Prior to recording this week’s Sound Of Football podcast we speculated as to what would happen if the World actually stopped moving. I was reliably informed that the results would depend on whether it was day or night when it happened and that both eventualities had the same grizzly outcome.
Mercifully the World did not stop although it did preoccupy itself with the moral centre of a high foot attached to the leg of a Manchester United winger. This is just as well because the thought of this Borussia Dortmund team being cast into a deep freeze by a bout of histrionics at Old Trafford is enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.
The pre-match Twitter chatter was all about Dortmund defender, Mats Hummels and his pesky virus. The German international had missed the weekend's Bundesliga fixture against Hannover with the flu and was poised on the fitness frontier. However, there was a problem with his papers and Hummels didn't even make it to the team coach. Gone was his assured positional sense and rampaging runs through the middle of the park that proved so effective in the first leg and so too, in some people’s minds, were Dortmund’s chances of progress.
Hummels deputy is Felipe Santana, a no nonsense center half rather than a ball player who has looked out of his depth at times. Against the rapier like seasoned campaigners that are Shakhtar Donetsk, he may struggle. But he didn't and he allayed the concerns of worried fans with pretty much and error free display and a meatball header to open the scoring from a corner at the Westfalenstadion.
Shakhtar, with their wealth of experience and wily coach made a tactical blunder and were way too conservative. This was in part understandable as coach Mircea Lucescu has eyes and can see the danger posed by İlkay Gündoğan’s deadly passing, Marco Reus, Mario Götze (Reutze?) and Jakub Błaszczykowski’s quick transitions and Robert Lewandowski’s general awesomeness.
But Lucescu could have made more of his own attacking threats in Fernandinho, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Taison and Douglas Costa. The latter's impact was not felt until the second half because he'd started from the bench. Sven Bender was immense in breaking down any attacks before they troubled the weakened Dortmund defense but he is only one man and was beaten on one occasion by Fernandinho who released a crisp shot from the right towards the end of the first half. A more ambitious strategy may have influenced the result. Despite their early second half flurry, Shakhtar did not turn up and in that respect the game was a disappointment.
In every other respect it was a triumph for coach Jürgen Klopp’s tactics and for his roster. The Dortmund squad has powerful eddies but is shallow, relative to their competitors. But after this games BVB have confirmed that they have defensive cover at centre back, although goodness knows what would happen if either of the two fullbacks, Marcel Schmelzer and Łukasz Piszczek, went missing.
Lewandowski’s cross for the second goal was an exercise in languid deception. As the Sky Sports summariser Gary Birtles pointed out in commentary, the Shakhtar defense looked to have everything under control but the Polish striker’s cross was like a slower ball in cricket. It looked easy to defend until it found Götze like a middle stump between the two centre halves and was in the back of the net before you could say ‘solid forward defensive.’
The third goal from Blacyakowski settled what remaining fluttering nerves there were in the Dortmund camp. His goal symbolised the team’s tenacity in winning the ball back, resilience in finding enough space and confidence in the finish. Game over and the Dortmund journey continues for another round. After knocking out a seasoned European team and given their group stage performances, the odds of a trip to the final will be shorter than the road to Wembley itself. I suspect, however, that the balls will need to be kind in the forthcoming draw.