The moments of tension tugged more frequently at Kölsch hearts as the afternoon went on, as the prize got closer and the stakes were raised. Yet Markus Gisdol stood there impassively, as watchful and inscrutable as Professor Yaffle, the woodpecker bookend in Bagpuss. When the final whistle went, the facade melted like an ice sculpture in the Sahara.
Gisdol celebrated wildly, as his players did all over the Westfalen pitch, a mixture of relief and disbelief. The coach grabbed his assistant, Frank Kaspari, for a bear hug, then embraced Kingsley Ehizibue as he made it on to the field, with the defender seeming taken aback by the boss and his sudden eruption of joy. The wait, finally, was over.
Better Köln sides than this one have taken fearful beatings at Borussia Dortmund, where the club hadn’t won since 1991, but in the current context this wasn’t a statistic, but merely anecdotal. Far more importantly 267 days after their last Bundesliga victory, a winless run of 18 was over and not just anywhere, but here.
The bare numbers of recent months are bad, but the detail may be worse. Normally a run this desperate is peppered with hard-luck stories, nearly-but-not-quite moments, but there have been fairly few of those. Köln were a rabble in the previous Sunday’s defeat at home to Union Berlin – listless, disorganised, seemingly devoid of confidence and leaving Gisdol with minimal room for manoeuvre. However, a depleted squad lacking defender Jorge Meré and summer forward signing Sebastian Andersson pulled out a performance unrecognisable from the shambles of six days before. It’s understandable, then, that Jürgen Kemper of the city’s Express newspaper has coined the win “the miracle of Dortmund”.
Long-serving goalkeeper and Cologne native, Timo Horn, spoke for the dressing room when admitting the team had surprised themselves, even. “If you would have said that today was our time to win, I think very few people would have believed that,” he confessed. “Today, we’d have definitely signed up for a point in advance.” They might have ended up with just that had it not been for the barely believable sight of Erling Braut Haaland getting his feet in a tangle in front of an open goal at the death, having been set up by Marco Reus. Just for once the Norwegian “looked human again”, in the words of Kicker’s Matthias Dersch.
Köln had needed a touch of luck at either end of the game, but they thoroughly deserved it. After Jadon Sancho’s early shot came back off the crossbar with the game still goalless, Dortmund made little headway against an obstinate, organised back five – and make no mistake, this was a five, not a three – convened for the occasion by Gisdol. Two almost identical goals by the unlikely figure of midfielder Ellyes Skhiri – in each case an Ondrej Duda corner was flicked on at the near post by Dortmund loanee Marius Wolf for Skhiri too finish at the back post – made Thorgan Hazard’s strike a mere consolation.
The buy-in from Gisdol’s players was undeniable. Bundesliga debutant, 19-year-old Sava Cestic, was outstanding in defence. There was, naturally, a delicious irony in knowing that the novice Cestic had spent three years in the academy of BVB’s arch-rivals Schalke before moving to Köln last year. His abrupt promotion to the XI, albeit a consequence of a stack of injuries, rekindled memories of the early weeks of Gisdol’s time in charge and in particular his first win in charge – another against-the-odds victory over neighbours Bayer Leverkusen which saw teenagers Jan Thielmann and Noah Katterbach emerge, and which led to hope of European football.
A lot changed since then, and how Gisdol needed this. The extension of the coach’s contract to 2023 in August – a sort of future proofing by the club against heading down the same combustible path they have in the past – had not calmed the waters.
“This game was a battle that demanded everything from the players,” Gisdol said afterwards and they gave it to him, stunning the “deeply disappointed” Lucien Favre and BVB sporting director, Michael Zorc, who openly wondered where this Köln had been hiding. This city that invests so much hope in its team finally has something to believe in again.
Mainz 1-1 Hoffenheim, Leverkusen 0-0 Hertha Berlin, M’gladbach 4-1 Schalke, Augsburg 1-1 Freiburg, Dortmund 1-2 Cologne, RB Leipzig 2-1 Arminia Bielefeld, Stuttgart 1-3 Bayern, Union Berlin 3-3 Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg 5-3 Werder Bremen
• No miracles, sadly, for Schalke, whose winless Bundesliga run is now at 25 after a 4-1 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach. Manuel Baum’s side, after a chastening week in which three players were excluded indefinitely and technical director, Michael Reschke, left, were actually the better team in the first half and scored a superbly crafted equaliser through Benito Raman. Despite their Champions League fatigue, Gladbach pulled away in the second half with Hannes Wolf among the scorers, and Tasmania Berlin are now concerned their infamous top-flight record of 31 games without victory is under threat. “This has been our record for decades,” said the fourth-tier side’s worried CEO Almir Numic last week. “It’s part of Tasmania’s identity.”
• Bayern Munich came back from a goal down to win at a bright Stuttgart team – their “windy night in Stoke,” as Thomas Müller memorably referred to it in a post-match interview with ESPN – but at some cost, with Lucas Hernandez, Jérôme Boateng, Corentin Tolisso and Javi Martínez all injured in the second half. The smart money is on Hansi Flick fielding a shadow team at Atlético Madrid in the Champions League this week, having already qualified, to protect his thinning squad from further damage. Still, the coach refuses to use the schedule as an excuse. “The team that just accepts the conditions is the one that has the most success,” Flick told Sky. “That’s what we want to be.”
• Flick’s opposite number Pellegrino Matarazzo was left wondering what might have been after Manuel Neuer was saved by the officials, having stumbled over the ball and gifted a goal to Philipp Förster immediately after Kingsley Coman equalised. Referee Harm Osmers chalked it off for a pull on Neuer by Tanguy Coulibaly after consultation with VAR. “You can whistle for that, but you don’t have to,” Matarazzo lamented to Sky. “It doesn’t exactly look like Neuer is having his shoulder torn off.”
• It was an extraordinary match at Köpenick, where Union Berlin raced into a 2-0 lead – and at that point “it looked like being a 3 or 4-0 game,” as Eintracht Frankfurt striker Bas Dost put it – before Eintracht came racing back, with an André Silva double before Dost gave the visitors the lead. Thankfully for Union the enigmatic Max Kruse is rediscovering his magic – social media rants against speed cameras and customary nights out included – and his second of the afternoon was a magnificent swipe of his trusty left foot to save a point. Next up? The Berlin derby on Friday (Hertha took a point from a dull goalless draw at Leverkusen).
• No drabness for Wolfsburg, though – the most defensive team in the division flipped the script with an extraordinary 5-3 win over Werder Bremen, with the in-form Wout Weghorst snaffling another brace. Die Wölfe are still unbeaten. “It was a game that would have shaken the stadium,” lamented coach Oliver Glasner, looking at the empty stands.