Pulisic makes first Bundesliga start, Dortmund beat Leverkusen
American Christian Pulisic made his first Bundesliga start as Borussia Dortmund secured a 1-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 21st of the Bundesliga season maintains Dortmund’s solid 13-point cushion in second-place,
But the match took a controversial twist after the opening goal on 64 minutes when referee Felix Zwayer called a nine-minute suspension and led both teams back to the dressing rooms. It appears Leverkusen head coach Roger Schmidt refused to leave the touchline area, although as of full-time that remained unconfirmed. For sure, the referee’s actions added an unnecessary edge to a drab game as both teams kept an eye on forthcoming UEFA Europa League action.
Pulisic’s debut lasted just 45 minutes in a clash that seemed to be about canceling out the strengths of the opposition rather than attacking football. The 17-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania was hard-working, determined and showed signs of brilliant acceleration. He still has 37 days to become the second youngest Bundesliga scorer ahead of Julian Draxler and behind Nuri Sahin.
As it unfolded, this certainly wasn’t an advert for thrilling entertainment. A first-minute head collision saw Stefan Kiessling flat on his back for around a minute-and-a-half, sucking any early momentum out of this encounter. Once the game resumed, Leverkusen, unbeaten in six games, was the more dominant outfit.
Javier Hernandez, one of two changes from the win at Darmstadt last week, was quiet, but his excellent movement off-the-ball will be a welcomed return. Leverkusen’s best player on the day, Jonathan Tah, saw his header on 14 minutes force the first save for Dortmund keeper Roman Bürki.
Given Dortmund’s significant lead over third-placed Hertha Berlin, this was an opportunity to utilize squad rotation with the second leg of its Europa League clash with Porto coming this Thursday - the Germans currently hold a 2-0 lead ahead of the trip to Portugal. Tuchel made five changes, leaving out Marcel Schmelzer, Julian Weigl, Nuri Sahin, Marco Reus and Shinji Kagawa. In addition to Pulisic, Moritz Leitner was given a surprise start, while Erik Durm, Matthias Ginter and Sven Bender returned to the side.
Although Pulisic’s involvement in the first half was curtailed for the most part, he was at the heart of the two most exciting passages of play within the last 10 minutes of the opening period. In the 37th minute, the deflection from Kampl’s shot on the edge of the box sparked a Dortmund breakaway. Leading the chase were Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, but Pulisic couldn’t quite squirm away from the close attention of Tah in the box.
On the stroke of half time, the peerless Mkhitaryan - the player with the highest number of assists in Europe’s top five leagues - managed to sneak the ball into the box, where Leitner kept control despite ending up on the floor. The ball then rolled clear to the American, his flick bringing in Aubameyang, but the Gabon international spooned the shot into the side-netting.
Similarly as timid as the first half, the second period was a non-event - until the game found its winning goal and incurred a nine-minute postponement. After referee Zwayer awarded a foul against Kiessling on 64 minutes, the set-piece was taken several yards higher up the pitch, leading to a superbly executed Borussia Dortmund counterattack. Erik Durm was sensational on the left-wing, finding space and cutting the ball back to Aubameyang, for the striker to score his 21st of the season.
Several minutes after the ball was placed on the spot, ready for the restart of play, the match official took both teams down the tunnel and suspended the game for nine minutes. Zwayer’s actions left the stadium confused given he was in the center of the pitch at the time of his decision, which is believed to be as a result of his interaction with Schmidt.
The break was perhaps exactly what the home side needed after conceding their first second half goal in the Rückrunde. Dortmund had the edge, but Leverkusen returned to the field with a newfound impetus as they looked to end an eight-game home losing streak against the yellow-and-blacks. With 20 minutes left, a succession of crosses into the box eventually led to Tah’s second good headed effort of the match, but this time he was narrowly wide of the target. Minutes later, Hernandez tried to get on the end of another delivery, but could only collide with the woodwork and Bürki.
Leverkusen huffed-and-puffed and should have probably earned a point in the dying minutes, but Hernandez blazed a close-range shot over the crossbar. Leverkusen holds on to fourth-place with 35 points, although Schmidt's side couldn't take advantage of Hertha's failure to win at Wolfsburg yesterday.