Shortly after the final whistle, Hans-Joachim Watzke ran into the dressing room with a big winner's smile. Around five minutes later, the Borussia Dortmund club boss came out with an even bigger smile.
One can only guess what was said in the BVB locker room and how much was celebrated. In any case, no one from Dortmund really let himself be lured in front of the microphones. Watzke didn't speak at all, declarations of war against the permanent rival FC Bayern Munich had to be read between the lines after the 2-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen.
"We want to stay in the regions where we are now and keep attacking," said coach Edin Terzic. And that was almost the bravest thing that could be heard from the BVB camp. After three wins in the new year and three draws by Bayern, Dortmund is suddenly breathing down the neck of the series champions, only three points behind.
The moody BVB team passed the character test that Terzic made the game because he classified it as groundbreaking. But after the ups and downs not only in this season, some people still don't trust the peace. "Doesn't make us better than we are. We still have a few issues," said the coach, and summarily called out the rest of the season for a character test: "Now it's about: Are we ready to take the next step? Let's do it less now and have to catch up? Or do we stay in the thick of it by keeping our foot on the accelerator."
The disappointment of the last two games in 2022, when Dortmund felt within striking distance, then lost in Wolfsburg and Mönchengladbach and wintered sixth, has not been forgotten. "We broke something in a week," said Terzic: "And then we had to look at this table for 72 days."
But now there are many things that give hope. That's the way they win in 2023. Dortmund won 4-3 against Augsburg despite three playful leads, and 2-1 in Mainz with a goal in added time, again to zero. "We can take this game as an example," said defensive player Emre Can: "If you're tough in a duel, if everyone works for the other, you can win a lot of games without a clean sheet." The realization has matured: BVB cannot play for the title with glamor and glory, but only with the right attitude and defensive discipline.
Adeyemi, Haller and Reus give hope
But the situation of individual players also gives hope. Like Karim Adeyemi, who finally scored his first Bundesliga goal. By Sébastian Haller, who made his starting eleven debut after suffering from testicular cancer. Or from captain Marco Reus, who made a five-minute comeback after almost three months. The squad is almost complete again. Which leads to hardship. The last seeded Youssoufa Moukoko, Giovanni Reyna, who had scored the winning goal in the first two games, and Donyell Malen stayed on the bench for 90 minutes. Mats Hummels came with Reus only five minutes before the end, Mo Dahoud or Thorgan Hazard were not even in the squad.
"It was probably the best bank Borussia Dortmund has ever had. There were almost only national players there," said the coach: "I have to make tough decisions, and that's not easy. But I prefer that to October, to myself put the team together almost on its own."
Head of sport Sebastian Kehl also thinks it's "good that the coach has to make such tough decisions." The win was "extremely important because Union, Freiburg and so on also win their games." Kehl did not speak of Bayern in this context. One wants to "remain ahead", said Kehl after all. The Bayern hunt is probably open again. Even if you have to read between the lines.