Borussia Dortmund could have let an empty Südtribune affect them in their game against Wolfsburg. Instead they let their football do the talking, says DW’s Jonathan Harding at Signal Iduna Park.
Borussia Dortmund head coach Thomas Tuchel said before the game that his team was facing “an unrecognizable Wolfsburg” compared to the first half of the season. At the start of the week, it became clear that both teams would be facing an unrecognizable Signal Iduna Park on Saturday.
Once a rippling, yellow-and-black wall of fans, Dortmund’s famous (more infamous of late) Südtribune was a gaping grey hole of cold steps and bruised steel. When the likes of Wolfsburg or Hoffenheim visit, such is the small number of away fans that the usual away stand becomes part of the home section.
On a day like this, when tickets were at a premium, it was this block that made up for the noise lacking from the Südtribune. Add to that the support from the south-east and south-west corners, and the acoustic nature of this cauldron helped the atmosphere come alive. Even the empty terraces of the south suddenly felt like they had a voice.
In truth, Dortmund have always had a voice – and even without the Südtribune there were unsurprisingly still some banners on show. Outside of the ground there were also signs - some in frustration, some in good humor – the best of which read “an angry grandma from the Südtribune – today she has to stay outside”.
“I’m no politician but, football is for the fans and fans are for the football,” said former Dortmund fan favourite Jakub Blaszczykowski, who came to the stadium for the first time as an opposition player and was given an ovation before the game as well as a lap of honor afterwards.
Dortmund’s dominant support was reflected by a dominant performance on the pitch. The opening 25-minute spell saw them lead by one (a comical Jeffrey Brouma own goal) when it could have been three – a story of much of their season. Three minutes after the restart, Lukasz Piszczek’s fifth of the campaign ended the contest.
Piszczek admitted the empty south stand was unnerving initially.
"The first half was strange. You could see there wasn't anyone standing there, but we focused on doing our thing on the pitch," he said.
To their credit, Dortmund did just that. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wasn’t able to shake his Benfica blues, but Ousmane Dembele had another entertaining afternoon. Playing down the middle, the teenage sensation was making plays all over the pitch and delivering delicious passes.
Dembele scored the third – off Piszczek’s second assist of the game – and the 56, 906 fans that could get in went into raptures to hail a 3-0 win.
"That atmosphere is what makes Dortmund's stadium stand out - that positive atmosphere that comes from the stands. I would hope that we have that more often from the start because, as you saw, it did the team good to have such energy from the stands. It gives us that push forward. If we can do that together from the start then it will be even harder for the opposition in the future to play against us here,” captain Marcel Schmelzer said.
Even with the Südtribune empty, Wolfsburg found it hard to compete. Other than a curling effort by Yunus Malli right at the end of the first half, there was as much to be seen out of Wolfsburg as there was heard from the away block.
In a short but sweet cameo, Mikel Merino nearly headed in to put the cherry on top of a perfect afternoon for Dortmund. The Mexican wave sprawled around the stadium. Dortmund are still undefeated at home in the Bundesliga under Thomas Tuchel, and have never lost three in a row under their current head coach.
"This young team needs that support, particularly during those passages of play where things aren't always going right," added Schmelzer.
Things finally went right for Dortmund on Matchday 21 after two straight defeats. A Saturday in Dortmund without the Südtribune was always going to be strange, but two weeks after everything off the pitch made the headlines, it was what happened on it that mattered the most. After the tweets had been sent and the photos had been taken, it was the really solid and composed performance of the Borussia Dortmund team that was the real news.