Borussia Dortmund picked up their first win of 2018 on Friday night, beating last-placed but in-form Cologne 3-2. Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi starred in a leading role in his first game for the Black and Yellows with two goals and one assist.
It was a nervy evening for Peter Stoger, who returned to the Rheinenergiestadion where he had acted as head coach for four and a half years before getting sacked and then hired by Dortmund in December. The visitors took the lead twice in the form of Batshuayi in the 35th and 62nd minutes, but the hosts responded twice in the 60th and 70th with goals from Simon Zoller and Jorge Mere.
Andre Schurrle's strike into the top corner with five minutes to spare sealed the win for BVB, who jumped into second place.
Another draw or loss would have been cause for even greater unrest than there was during the past turbulent weeks. As the race for the Champions League spots is mighty close in the Bundesliga, Dortmund were desperate for the win. Everything else was secondary on Friday night.
Batshuayi having an instant impact after only two training sessions with his new teammates is exactly what the doctor had ordered. "Auba who?" Bild wrote after the game. BVB have to move on as quickly as possible from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Batshuayi showed that he can be an adequate replacement -- even though it is still too soon to say whether he will be.
It was the first half-time lead of the year for the Westphalians. Yet, Dortmund are unable to control a match after going ahead and see it out as maturely as one would expect of a team with their ambitions. Whether BVB exercise a wild pressing style under Peter Bosz or passively afford their opponents space to win the battles deeper in their own territory, they are not defensively stable and their frailties are not down to tactical approaches but a lack of individual class that translates itself to poor positional awareness. If Stoger doesn't magically find a cure, wins will remain a nervy business.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- On Thursday, he was not entirely sure whether Batshuayi would be be good to start. He made the correct choice by fielding the 24-year-old.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Roman Burki, 5 -- Currently, the goalkeeper is not the solid rock in back that Dortmund need. He will hope that the club do not trigger the buyout clause of Cologne keeper Timo Horn in case of a relegation, because right now his spot does not seem secure.
DF Lukasz Piszczek, 6 -- Sometimes one would hope Piszczek would instantly pass the ball into half space after receiving it in the build-up play to create more danger. It was an effective method for him under former boss Thomas Tuchel.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 -- A wild game was cut out for a wild Sokratis. His spectacular save with his head to keep Marco Hoger's shot out of the top corner rescued BVB the whole three points.
DF Omer Toprak, 7 -- Because Dortmund lack structure overall, Toprak had to intervene more often than he might have hoped. But his 16 clearances, 100 percent aerial and tackling success speak for themselve.
DF Jeremy Toljan, 6 -- Punished Frederik Sorensen for not being an out-and-out right-back in the 35th minute by leaving the Dane in his dust and assisting Batshuayi with a great cut-back.
MF Julian Weigl, 4 -- Was hiding in the shadows of Cologne's forwards a bit too often and is currently not in the form to give Dortmund much-needed structure in possession.
MF Shinji Kagawa, 8 -- Easily the best midfielder on Stoger's team. Once again Kagawa was an absolute beast, backing his high footballing IQ with pristine technical skill. His defensive contributions are a big help, too.
MF Mahmoud Dahoud, 4 -- Another dud from Dahoud, who was lucky not to be sent off after stepping on Simon Terodde's leg. Overall, the decision making and positioning was subpar and not what BVB had hoped for when they brought the 22-year-old in from Gladbach.
FW Christian Pulisic, 5 -- Picked up an assist for Batshauyi's second, but all in all Pulisic's dip in form continues.
FW Michy Batshuayi, 9 -- It already became visible how the physical edge of the Belgium international can add another dimension to BVB's attack. He was ice cold in the box, excellently converting three out of four chances -- one, however, was ruled offside just shortly before half-time. It couldn't have been a better debut.
FW Andre Schurrle, 7 -- If anyone needed a screamer from the edge of the box to decide the game it was Schurrle, who put a bow on an encouraging performance.
MF Raphael Guerreiro, 5 -- Replaced Dahoud in the last half-hour but did not help to solidify Dortmund's midfield.
FW Jadon Sancho, NR -- The Englishman's clever turn deep in his own half instigated BVB's winning goal. He had to finish the game prematurely with an injury with the visitors being out of substitutions.
DF Manuel Akanji, NR -- Made his debut for the club in a period where Dortmund decided to defend their own box with everything they had. The Switzerland international helped with two clearances.