Emre Can's brilliance at the back and Witsel's late winner cuts the gap to four points between Dortmund and Bayern at the top.
|Axel Witsel.||Photo: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0|
While Mainz started with an almost full-strength team, it was Dortmund who were still without a number of key players. Included in this list was Reus, Akanji, Guerreiro, and finally Erling Haaland – the latter only making the bench with the hope of minutes as a substitute. Both sides enjoyed early spells of possession in the opening 15 minutes - visitors Dortmund with the bulk of the ball time, yet interestingly neither team had taken a shot on goal to this point.
Mainz posed threats on the counterattack as the game progressed, but Emre Can filling in as a makeshift centre half was defending stoutly and snuffed out a handful of opportunities. A free kick just before the break from Kevin Stoger was probably the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock. Dahoud, who gave away the foul, picked up his 5th yellow card of the season and thus will miss the game vs Koln this weekend.
Mainz nearly took the lead 5 minutes after the second half commenced. Stoger was involved again in taking a short corner to Stach who whipped an effort narrowly wide of the left hand upright. Haaland replaced Wolf not long after, but the game was very short of chances right up to the hour mark. Malen had a half chance on 65 minutes and went for power with his strike but got it all wrong and skewed his effort wide.
Die Schwarzgelben’s first real effort on target came in the 68th minute. A cross from Schulz was met by Haaland who drew a fine save out of Zentner in goal for Die Nullfunfer – his first real test of the evening. Dortmund was beginning to turn the screw as time moved on and Hazard flashed a freekick over minutes later. Papela dispossessed Witsel as the game neared closing stages and the youngster had a go from range but failed to trouble Kobel.
Just as the game seemed destined for a draw, it was Marco Rose’s charges who made the breakthrough. Substitute Gio Reyna lofted in a freekick to the back post. The most unlikely of scorers was on the end of it as Axel Witsel scuffed an unorthodox shot over the outstretched Zentner for 0-1. Tempers flared soon after when Lucoqui and Bellingham clashed which emphasised the hot-tempered nature of the contest.
In the end it was Dortmund who hung on for a valuable win, narrowing the gap to 4 points at the Bundesliga summit with Bayern and 8 games still to play.