Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus 9/10 as Dortmund rout Leverkusen
DORTMUND, Germany -- Borussia Dortmund landed a big victory on the path to securing a top-four finish on Saturday night, dismantling Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 and reclaiming third place in the Bundesliga. It was a vital and necessary response after last week's bitter loss away to Schalke, extending the cushion to five points over fifth place.
Before the game, the exclusion of team captain Marcel Schmelzer from the matchday squad grabbed the headlines. Peter Stoger explained the decision ahead of the game, telling Sky: "It was a sporting statement. Schmelzer is obviously an important factor in the dressing room, he has been here for a long time. He, like many others, wasn't in good form in recent weeks. With [Manuel] Akanji, we have more robustness on the left side."
After the game, however, it was Jadon Sancho (scored the opening, had two assists) and Marco Reus (two goals) who grabbed the headlines with masterclass performances.
Bayer Leverkusen were keen to be proactive but it proved to be fatal as Dortmund's dazzling attack made them suffer. Christian Pulisic on the right and Sancho on the left side managed to shake off their markers time and time again, creating a lot of momentum. Mario Gotze and Reus moved the ball forward quickly on the counterattack to make a team that appeared stale and abject in their 2-0 loss to Schalke last weekend look free flowing and energetic.
Dortmund were a joy to watch on Saturday night while grabbing a resounding win against a direct opponent for the Champions League spots, keeping a clean sheet.
"No will, no passion, no courage, no team! Nobody embodies Borussia Dortmund as little as you," read a giant banner at the foot of the Yellow Wall as the team walked onto the field. Previously, a big banner was rolled out across the west stand, reading: "You didn't understand the significance of the derby: failures!"
Last week's heavy defeat away to Schalke was tough to watch for any Dortmund supporter, and criticism aimed at a lack of team spirit is fair. But those fans need to rethink how they frame their complaints. The ensuing 4-0 win over Leverkusen made them look silly and the team rightfully did not celebrate with their fans after the game as they usually do.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- The loss at Schalke required a reaction. Stoger opted for Akanji, Julian Weigl, Gotze and Sancho, with the added footballing quality soon making the difference. The fans chanted his name after the game.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Roman Burki, 6 -- It took until the 74th minute until Burki was really tested for the first time by Kai Havertz. The keeper dove quickly to save the low shot.
DF Lukasz Piszczek, 7 -- The right-back was on top of his game, showing a vintage performance. Was especially aggressive in defensive transition, which was vital to suffocate Leverkusen's potent attack.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 -- Had a slight wobble early in the game but became stronger as the game progressed, showing a lot of attacking spirit.
DF Omer Toprak, 7 -- Toprak was as reliable as he has been in recent weeks.
DF Manuel Akanji, 8 -- Revealed after the game that he was surprised to be fielded at left-back but did turn in a strong, calming performance on the ball, using his pace to good effect in both attack and defence. His pass to Sancho that instigated the third goal forced a gasp from the stands.
MF Julian Weigl, 7 -- Had the space to operate and made it count via his quick transition passes.
MF Mario Gotze, 8 -- Two key passes and one assist for Gotze, who linked up well with the technically gifted players around him. An important game for the 25-year-old, who needs to replicate that performance if he is to punch the World Cup ticket.
MF Jadon Sancho, 9 -- Received extra praise from his teammates and sporting director Michael Zorc for what could be described as a breakout performance. In the 13th minute, the 18-year-old became the youngest Englishman to score in the Bundesliga. Before he started tearing Leverkusen's defence apart, he showed his high pace in defence as part of a cohesive performance over the 90 minutes. Sancho showcased his technical skill as he set up two goals for Reus and Maximilian Philipp.
MF Christian Pulisic, 8 -- Broke loose on the right side, leaving two white shirts in the dust. Pulisic's quick play opened up space for Sancho to run and he made sure to connect with his teammate for the assist. He also won a penalty later in the first half.
MF Marco Reus, 9 -- The stadium was at its loudest when Reus was subbed off to celebrate their darling and his superb performance. The 28-year-old did not have luck on his side in the first half, having a goal ruled out due to an offside call against Philipp and missing a penalty minutes later shortly before half-time. But 10 minutes into the second half, Reus slotted home after rounding the goalkeeper and he even scored a rare header 10 minutes before the final whistle.
MF Maximilian Philipp, 7 -- Together with Reus, Philipp did well to make up for the injured Michy Batshuayi. If it wasn't for a narrow offside shout, the attacker would have grabbed a great assist in the first half.
MF Mahmoud Dahoud, NR -- Made an appearance in the 72nd minute and may have grabbed an assist if a pass aimed for Reus didn't go astray.
DF Jeremy Toljan, NR -- Replaced Philipp in the final 10 minutes as a token of gratitude by the coach when the game was long done and dusted.
MF Sergio Gomez, NR -- Had a two-minute run-out at the end of the game.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.