Borussia Dortmund remain unbeaten at home against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League following an intense 2-2 draw with Los Blancos on Matchday 2 of the group stage on Tuesday evening in Westfalenstadion.
In a show of how far this young Dortmund side has already come at this relatively early stage of the campaign, the Black and Yellows went toe-to-toe with the holders and, arguably, even dominated the flow of the game for the most part.
They ended up with a healthy advantage in terms of both possession (60 per cent to 40) and shots (20 to 13) per sport magazine Kicker (link in German), so it wouldn't be surprising if there was a feeling of slight disappointment about the result in the Dortmund camp after the match.
To win the match, however, it would have taken a more solid defensive showing. Dortmund simply gave away too many big chances, as both of Real's goals were scored from close range.
With Karim Benzema slipping when he could have had an open run on Roman Burki's goal and Cristiano Ronaldo uncharacteristically failing to properly connect with a cross when he was unmarked in the box, one could argue Dortmund were lucky not to concede a third or even a fourth goal.
On the other side of the pitch, the hosts struggled to convert their dominance into real scoring threats. Dortmund did well getting in the spaces between Real's midfield and defence, but they failed to make the most of those situations, often ending up taking low-percentage shots.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel conceded after the match, per the club's official website: "Unfortunately, our final pass or sometimes the penultimate pass was not getting through. We were a bit lacking in aggression when attempting to carve out chances for ourselves."
If not for a blunder from Keylor Navas, who parried a free-kick into Raphael Varane's face, Dortmund would likely have lost the match.
Still, this shouldn't take anything away from a positive performance for the Black and Yellows. The draw was a fair result, as indicated by the expected-goals graphic below:
In fact, Dortmund deserve a lot of praise for coming back from being a goal down twice. Whereas the first equaliser was a fluke, the second showed they have the necessary grit and determination to stand up to a team of the Madrid side's magnitude, an important sign for the rest of the season both in the Champions League and domestic competitions.
"The fact that they did not meekly surrender, as they might have done in past encounters, was telling," Jonathan Harding wrote for Deutsche Welle. "They were not overwhelmed by the occasion, or their illustrious opponent. Roared on by the home faithful, they refused to give in."
Unlike the first goal they conceded, which came off a quick counter-attack that caught an outnumbered defence off guard, Varane's tap-in to make it 2-1 in the 68th minute came off the back of a dominant phase from the visitors.
Successfully picking themselves up from that situation is what made Dortmund's fightback so impressive. Two substitutions were major factors in the Ruhr side's late comeback.
First, Andre Schurrle replaced Mario Gotze shortly before the hour mark. The 24-year-old returnee from Bayern Munich had played well but not spectacularly, doing the little things instead of contributing to big chances in the final third.
Dortmund suffered at first, also because Raphael Guerreiro, who moved inside with Schurrle tucked on the left wing, underwhelmed for the first time since his move in the summer. Varane's goal felt like a logical consequence of the Black and Yellows' inability to move the ball forward without Gotze, but Schurrle's directness was important the rest of the way.
Directness is also the magic word to describe the second important sub, Christian Pulisic. The 18-year-old replaced Ousmane Dembele in the 73rd minute and made a huge difference in the game.
The Frenchman got past makeshift left-back Danilo with ease early in the game but dropped off considerably after half an hour or so, spending the rest of the match in the Brazilian's pocket. Pulisic used his freshness off the bench to run right at the defender and, more often than not, right by him, too.
The United States international gave his team more width and depth going forward, and one of his spirited attempts to make things happen produced the 87th-minute equaliser. Even though Dortmund were doubly lucky—his cross was likely aimed at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who could easily have seen his attempted bicycle kick whistled off as dangerous play—Pulisic and his team deserved the break.
It was only fitting that the other impact sub Schurrle was on the end of the play and smashed the ball into the net with an incredible thump—with his weaker foot, no less.
Even though Schurrle didn't do much else in the match, his determination to level the game in this situation was exemplary. He huffed and puffed and even limped his way into the box for the equaliser, with a knee injury that had kept him out for four matches bothering him again, as he told German broadcaster Sky after the match.
With Schurrle, Dortmund were not going to be denied against Real. The character they showed against one of the biggest sides in world football bodes well for their intentions this season.
That not only goes for the super-subs, of course.
Two starters deserve particular praise as well. For one, Matthias Ginter did better than most fans will have dared hope for in lieu of the injured Marc Bartra in central defence.
The 22-year-old arguably outplayed his far more seasoned partner Sokratis Papastathopoulos and chipped in with some delightful passes from the back.
It wasn't perfect, as he was almost accidentally nutmegged by Gareth Bale before Ronaldo's opener and looked slightly out of position for Real's second goal, but Ginter wasn't a particular weak spot. The bulk of chances Dortmund allowed stemmed more from the fact that they didn't cover their back line well enough.
That shouldn't be considered a slight against Julian Weigl, who once again played as the lone holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1. In fact, one could argue the Germany international was the best Dortmund player on the pitch, expertly guiding his team in the buildup phase and looking calm under pressure.
With world-class midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric on the other side, Weigl passed one of the bigger tests of his still-young career with flying colours.
The same can be said about Dortmund in general. Tuchel's young team that underwent so many changes in the summer obviously has much jelling to do and can take away a number of things to learn from this match, but they're already performing at an admirable level.
"Real were given another taste of how the gulf in class between the two clubs may be as narrow as it has ever been," Harding stated. It's hard to disagree.