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Emre Can delivers as Dortmund’s title charge takes hold

Emre Can delivers as Dortmund’s title charge takes hold

Dortmund’s run since the turn of the year is laying the foundations of something potentially quite special. It’s eight from eight in the Bundesliga after this riproaring Friday night classic under the lights, as Dortmund go three points clear to position themselves as the chief challenger to Bayern Munich’s decade of domestic hegemony.

Eight straight wins equals a club record set in 2011-12 when Jürgen Klopp used to roam the corridors here. Edin Terzic has the keys now and he’s overseeing a spell of form that is every bit as energizing as what Klopp brought to this club. The atmosphere in Signal Iduna Park was raucous, feverish at times, with the wall of sound muffled only in the final 15 minutes after Emil Forsberg had halved Dortmund’s lead.

Previous editions of Dortmund in the last decade may have cracked under the pressure of that final quarter hour but this was a night when 80,000 fans roared after every blocked cross or crunching tackle. As Leipzig ended the game strongly, Dortmund had to fight for this win and just when the visitors thought they’d got a point in injury-time, Nico Schlotterbeck made a goal-line clearance. Chest bumps all round.

If this was a victory Dortmund secured with grit, it was built on the attractive, attacking vibrancy of the first half. Julian Brandt was outstanding again – an unfortunate handball ruled out by VAR in what would have been a fifth goal in as many Bundesliga games – and Marius Wolf enjoyed an influential game. Marco Reus was close to his best too, winning and scoring the opener from the spot after being caught by Leipzig keeper Janis Blaswich. It was a goal that draws him level with Michael Zorc as Dortmund's second highest goalscorer, now only behind the legendary Manfred Burgsmüller.

Emre Can an asset at both ends

The second of the night came courtesy of Emre Can, a player who doesn’t always get the credit he deserves but who often plays a crucial role. The Germany player can be overshadowed by the talismanic Jude Bellingham, but in his preferred role of central midfield, Can is dynamic and capable of bringing as much to Dortmund’s attacks as in defence. Although his primal instinct is to defend and he formed an effective wall alongside Bellingham and Salih Özcan, limiting the influence of Forsberg and Dominik Szoboszlai.

Can’s big moment came a few minutes before half time when he pounced on a half Leipzig clearance from a freekick, pounding the ball into the ground and beyond the unsighted Blaswich, who endured a tough night in the Leipzig goal. Can’s goal proved to be the winner.

The former Liverpool and Juventus player is still only 29, even though it feels as though he’s been around a lot longer than that. While he is susceptible to the odd lapse in concentration – his misjudgement let in Christopher Nkunku for a one-on-one in the seventh minute – his experience is exactly what makes him such an asset to Terzic. Can could be seen coaching the less experience Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Julian Ryerson through the final stages.

In this kind of form, Dortmund’s title credentials are growing stronger by the week. If anyone is going to prise Bayern’s hands off the Meisterschale it’s surely the Black and Yellows, who make the short trip to Gelsenkirchen next for a Ruhr Derby in which they will be overwhelming favorites to win again. This felt like a big night in their title charge. April 1’s Klassiker could be pivotal.