Red-hot Erling Haaland hits double to give Dortmund victory over PSG

Andy Brassell at Signal Iduna Park
Red-hot Erling Haaland hits double to give Dortmund victory over PSG

In the third season of Project Paris, it was finally set up for Neymar to be the belle of the Champions League ball. It was supposed to be his night. Yet few can hold back the tide that is Erling Braut Haaland these days. Without transforming the team the Norwegian significantly adjusted Borussia Dortmund’s fortunes and swept them to a heady victory over the returning Thomas Tuchel’s Paris Saint-Germain – in classic teenage style, late to rise before injecting the night with drama.

“It’s hard to pick out an individual,” Dortmund’s head coach Lucien Favre said, but few would buy his line, even if his team was organised and smart throughout. With the anticipation that an evening of beautiful chaos awaited the opening exchanges had been more a series of precise, considered jabs between the only Bundesliga side yet to lose at home this season and visitors who arrived unbeaten in 23 matches.

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“It was almost a perfect performance,” Axel Witsel said, as if it was almost a revelation to Dortmund themselves that they could be this responsible.

Neymar, who had played just one of the four Champions League knockout matches his club had been involved in before this since his 2017 arrival, was largely anonymous early on though he did have the first clear chance, curling an 11th-minute free-kick wide. Dortmund’s plan A was clear – to smother the French champions’ forward talent in numbers and to counter at breakneck speed.

It nearly worked to perfection shortly afterwards. After a PSG corner was cleared, Jadon Sancho surged clear through the centre, but could only drag a shot wide of Keylor Navas’s goal with options left and right. One of those, the quicksilver Achraf Hakimi – offered extra liberty by Lukasz Piszczek’s presence on the right of the back three – proved a popular outlet, sending a wave of anticipation through the home support every time he motored down the flank.

Tuchel’s decision to go with a back three was bold. “It worked well,” he insisted. “They’re physically very good, and maybe the fact we’ve played seven matches more made a difference.”

Yet PSG’s shape invited Dortmund to make hay on the flanks. Hakimi and Sancho made most of the first-half running and the latter cut inside and forced Navas to box away his curled shot before the break, while Hakimi’s follow-up effort was charged down.

Haaland, whose incredible goal-scoring run since arriving at this stadium has masked to the wider world that he is still getting to grips with his new teammates, had a subdued first 45 minutes, struggling to get involved in the smart interplay of Sancho, Hakimi and Thorgan Hazard but he began the second period looking ready to make a difference.

With both sides looking strangely twitchy in the opening few minutes of the half, he was denied at the last first by Marco Verratti and shortly afterwards by the covering Marquinhos, after his direct running left Thiago Silva in his wake.

His moment was in the post. Favre sent on 17-year-old Gio Reyna for Hazard, completing an all-teenage front three, and the breakthrough followed almost immediately.

As Dortmund began to move more fluidly Raphaël Guerreiro popped up on the right and sent the ball in low for Haaland to stab past Navas and high into the net at the second attempt.

Haaland has scored 10 goals in seven games

All the crowd bounced around the Südtribune, its centrepiece, as they sensed a memorable night but Neymar, almost inevitably, popped the balloon as it went up, tapping Kylian Mbappé’s cross into the empty net at the back post and annoying the home crowd – and goalkeeper Roman Bürki – with his celebrations. Yet Haaland was not to be denied.

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Reyna powered past a pair of defenders and fed his centre-forward, but it was no more than a suggestion of a chance which he hammered unerringly straight into the top corner before most of the stadium realised a shot was on.

Mbappé hit the outside of the post and they are still in a tie one feels they desperately need to win.

“It’s not over,” said Tuchel. “There’s still a return in Paris.” For now, none in the Parisian galaxy of stars can overshadow Dortmund’s new darling, in a season in which he is bending the Champions League to his will.