Here’s a revolutionary idea – Borussia Dortmund are a much, much better team when Erling Haaland is on the pitch.
Actually, that’s not so ground-breaking, is it? The upturn in their fortunes may have something to do with Lucien Favre’s inevitable departure from Dortmund, but it’s probably got a whole lot more to do with Ivan Drago – sorry, Haaland’s – return to the starting lineup.
The Norwegian machine had missed Der BVB’s previous four matches with a muscle injury, but he returned to face Wolfsburg, helping his team to a 2-0 victory. That encouraging win would have meant little for Dortmund’s dwindling title hopes however, unless they could go to RB Leipzig on Saturday and earn a positive result.
And well, they only went and scooped a massive three points, didn’t they? It was a performance of a team no longer feeling the weight of an under-pressure manager on their shoulders, as they turned in an uncharacteristically resolute, but typically exhilarating performance in a 3-1 win over their fellow title hopefuls.
At the heart of it, was that man Haaland. Manchester United target Jadon Sancho gave the visitors the lead on 55 minutes, cooly slotting the ball inside the near post. He turned supplier for the second goal, but all of the blood and sweat came from Haaland – the tears belonged to Leipzig.
Picking the ball up just inside his own half, Haaland instinctively whacked a Leipzig midfielder out of his path with a swing of his hips, and set off on a one-man mission up the field. Surrounded by three players, he produced some magical footwork, jinked in between lunging tackles and then glided forward.
Once more, another triangle of Leipzig players surrounded the 20-year-old, but this time, he waited, waited, and waited some more, before popping the ball off to the left flank, where Sancho was standing unmarked.
Sancho delayed his cross, giving Haaland just enough time to complete his journey to the back stick, where he then powered home a thunderous header from the winger’s delicate cross.
The Norwegian sensation was also on hand to put Leipzig to bed, anticipating Sancho’s run infield, lurking and lingering like a hooded teen outside an off-licence, before setting off with lightning speed to ghost in behind a stunned centre-back.
Leipzig could only watch as Haaland pinched the ball from under the goalkeeper’s nose, took one touch to go around him, and then rolled his shot into an empty net.
Grace, poise, and power rolled into two tiny clips of action. It was everything that had been missing from Dortmund’s play in recent weeks.
Haaland’s presence terrifies defences, even backlines belonging to the very best teams in Europe. He allows his teammates to enjoy so much more time on the ball, as he acts as a magnet for the petrified markers, desperately trying to find the kill switch to halt this destructive robot. No such luck just yet.
It was a crucial victory for Dortmund, who have closed the gap on all three teams above them over the past week or so. Now only five points off Bayern, three behind Leipzig and one off Bayer Leverkusen, Haaland will be dreaming of unexpected title glory come May.
Haaland’s teammates, on the other hand, will be dreaming of him.