Mahmoud Dahoud, Thorgan Hazard, Erling Haaland, Achraf Hakimi and Raphael Guerreiro of Borussia Dortmund celebrate after scoring a goal during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 at Signal Iduna Park on May 16, 2020 in Dortmu
The first of Europe’s major leagues returned to action on Saturday and whilst things are very different, one man hasn’t changed.
Look, let’s be honest, this is going to take a while to adjust to. Whilst there are some on the internet who will love to tell you all the leagues they watch where there are always little to no fans present, for most of us we are used to 20,000 or more spectators creating some sort of atmosphere at the football matches we watch.
In a world struck by a global pandemic, social distancing rules mean it is going to be a while until we have fans in stadiums at sporting events, so we’re going to have to get used to it. If we learnt anything regarding atmosphere on Saturday, and when considering it's how the K-League returned, it’s that it is probably worth a go to have some artificial noise pumped in.
If we learned one other thing on Saturday though it’s that this is still very much Erling Haaland’s world.
Dortmund's Swiss coach Lucien Favre (C) gestures during the German first division Bundesliga football match BVB Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04 on May 16, 2020 in Dortmund, western Germany as the season resumed following a two-month absence due to the nove
Image credit: Getty Images
Before the pandemic struck Haaland was enjoying a positively electric start in Dortmund colours following his winter move from RB Salzburg, scoring 12 goals in his first eight games.
He failed to find the net in the three games preceding the suspension but on the first game back it was he who opened the scoring on the Bundesliga’s return. It was a wonderful finish, opening his body to turn home Thorgan Hazard’s cross.
It set Dortmund on their way to a comprehensive 4-0 victory, no repeat here of that bonkers derby draw a couple of years ago, and it closes the gap between them and Bayern Munich to just one point before the champions return to action on Sunday against Union Berlin.
In truth this was a little one-sided. Both teams struggled to find a flow initially but soon Dortmund began working through the gears whilst Schalke could never get themselves out of training mode.
There were plenty of mistakes from Schalke, most noticeably from 21-year-old Markus Schubert in-between the sticks, who didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. The goalkeeping situation at Schalke is tough; Alexander Nubel is clearly the best keeper at the club (a horrendous showing away at Koln before the suspension notwithstanding) but his acrimonious future departure to Bayern has understandably left a sour taste in the mouth, hence the need to test Schubert.
Manager David Wagner has said the former Dynamo Dresden man will stay as the number one until the end of the season but his shaky showing won’t help matters. Despite the club’s insistence in February that they have faith in Schubert today’s showing perhaps helps explains why there were reports during the suspension that Schalke are looking at the likes of Zack Steffen and Tim Krul.
Despite the help they received from their opponents Dortmund were still excellent and thoroughly deserving of their win. Hazard and Julian Brandt in particular were brilliant pulling the strings, the latter playing in the former with a glorious backheel in the build-up to the first goal. In the absence of Jadon Sancho from the starting XI Brandt stepped up for those showboating moments that fans love to see. Hazard got himself on the score-sheet with a thunderous effort. One of the few benefits to having no fans in the stadium is hearing the noise shots like that make. And though Brandt didn't score, he did set-up Raphael Guerreiro after a horrendous clearance from Schubert
Guerreiro gave the much-heralded Jonjoe Kenny a tough test down that flank, scoring two wonderful goals, the second of which was played through to him by Haaland. The Norwegian continued to buzz about up front, perhaps not with quite the same intensity as usual but still giving the Schalke defenders plenty to think about.
And keep in mind that this is a Dortmund team who were missing Axel Witsel, Emre Can, Marco Reus and Sancho from their starting line-up. Plus they lost Giovanni Reyna to injury in the warm-up. It can be debated whether or not this is the best Dortmund team of recent years but it is arguably the best squad, this group has the depth to cope with most injuries.
Borussia Dortmund celebrate 4-0 win over Schalke
Image credit: Getty Images
In the past, Dortmund, as challengers-apparent to Bayern, have been let down when injuries or lack of form has left them short of options. Now they look best-placed to take the title away from Munich, even if this is one of the most competitive Bundesligas in recent memory.
And it really is hard to look past them if Haaland keeps playing like he is right now. He now has 13 goals in 2020, no player in Europe’s top five leagues has more. If the Champions League does return that gives Bayern one more distraction whilst Dortmund can relentlessly focus on picking off those on their fixture list.
There will be tougher tests for this Dortmund team, not least Der Klassiker in ten days times as well as a trip to RB Leipzig on the penultimate weekend of the season, but it should come to no-one’s surprise that they have flown out of the blocks on the restart.