What We Learned from Dortmund's Nail-Biting Win in Leverkusen
Dortmund extended their streak to a perfect three wins from three matches to start the 2013 calendar year as they beat Leverkusen 3-2 at the BayArena on Sunday. The result marked the first home loss of the season for die Werkself, who found themselves 2-0 down inside the opening 10 minutes, but fought back to draw level before ultimately succumbing to defeat.
The match between the Bundesliga's second- and third-placed teams was anticipated to be a highly entertaining clash but nearly was not, given the commanding lead BVB opened at such an early stage.
After their brilliant start, however, the visitors took their foot off the pedal and Leverkusen showed great character as they found their way back into the game.
A quickfire brace from Stefan Reinartz (58' 62') restored parity for the hosts, who deserved no less. That only lasted for seconds, however, as Robert Lewandowski capitalized on a defensive mistake and scored the winner for BVB.
The final 26 minutes after Lewandowski's strike were some of the most exciting of the Bundesliga season, with Leverkusen pressing for another equalizer and Dortmund clinging to their narrow lead. In the end, there were many messages to take from the game.
Click "Begin Slideshow" for a rundown of the most poignant talking points.
Marco Reus Is as Decisive as Any Footballer on the Planet
Marco Reus may not be the superlative goalscorer in Europe this season, but he most certainly is as vital a player to his team than any other footballer.
In all club competitions this season, the Germany international has found the net a modest 12 times. However, of Reus' 12 goals, 10 gave Dortmund a 1-0 lead. And these goals have come not only at the Signal-Iduna Park, but on the road as well.
Reus scored the opening goal in each of Dortmund's away games in the Champions League group stage, and on Sunday it took him less than three minutes to make it 1-0 at the BayArena.
Playing on the road is always more difficult than playing at home, and netting an equalizer or go-ahead goal is much more difficult than finding the net while ahead. And of course it's these more difficult goals that make the difference over the course of a season.
It should be noted that Reus was not the best player on the pitch on Sunday; that was Robert Lewandowski, who scored the winner and won a pair of penalties among his many other contributions. With that having been said, Reus' record of almost exclusively scoring opening goals is strange and very rare.
Kuba May Be a Great Role-Player, but He Must Not Be BVB's Penalty-Taker
Jakub "Kuba" Blaszczykowski has been one of Dortmund's most influential players this season. His contribution in goals (11) and assists (seven) is only the beginning: The Poland international gives 100 percent in every match and offers many intangible qualities.
Agile and extremely explosive, he is a perfect fit into Jurgen Klopp's system. He also has a great calmness about him that makes him a good choice for taking penalties. But, in spite of all his virtuous qualities, Blaszczykowski should not be Dortmund's first-choice penalty-taker.
Marco Reus is just as level-headed as Blaszczykowski but has more to offer in terms of skill. The ex-Gladbach star has the best shooting technique among Dortmund players, and can strike the ball with precision and power that are unequalled by any of his teammates.
Perhaps Mario Goetze can place the ball as well, and Robert Lewandowski can shoot with the same venom, but no player in the Dortmund team has the combination of mental, technical and physical attributes that Reus has.
And certainly not Blaszczykowski.
Kuba converted an early penalty to make it 2-0 against Leverkusen, but had a second spot-kick saved easily by Bernd Leno in the second half. It was his second missed penalty in seven days, the previous coming in a friendly with Koeln last Monday.
It took just one miss by Mats Hummels (against Ajax in the Champions League) for the center-back to lose his penalty-taking privileges. And given the other options available, particularly Reus, maybe two misses are enough for Blaszczykowski to cede his role as penalty taker.
Hyypia Has Taught Leverkusen How to Fight
Almost exactly a year ago, Michal Kadlec and Manuel Friedrich were reprimanded for fighting over possession of Lionel Messi's shirt. The squabble took place on Feb. 14, 2012, at halftime of what ended as a 3-1 home defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League.
Perhaps victory for Leverkusen was always out of the cards, but a multi-goal loss at home in a poor performance should have resulted in a little more frustration and a lot less star-struckedness. That the fight between Kadlec and Friedrich took place when the game was still in the balance smacks of a complete lack of professionalism.
Later that spring, Robin Dutt was sacked as Leverkusen coach.
Since the summer, new co-trainers Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski (the former, especially) have turned over a new leaf at the club. They still have serious problems to address, like quickly falling 2-0 behind at home in a huge match. But Leverkusen proved on Sunday that they have the desire and self-belief to fight and give everything. They were the aggressors for the vast majority of the match, and over the course of the game took 26 shots to Dortmund's 12.
A year ago, Leverkusen might have rolled over at 2-0 and called it quits.
On Sunday, they dug deep, put in a yeoman's effort to win the ball (the team ran a combined 118.65 km), and when they couldn't, were not afraid to put in a crunching tackle or make a professional foul. They couldn't entirely match BVB fairly, but did what they could.
In the end, Leverkusen were rather unfortunate not to claim at least a point, if not three.