A scrappy injury time winner from Nuri Şahin saw Dortmund temporarily go top of the Bundesliga table!
The visitors were good value for the three points after making the most chances in a fast-paced and occasionally fiery Friday night thriller.
An hour’s drive separates Dortmund from Cologne, and as a number of Dortmund players were on international duty this week, a short journey to face the team in 16th was definitely what the doctor ordered.
Save for handing Croatian rookie Miro Varvodić his Bundesliga bow, Cologne’s line-up was identical to the one that held Hoffenheim before the international break.
The first half began at a brutal pace, setting the tone for the rest of the game. No one was given the luxury of time on the ball, and it was all a bit slapdash.
This cut-thrust nature didn’t stop either side from having plenty of chances though: Podolski and Lucas Barrios having the best of the bunch, both rattling the woodwork.
By and large, Dortmund’s build-up play was cleverer, but Cologne’s fantastic pitch-wide pressing meant Jurgen Klopp’s side were eventually marginalised to attacking Die Geißböcke from the wings.
Both sides sought to overcome the high intensity of the pressing by sending early scoops over to the attacker(s).
As a result, the defences at either end of the pitch took it in turns to collectively push on and out, although the four full-backs were relatively restrained given their lack of contribution to build-up play.
Feeding off the scoops, Cologne kept their two advanced midfielders narrow and close to Podolski, thus making it possible to create chances.
Dortmund’s defence was disciplined though, and tucked in to nullify the bobbing flock of three. However, a lack of urgent defensive support from Die Schwarzgelben’s midfield constantly allowed one of Cologne’s forwards to collect and hold all the loose balls in the final-third.
It wasn’t all kick and rush mind – a scintillating knock-it-by-you-and-run jinx from Christian Clemens saw Mats Hummels enter the referee’s book, and the deadlock was eventually broken by a Dortmund dribble.
The electric Shinji Kagawa, already proving difficult to pick up, made a characteristic off-ball run towards the channels. Isolating a full-back and exposing the host’s uncertain defensive shape (hindered by their own incessant pressing), Kagawa and the corresponding full-back and winger up there with him now had room and time in which to place a cross.
Putting crosses in the box was a clever tactic not just because Barrios wasn’t having much luck with balls over the top, but also because the static Varvodić had no control over those in front of him.
Yet as Kagawa turned Mišo Brečko inside out to deliver this particular cross from the left (receiving a pass from a Kevin Großkreutz carry), Zvonimir Soldo will have been wondering how Fabrice Ehret let Jakub ‘Kuba’ Błaszczykowski glide past unopposed to nod in.
The tempo barely dropped thereafter, but Dortmund’s defence did. Soldo’s side persevered with the tactic of getting their speedy attackers making dummy runs across the drilled defensive line, but Klopp’s offside trap was being masterfully deployed.
Nevertheless, Cologne’s pace on the break proved a constant thorn in Dortmund’s side. Unfortunately for the Cologne fans, composure in front of goal and killer through-passes were only conspicuous by their absence.
While both sides began the second half with the same players in the same formations, Dortmund were now more concerned with forming walls than pressing, and Cologne were taking the game to the away team.
Now playing more on the counter-attack, it was Dortmund having the shots from ranges, and Cologne the headed chances from crosses – Adam Matuszczyk emulating Lucas Barrios’s missed headed-sitter from the first-half.
Around 25 minutes went by before the managers turned to their benches: Soldo bringing on Milivoje Novaković to go with two up-top, and Klopp taking off the weary Kagawa for 18-year-old Bavarian wonderkid Mario Götze. And not long after that, Klopp hauled off Barrios for Poland international Robert Lewandowski. Playing just ahead of Götze, the freshly introduced pair were to have a decisive say in the closing stages.
And the youngsters had a joint impact earlier than that too – Götze’s vim and vigour injecting new life into Dortmund’s widemen, opening new angles in which they could attack through. Lewandowski was on the end of all the passes and crosses these openings produced.
Yet Götze looked like being – partly – responsible for Dortmund dropping two points. Varvodić arrowed a free-kick into the Dortmund box towards the aerial threat of Martin Lanig. The former Stuttgart man didn’t win the challenge, but his presence saw the ball land at the feet of Podolski in the D; the Germany international left to his own devices as Götze had assumed the ball was dropping for him to launch a counter.
It didn’t, Podolski seized control, and the half-volley was clinically dispatched for 1-1. The badge beating-cum-kissing was for once more than just superficial – the striker displaying his love for the club with that goal (and those pre-match comments).
BUT, after dragging his team back into the game, Mr Köln then conspired to lose it for them. An overzealous lunge on the busy Şahin saw the pair square up before entering the ref’s notebook hand-in-hand.
The free-kick which followed the incident was hurriedly lofted towards the busy Lewandowski, who held off his marker to lay on for Kuba and Götze on the right. Some sharp interplay saw the latter fed in the box, and he squared for Şahin to slide the ball in via a deflection. 2-1, at the death!
Dortmund were ecstatic, particularly the Turkish international who’d been part of the team that lost 3-0 to Germany in last week’s EURO 2012 qualifier. He ran straight up to Podolski to celebrate, but managed to avoid a second booking.
The question is, can Dortmund now maintain a realistic title challenge throughout the rest of the season? I don’t think so. For starters, until that injury-time winner, Dortmund hadn’t been clinical enough in front of goal.
Correspondingly, although the talismanic Mohamed Zidan is still sidelined, the seven-man bench sat on the touchline of the RheinEnergieStadion hints at the lack of depth and quality in Klopp’s ranks.
As for Cologne, it looks like being a case of different season, same old problems.