I’ve always loved a derby. It’s the fixtures that you look for when the schedules are announced, and it’s the matches that bring a city to a stand still. For me, the Revierderby is the most important and intense Derby in the whole of Germany. I know the media and marketing departments of the league love to hype up “der Klassiker” (a term I don’t really like), but for me, the battle between the Ruhr’s biggest teams is pure Bundesliga.
My first Revierderby came on Match Day 9 of my first season with Dortmund. As it stood, we started the day in 5th, Schalke in 6th. We’d had a mixed start to the season, although on reflection those first few games were tough, playing against the early high flyers in the league. With 8 games gone, there was little splitting us all, and a good result against Schalke would see us put some distance between us and them.
The pre-match build up was ridiculous, and to be honest, I found André Breitenreiter’s attitude completely unprofessional. To call Roman Weidenfeller our “weak link” was generally laughed off in the dressing room, and served as ammunition, but I felt Breitenreiter was doing a major disservice to a a man who had a long and stellar career.
As it happened, Roman Bürki had been our primary goal keeper in the league, and whilst I was keen for Weidenfeller to prove his point, I didn’t want to play into Breitenreiter’s mind games, and I was determined for us to play in the same manner that had proven successful so far (bar the 2-0 loss away to Hannover, less said about that the better). I explained to Roman W that Bürki was still going to play, which to be fair to him, he was very accepting of.
We set up in a similar fashion to our last few games. The young lad Barbosa had been excellent in his last few appearances, so was chosen ahead of Aubameyang to lead the line. The young Serbian Zivkovic also played out right. He was a talent lad, and I really liked the way he could make things happen all along that flank. I told him to sit a little deeper, as I felt that he could support our efforts in midfielder, creating chances, whilst leaving the main wide threat to Łukasz Piszczek.
We didn’t start well at all. My plan to play Zivkovic deeper didn’t work out as I hoped, with the youngster struggling to make an impact against Aogo, the Schalke left back. Aogo gave Schalke the lead 12 minutes in, with a free header at the far post from a corner. It was disappointing, but we still had time to get ourself back into the game. I told Zivkovic to ditch with our plan, and go higher up the pitch. Aogo was getting to much space on him, and I felt if Zivvy could get closer he would have the advantage in terms of speed and trickery. I was right, and for the next 20 minutes, it was all us. We besieged the Schalke box, and Zivvy put the ball in the back of the net, only for the ref to call it offside. It was a dodgy call, and I was furious. Breitenreiter found it hilarious, and I may have uttered something unrepeatable under my breath.
Marco Reus is a lovely player. He knows what is at stake in these games, and I was thankful when he grabbed us a lovely equaliser. Dribbling round 3 Schalke players, he slotted it home at a tight angle. Giefer in goal stood no chance.
From then on, the game felt like it was ours. Sven Bender hit the post, and Barbosa had a fine shot saved before half time. Back in the dressing room I told the lads what we needed. We were blessed to have some real BVB fanatics in that dressing room. As a BVB fan, they knew I felt the same way about getting a win over their local rivals.
İlkay Gündoğan was another player with huge talent, and he took it upon himself to impose himself on the second half. He was the one to win the freekick halfway in the Schalke half, which Marco Reus put on a pin head into the penalty area, where Ilkay got free of his defender, volleying the ball past Giefer.
I’d brought Aubameyang on to add a bit of pace and directness to our passing as Schalke were chasing the game, and it worked brilliantly. The Schalke defense kept losing him in dangerous positions, and when Zivvy found him in the 18 yard box, he finished with a powerful shot.
3-1 in my first derby. I was ecstatic. There’s a famous video of my running to the BVB fans at the final whistle. To be honest I can’t even remember it. When that whistle went I was a fan on the Südtribüne again, all those years ago. DERBYSIEGER! It was beautiful. We had gone to Gelsenkirchen and put them to the sword.
After the game, Breitenreiter said I had been “unprofessional” in my conduct, which I felt was a bit rich. It came off as bitter, and annoyance that his prematch game plans hadn’t worked out. I honestly couldn’t have cared less.
We finished the day in 2nd, although we were an earlier kick off, so it didn’t take much for us to drop back down. Still, it gave us a good solid position to work on, and a foundation to build upon for the season. In the days that followed, the press were complimentary of our style, which I felt was more than deserving. We had been solid, and apart from the first 15 minutes, we had fought Schalke well at their home! I was especially pleased for Zivvy. He was so young, but having come from Partizan knew what it was like to play in such important derbies.
He had proven himself in that game, and would go on to be a brilliant player for us.