Seven months. That’s how long Jadon Sancho had to wait to score in a Bundesliga match. Now he’s done it twice in under a week.
It’s so often the way, once a footballer ends a drought, before you know it, they’ve scored again. The mental pressure involved in professional sport is absolutely astonishing and should never be overlooked.
Yet Sancho, and the entire Dortmund side, suddenly look like the team that was tearing opponents apart last season. When the pressure is lifted it’s remarkable what can end up happening.
It wasn’t plain sailing initially after Lucien Favre was fired just a couple of games before the winter break, with a defeat at Union Berlin and then a less than comfortable win at Eintracht Braunschweig in the cup but things have been slowly improving since the restart under interim manager Edin Terzic. This impressive win against a fellow title challenger comes after seeing off Wolfsburg 2-0 last weekend.
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Sancho’s goal in that game was his first in the Bundesliga since the end of May and on Saturday against RB Leipzig it was just the second time this season in all competitions that he had a goal and an assist in the same game. Dortmund left the Red Bull Arena 3-1 winners and it was sparked by the Englishman. The goal itself was quintessential Sancho, arriving late at the perfect time to slot home at the back post. It came just when Dortmund needed it.
For it was far from plain sailing. In the first half Dortmund really struggled, it was Leipzig who were the dominant side, as you would expect given they came into the match six points ahead of their opponents. However Leipzig, the second-lowest scorers in the top eight, couldn’t find a way through. They barely even tested Roman Burki.
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Instead they were made to pay by Sancho and his team-mates. Reinvigorated after the half-time interval Dortmund suddenly looked like the Dortmund of old, with quick, incise passing and movement that was a joy to watch. There were flicks, tricks and it was above all else, quick. This was meant to be an impregnable Leipzig defence, the best in Germany, but Dortmund made it look anything but.
Haaland, who missed all of December with a hamstring injury, also struggled in the early stages, it was clear his synergy with his team-mates is yet to fully return. On one occasion his frustration was visible when a pass came through too late after he had made a run to get in behind the defence.
However as the game wore on the understanding improved and in the second-half some of the link-up play was absolutely fabulous. The strength, poise and touch he showed in Dortmund's third goal was extraordinary, a timely reminder of how special this young man is. Dortmund look like a completely different team when the big Norwegian is leading the line, he gives Sancho and the others a focal point.
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Without their talisman in December Dortmund dropped points at home to Lazio and Eintracht Frankfurt to go along with that self-destruction at home to Stuttgart that led to Favre’s sacking. The Dortmund hierarchy knew they had to act and this game more than any showed they were right to make the move.
Had Dortmund lost they would have slipped out of the top four and into a crowded pack fighting for European football. As it is, they are fourth, three points clear of Union Berlin in fifth, just three behind Leipzig in second and, rather astonishingly, just five points behind champions and league leaders Bayern.
They’re also still in the Pokal and they will face Sevilla in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Dortmund can put the end to 2020 behind them now and look forward to what could be an very exciting first half of 2021.
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A title challenge seems unlikely but it’s imperative for Dortmund to keep up this form and qualify for next season’s Champions League, both from a football and financial perspective. The financial side is obvious, they may be forced into selling one or both of Sancho and Haaland but having the cushion of Champions League football will give them a negotiating cushion.
And on the pitch they will of course be looking for a new manager, unless Terzic, who grew up as a fan of the club, is given the job on a permanent basis. Even if Sancho and Haaland are both gone Dortmund are still an extremely attractive job, but the loss of Champions League football makes it that little bit less appealing. Plus if you have Champions League football you can more easily persuade either of your superstars to stay. After all the pair are only going to be 21 at the end of the season, time is still very much on their side. And now it appears to be on Dortmund’s as well. With 19 Bundesliga matches left who knows what they may end up achieving.