A second-half brace from outstanding full-back Achraf Hakimi saw Borussia Dortmund roar back from a 2-0 half-time deficit against Inter Milan and secure a 3-2 win that puts them in control of their Champions League destiny.
Strengthened by last month’s 2-0 win on home soil at San Siro, Inter began confidently and went ahead through Lautaro Martinez. A third goal in four European run-outs this term came when error-prone Switzerland centre-back Manuel Akanji misjudged a header, from which the Argentina forward unnervingly converted a one-on-one.
This lead as doubled on 40 minutes when Uruguay centre midfielder Matias Vecino swept into the bottom corner from another counter-attack. Dortmund went close in the opening period through Mario Gotze’s low drive and Jadon Sancho’s header – and they made no mistake after the break.
Real Madrid loanee Hakimi, just about, connected with a Gotze cross to make it 2-1 on 51 minutes. Substitute Paco Alcacer soon robbed Vecino from a throw-in, before sending Germany playmaker Julian Brandt through to slot past Slovenia’s Samir Handanovic.
A deserved comeback was then completed on 77 minutes when the charging Hakimi latched onto England winger Jadon Sancho’s pass and fired in a fourth UCL goal this term.
Here are the talking points on a night when second-placed Dortmund opened up a three-point lead from third-placed Inter in Group F, with two matches remaining.
FLAWED CONTENDERS, OR MORE THAN PRETENDERS?
Inter and Dortmund on reputation slotted comfortably into the ‘dark horses’ category when assessing 2019/20 victors.
After an opportunistic win for the Serie A’s second-placed team at San Siro and rousing home triumph at Signal Iduna Park for the Bundesliga’s similarly placed side, only one can, truly, still be classed as a contender.
A fourth-successive away loss for Inter in European competition has created a worrying gap to Dortmund. It also further exposed faults in Antonio Conte’s dogmatic, counter-punching 3-1-4-2 formation.
Tuesday winners will also be buoyed by the ending of a three-match home scoreless streak on the continent. They did it with 61-per-cent possession and 21-9 advantage in attempts.
Conte’s cagey approach came unstuck at Barcelona after a ruthless start, with the storyline repeating this midweek. His side cracked, again, when their opponents raised the tempo after the break.
Inspired by the inspirational, two-goal Hakimi, Dortmund belief about progression to the round of 16 is renewed. If only they had a No9 to match the Madrid-owned full-back’s searing quality.
False 9 Mario Gotze looks unlikely to sting Europe’s best. Akanji’s loose ways and Mats Hummels’ advancing years also make them a soft touch at the other end.
Dortmund provide an entertainingly flawed proposition and could still go deep. Martinez, in contrast, is the only true lightning rod for Conte’s prosaic Inter.
AKANJI GOES BACK TO BAD WAYS
The coveted centre-back BVB thought they’d purchased had, belatedly, started shining this winter.
The upturn, however, from Akanji after clean sheets in his last two Bundesliga starts met with a steep decline against the Nerazzurri. His misguided – and inexplicable – attempt to stumble into a header he could never win handed the lethal Martinez a golden chance to open up an early lead.
Where Akanji goes from here could determine BVB’s fate, both domestically and on the continent.
The summer departures of Abdou Diallo and Omer Toprak had offered the Swiss defender fresh opportunity.
But costly mistakes earlier this term against Union Berlin, Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg showed his horror show last May at Werder Bremen, at a critical juncture in their Bundesliga title collapse, had not been a truly formative experience.
Hummels’ calming presence had finally looked to have rubbed off on him.
Was Tuesday’s slip, however, a vestige of his erroneous ways, or have recent solid run-outs simply been an outlier?
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