On a day which Borussia Dortmund used to raise awareness of testicular cancer, Sebastien Haller scored his first Dortmund goal. After four wins in four, the new M-word in Dortmund is not ‘mentality’ but ‘momentum.’
Ahead of kickoff at the Westfalenstadion, the center circle didn’t look quite right.
Usually a perfect white ring painted on pristine green turf, on Saturday it was disfigured by a small lump on one side — an intentional addition from groundsman Willi Droste on World Cancer Day to raise awareness of the importance of regular checks for tumors.
And so, about one hour later, it was fitting that Borussia Dortmund’s third goal in a 5-1 win over ten-man Freiburg was scored by Sebastien Haller. His powerful header in front of the Yellow Wall was his first goal for the club since successfully undergoing treatment for testicular cancer.
“I felt like I was flying, like I was on a cloud, like the whole stadium was on fire,” the 28-year-old French-Ivorian said, his delight evident in the plethora of similies chosen.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since day one, and to score my first goal on this day of all days means so much. It’s a massive boost and I hope we’ll all have more moments like that, with even more goals.”
“We’re all more than happy [for Haller],” added BVB sporting director Sebastian Kehl. “He’s been working towards it for a long time, and we’ve been waiting for a long time. Now a huge burden is off his shoulders.”
Borussia Dortmund’s ‘toolbox’ getting bigger
Preceded by a Karim Adeyemi strike and succeeded by further neat finishes from Julian Brandt and Gio Reyna’s third of 2023, in a furious second half, Haller’s header was the standout moment on a perfect afternoon for Borussia Dortmund.
Not only did it make it four wins from four for the Black and Yellows; it was also a statement result against a Freiburg team which had begun the afternoon level on points with them, and which saw them leapfrog RB Leipzig, who were held to a goalless draw in Cologne, into third place.
But most importantly for head coach Edin Terzic, it represented the continuation of a trend which has seen his team improve little by little, game by game, since the start of the year.
Dortmund conceded three avoidable equalizers against Augsburg yet still won, they scored a last-minute winner from a set-piece after an otherwise poor performance away at Mainz, they kept a clean sheet against a dangerous Bayer Leverkusen, and now they’ve put five past a top four rival.
“We’ve been training extremely well ever since the winter training camp [in Marbella],” Terzic told DW. “And when you look at these four victories, they show that our toolbox is getting bigger and bigger.”
A new M-word in Dortmund
After facing so many accusations of a lack of “mentality” in recent years, DW put it to Terzic that there is a new ‘M-word’ in Dortmund: momentum. “I prefer that, but an even more important M-word is May,” the BVB boss responded. “A good start to the year in January doesn’t win us anything. But between now and then, we have the chance to keep collecting points and climbing the table.”
Indeed, with 15 games still to play in the Bundesliga and the small matter of a Champions League last-16 meeting with Chelsea (not to mention a mini German Cup derby away at neighbors Bochum this week), there is clearly a long way to go yet.
Nico Schlotterbeck’s failure to clear his lines in the buildup to Freiburg’s equalizer, right before halftime and completely against the run of play, was a reminder of that, on a day where the 23-year-old defender had opened the scoring against his former club.
But there’s no denying that Dortmund are making incremental progress across the pitch: in defense, in attack and in midfield, where arguably the most important message of the day was the shape of the center circle.
Author: Matt Ford (Dortmund)