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Borussia Dortmund beat struggling Schalke in the Revierderby to go joint-second in the Bundesliga. Opening goal-scorer Manuel Akanji set up the victory after recovering from a coronavirus infection.
Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Schalke, Signal Iduna Park
(Akanji 55', Haaland 60', Hummels 78')
There was only one Schalke supporter inside the Signal Iduna Park. He sat bravely in a royal blue shirt and light blue mask, surrounded by 299 Borussia Dortmund fans, all socially distanced across the west stand.
A derby without fans cannot seriously be considered a derby, and a derby with 300 is not much better, but with Germany still very much in grip of a pandemic, that's how the 121st Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke had to be.
Under such circumstances, it was fitting therefore that Dortmund were set on their way to a 3-0 win by a man who had just returned from quarantine.
Manuel Akanji was forced to spend 14 days in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 while on international duty with Switzerland – and Dortmund certainly missed the central defender against Lazio in the week.
The 25-year-old made an impact at the opposite end against Schalke, stabbing home on the rebound ten minutes into the second half.
"It was a difficult time, of course," Akanji told broadcaster Sky post-match. "I had to stay at home and accept the rules and regulations, but I was ok and I kept fit. We had to be very patient up front today, but I never had any doubts. It was a very good performance from us."
While the source of the goal may have been surprising – it was only Akanji's second goal for Dortmund – the lead was very much deserved after a first half that resembled a first round cup match between first and third division opposition rather than a Bundesliga derby between the second and third biggest football clubs in Germany.
Erling Haaland and Mat Hummels added to the scoreline with a neat chip and a powerful header respectively as Dortmund bounced back from disappointing night in Rome. Lucien Favre's side's habit of lurching between desolate and delightful continues. They're up to third, level with Bayern Munich and one point behind RB Leipzig, as the title race begins to take shape.
Schalke will play no part in that race;the Royal Blues' attention is focused on the immediate task of climbing out of the relegation zone and the more long-term challenge of restructuring the club to face the future.
Even the most die-hard of Schalke supporters would not have been expecting much against their local rivals, despite only losing two of the previous nine derbies and inflicting some painful results on Dortmund in recent years.
"The derby is the most important game of the year. You can lose, but it's a matter of how," the players had been warned by 80 Schalke ultras after last week's draw with Union Berlin. The message was clear: we might not be there, but you still have to fight for us.
And for 45 minutes at least, Schalke did do that. Omar Mascarell went into the book for a late challenge on Mahoud Dahoud and was fortunate to avoid a second yellow before halftime. Starting debutant Malick Thiaw also crunched in on Gio Reyna as the visitors retreated back to their penalty area and defended doggedly.
"Even though it was 3-0 in the end, it wasn't that easy," admitted Dortmund's Julian Brandt, whose trickery had helped set up the opening goal. "Schalke defended very well for a long time."
Schalke's head coach was less polite. "We can't just defend, we need to start scoring goals," said Manuel Baum, who oversaw a second consecutive away defeat since taking charge earlier this month.
"We're lacking confidence up front. We need to control the ball when we win it, move it around and transition into attack. We need to have belief. But these things can change very quickly, so we're staying positive."
Baum has an unenviable task and his words will be little comfort to Schalke's long-suffering supporters, including that lone fan in the stands in Dortmund, who later told Sky that his Dortmund-supporting friend had offered him a ticket.
"I wanted the lads on the pitch to see me and hoped that would give them a push," he said.
By the time Haaland had made it two, he'd covered up his shirt with a black jacket. By the time Hummels' header hit the back of the net, he'd already left.
As it happened:
"Big emotions. A goal in the derby is something I've been missing. It was near the top of my bucket list. For a defender, it was a great day."
"Schalke defended well, ran hard, tactically they were good. Sometimes you just have to break these teams. Our gegenpressing was exceptional and we made them tired and I think when the first goal goes in against these teams then a crack opens up a bit and normally a second or third follows when a team invests so much defensively."
"We have taken steps in the right direction this season. We know what we need to work on. Bayern Munich are at that level where they are good every game. That is what we have to improve on. Having Emre and Erling has made a difference, as has Thomas Meunier who has been huge for the team. It has been better. I think we can get there this year."
"I think without the ball you could see we tried to press, but with the ball it was just not enough today. We didn't get into transition situations and it was so frustrating to concede the goals we did today - two set-pieces and one where they counter us after we lose the ball on the edge of their box."
"The biggest problem, looking at the game today, the way we play with the ball is a problem. Maybe we don't have enough have confidence. We can't just sit back and defend. We have to score goals and I think the biggest problem there at the moment is our head."
"I'm optimistic because the wind can change so quickly in football you wouldn't believe."
"We were bad in possession today. Doing that over time against Dortmund was the deciding factor."
"We did put them under pressure at times and our pressing was good, but we really bad in possession. We have to improve dramatically in that area."
"We were patient and hardly let them have a bite. I think it was a really good performance from us today."
"Even after we lost the ball we were in the right positions... I am happy to score. I think it has been more than two years."
"It was a tough time," Akanji says of his time in quarantine. "But I followed the rules and fortunately felt fine. I was happy to be back on the pitch today."
"I am happy with the win today, but it was a nice feeling to play today, and to play in the 10 today. Even with a 3-0 scoreline it wasn't an easy game because Schalke defended with all they had."
"Football can also be fun," Brandt said with a smile while being shown clips of his flair.
"We definitely wanted to show a different face today. Tuesday certainly wasn't nice for the fans to watch. Today was a big game, there's no bigger game in the area here, and we knew that we needed to get the three points."
"In my time in Dortmund, I have grown used to the fact that after we lose a game things get unsettled quickly. It is somewhat normal. I don't have the feeling internally that we are unsettled."
Dortmund secured a deserved derby win. After a first 45 minutes that saw Schalke's defensive gameplan pay off, Dortmund eventually broke through and once they did they were not to be stopped. Jadon Sancho played a key role, Erling Haaland got his goals but it was Manuel Akanji's goal that broke the game open. Schalke have now gone 21 games without a win and looked a long way from changing that in this derby.
86' Schalke just want the final whistle now. The tempo has left this game. Dortmund are just playing keep ball until the clock counts down.
80' Meunier makes way for Morey as Dortmund wind things down. The Schalke fans who confronted the team after the game last week asked for the side to give their all and that in defeat they still had to fight. I wonder what they're thinking right now, and what their response will be tomorrow.
78' GOAL! 3-0 Dortmund (Hummels) Guerreiro opts for a "real" corner this time and Hummels leaps in to head home a third. Haaland slaps him on the chest repeatedly in celebration. Schalke sinking here.
77' Sancho and Brandt replaced by Hazard and Reus, a very nice double change if you can make it.
74' Schalke doing their best to avoid a collapse, but it is a struggle. They are heading for 21 games without a win, which really is an enormously long stretch.
71' Subs! Raman on for Matondo for Schalke, while Dortmund take off Dahoud and Reyna for Witsel and Passlack. A very tidy game for Dahoud.
69' SAVE! Haaland wants more and fires across goal towards the far corner but this time Ronnow makes a very good save. The corner from Guerreiro is another short one and it eventually leads to Reyna winning another corner with a deflected shot.
65' The game has entered the inevitably slower stage now where Dortmund look confident and Schalke look desperate. Baum is still shouting desperately from the sidelines.
60' GOAL! 2-0 Dortmund (Haaland) That is not what Schalke will have been looking for. Sancho drives forward into the space in the middle of the field that Baum has spent most of the game shouting from the sidelines to close and slips a perfectly weighted ball for Haaland, who dinks it home from the angle. Superb all round, and probably the end of the contest.
58' Bozdogan does come on, for Bentaleb. Kutucu replaces Paciencia as Schalke go for something else.
56' GOAL! 1-0 Dortmund (Akanji) There it is, and from the unlikeliest source too. From the resulting corner, Guerreiro plays a lovely one-two with Brandt and fires a low drive goalwards. Ronnow parries, but Akanji is there to poke home the rebound. Safe to say it's deserved.
55' CHANCE! Sancho lofts a free kick into the box and Sane heads clear for a corner, although for a moment it looked like that header was creeping into his own net.
51' Baum calls for his side to switch the play, but they don't and Dortmund come again. Schalke handle it again, though. Looks like Bozdogan is coming on for the visitors.
48' Haaland is unhappy, hands in the air in frustration after another counterattack breaks down. Brandt tried to be a bit too cute with his through-ball to Reyna. Dortmund starting this half as they finished the first, though.
46' Schalke get us restarted.
Schalke finish the half with eight men on the edge of their box, but this is a tale of a great siege. Dortmund are probing and pushing for an opener their dominance has deserved, but Schalke have stood stubbornly in their way. The question is, can the really do that for another 45 minutes? We'll be back in 15 to find out.
45' Sancho threads it to Haaland, but it escapes the striker's control. A moment later he sets up Reyna but his shot is blocked. Dortmund are camped out on the edge of Schalke's box here.
42' Somehow Paciencia escapes a yellow for a late scrap of Sancho's foot. The Briton is in pain but gets to his feet. Schalke certainly bringing the fight in the derby, but they haven't brought much in terms of play.
40' A much tighter game than perhaps expected, largely because Schalke have sat so deep for most of the half and just about dealt with everything Dortmund have tried to throw at them. Schalke can't play it out, Dortmund can't find a way through.
37' CHANCE! The game is opening up a bit. A beautiful move by Dortmund ends with an outside-of-the-boot cross from Meunier that Reyna, yes, Reyna, heads wide at the back post under pressure. What a goal that would have been. Schalke have eight minutes left to survive in this half.
35' CHANCE! Akanji with an error, Matondo bounces, drives forward and sets Oczipka up for an effort that is blocked and leads to a Schalke corner. A rare foray forward for the visitors, and exactly the breather they need. The corner comes to nothing and Dortmund start again.
30' CHANCES! Dortmund still trying to turn the screw here but can't find the final pass. Haaland blazes a cross across the face of goal - no one is there to finish it off. Then Dahoud and Reyna do too much in the box. Haaland wins a corner by just being stronger than Nastasic, the clearance falls to Dahoud and his long-range effort clips the bar.
24' Delaney thumps in for a tackle. He is also fortunate to avoid a yellow, but Felix Zwayer says that evens the score for Thiaw's tackle just minutes ago. Baum urges for the free kick to be dropped in the box. It ends up for a throw in. A moment to describe their season, but then Paciencia makes a move and forces a corner. It's troubling for Dortmund but Matondo is offside.
21' No card for Thiaw, and that is fortunate given the late step on Reyna's foot. Schalke are just trying to survive now, clearing the ball hopefully into space away from their goal. If they can weather this storm...
18' If Schalke keep playing like this, it's only a matter of time before Dortmund grab the opener - and maybe more. Guerreiro blazes over. The hosts are inching closer.
15' CHANCE! Dortmund are starting to control the game. Brandt dallies in the box and wastes a neat pass by Sancho, but then he starts a move that ends with Meunier forcing a good save from Ronnow. Schalke need a break but they can't catch one at the moment.
13' YELLOW! Mascarell is late on Dahoud and gets booked, rightly so.
12' CHANCE! Schalke look rattled all of a sudden, Brandt seizes on some poor play by Schalke on the edge of their own box but when the ball falls to Haaland he doesn't quite hit it right and the chance goes.
11' Dahoud has a shot blocked, but Dortmund stay on the edge of Schalke's box until Sancho fires over. Dortmund starting to move the ball around a bit. Naldo wants Schalke tighter, and he's not wrong.
8' PENALTY SHOUT! Hummels floats a ball into Reyna who chests it down in the box and goes shoulder to shoulder with Thiaw. Reyna goes down, calls for a penalty and in real time it looks tight. In the replay though, it looks like both were grappling. Fair call. On we go. Dortmund have upped the tempo a bit.
3' Couple of strong challenges early from both sides. Schalke look up for the fight. Dortmund having to drop deep to start buildup play.
1' Off we go. The biggest derby in the Bundesliga is underway, with Dortmund getting us started.
The teams are in the tunnel. Oh, this is what 300 fans looks like in a stadium usually famous for its atmosphere. Not quite the same, is it?
"The team was very self critical after the game in Rome. I hope we deliver a better performance here today," Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said before the game. "We want to stay near the top of the table. This is a derby and so points in this game are big."
Dortmund recall Roman Bürki, as expected. Both Mo Dahoud and Manuel Akanji start, with Axel Witsel dropped. Lucien Favre makes five changes
Dortmund XI: Bürki - Meunier, Hummels, Akanji, Guerreiro - Delaney, Dahoud - Sancho, Brandt, Reyna - Haaland
Schalke, on the other hand, continue with Frederik Ronnow in goal as Ralf Fährmann is still injured. The big news is a start for 19-year-old defender Malik Thiaw, his first in the Bundesliga.
Schalke XI: Ronnow - Ludewig, Nastasic, Thiaw, Sane, Oczipka - Bentaleb, Mascarell - Harit, Matondo - Paciencia
Early reports from "Sport1" suggest that Lucien Favre has recalled Roman Bürki between the posts today after Marwin Hitz's recent run in goal. Bürki originally had a muscle injury but had recovered and had expected to return sooner, but he will be Dortmund's goalkeeper for the biggest game of the season.
After Dortmund tweeted that 300 fans will be attending the derby game, the club's website now states they are "hopeful" to have that number attending. Rising coronavirus infection rates across Germany have seen an increase in preventative measures.
Late on Friday afternoon, Borussia Dortmund revealed that midfielder Emre Can has tested positive for the coronavirus. The game against Schalke is still expected to take place, though.
With COVID-19 cases across Germany sky-rocketing, the restrictions on fans inside stadiums means only 300 Dortmund fans will be able to view the action.
But the fact that 35,000 members applied for those tickets shows just how much this match means to the region even in the middle of a pandemic.
Schalke remain in crisis mode. A 1-1 draw against Union Berlin showed little signs that they're any closer to breaking what is now a 20-game winless streak. New coach Manuel Baum has a monumental job on his hands.
After a hard-fought victory against Hoffenheim, Dortmund collapsed 3-1 against Lazio in the Champions League.
While form and circumstance are usually of no importance where the Revierderby is concerned, both teams face crucial junctures in their season. Victory, or failure, in a derby can have significant knock-on effects.
Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc was less than impressed following the Lazio loss.
"We followed the rules of social distancing in an exemplary manner," he quipped.
The 58-year-old wants to see a completely different Dortmund turn up against Schalke.
"We want to see a reaction," he said. "Schalke will have a lot of passion, discipline and commitment - they will want to ruin our game."
Whether Schalke can pull it off is the big question. Their ultras confronted the team after last weekend's draw against Union Berlin, delivering a clear message.
"You can lose [the derby], but it depends on the manner. If it's not at least as good as today, we'll see each other again and it won't be as peaceful."
This will be the 97th Revierderby, with Dortmund shaving the wins 34 to 32. The last meeting was in May, the first game of the restart, where Dortmund hammered Schalke 4-0.
Thankfully for Schalke, their form usually matters little when it comes to the derby. They've been known to produce some big performances against their rivals, especially in recent years.
A 4-2 victory at the end of the 2018-19 season effectively scuppered Dortmund's titles chances, while in November 2017 they famously came back from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 at home.
This fixture has to be one of the most unpredictable in the Bundesliga.
Two failed title challenges and a stop-start begin to his third season at Dortmund, means Lucien Favre's credentials are once again, unfortunately inevitably, under question.
This will be his 300th match in the Bundesliga and he's chasing his 150th win. Following Dortmund's limp performance midweek in the Champions League, as well as a disappointing 2-0 loss to Augsburg on Matchday 2, Favre needs a boost.
A loss in the derby would make his standing among skeptical fans even shakier.
Mats Hummels hasn't lost against Schalke in 11 matches, although more than half of those were in the colors of Bayern Munich. He'll likely wear the captain's armband in the case that Marco Reus doesn't make the starting lineup.
Benjamin Stambouli has never been on the losing side of a Revierderby. In six matches he's won two and drawn four. He was on the bench against Union. Perhaps Baum should reinstall Schalke's lucky charm back into the first eleven.
Dortmund XI: Bürki - Piszczek, Hummels, Akanji - Meunier, Bellingham, Witsel, Guerreiro - Sancho, Reyna - Haaland
Schalke XI: Rönnow - Ludewig, Sane, Nastasic, Oczipka - Mascarell, Bentaleb - Skrzybski, Uth, Raman - Paciencia