposition- it's a tactical dream as we gear up for three competitions yet again and rotate from a 4-1-4-1 to a 4-2-3-1 depending on the day. The attacking front half sans Lewandowski exudes strength and variety. Marco Reus may be in the form of his career. Neven Subotic is standing in the tribune and running in training. Erik Durm just silenced two of the most talented and frightening wingers in the world and he's 21 going on 30.
It's hard not to feel good heading into the last month of the season. Let's keep this rolling forward on to Berlin and the way this team is playing, it's hard not to have hope.