DORTMUND, Germany -- Whether Borussia Dortmund would take the Europa League seriously was answered on Thursday night against Atalanta with a resounding "yes." After all, the Black and Yellows were as gritty and energetic as one has to be on a European night.
After a solid first half, Dortmund's 1-0 halftime lead was quickly abolished as Josip Ilicic grabbed a brace by scoring in the 51st and 56th minute. It would end up being the individual quality up front that would bail the hosts out of a pickle as a pair of goals from Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi saved Dortmund a close 3-2 win, which leaves them with a good (but not guaranteed) chance of progressing to the round of 16 next Thursday in Bergamo.
The current Dortmund team do not possess the capability to create many chances by themselves and are reliant on turnovers far more than they were last season. Atalanta, who were dominating in possession however, awarded the hosts spaces run into after turnovers. With Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle and Christian Pulisic, BVB have three very direct players who thrive on the counter. With the addition of Batshuayi's ability to hold the ball up, Dortmund could form a dangerous attack with more time down the line.
Jeremy Toljan had to defend out of position against two players in the 51st minute, misjudged a ball that was flying into the box and Ilicic ruthlessly pounced. Four minutes later, Roman Burki's parry landed right on the foot of the Slovenia international yet again. When imperfect positioning is accompanied by individual mistakes, European football is a slippery slope.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- It was wise of Peter Stoger to leave Mario Gotze on the bench so he could replace Reus in the last 30 minutes without a drop in quality.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Roman Burki, 4 -- Once again, he was not the stronghold that BVB need to be a contender on the European stage.
DF Lukasz Piszczek, 6 -- His assist for Andre Schurrle after 30 minutes was a tough ball to play as Atalanta players left a very small window open. The Poland international found it.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 6 -- Was drawn out of position a couple of times but also made some strong tackles when it was vital.
DF Omer Toprak, 7 -- Didn't take any prisoners in his tackling and was once again the brains of BVB's back line.
DF Jeremy Toljan, 4 -- Made too many errors in defence. He was spared against Hamburg on Saturday but on Thursday, Dortmund's opponents took advantage.
MF Julian Weigl, 6 -- Was riding his luck after a few dicey fouls and fortunate not to be sent to the showers prematurely by the referee. That said, his booking does mean that he will miss the return leg.
MF Gonzalo Castro, 5 -- After an okay(ish) first half, BVB's highlight reel stopped with Castro touching the ball far too often in the second period.
MF Marco Reus, 6 -- His presence was once again felt in the 60 minutes on the field. Reus brings another dimension of dynamism to the table.
MF Christian Pulisic, 6 -- Pulisic undoes his dynamic runs by making the wrong decisions in and around the box, but it won't take much for him to turn his form around for the better.
MF Andre Schurrle, 7 -- The Yellow Wall goes "Schuuuuuu" when the winger, who rediscovered his form, touches the ball. He might hear "Shoooot" instead, as he took four shots, most of them from the edge of the box. His go-ahead goal required high technical ability.
FW Michy Batshuayi, 10 -- Thus far, BVB have the perfect striker in Batshuayi. His hold-up play is a massive gain over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as the young Belgium international can buy his teammates valuable seconds. A lot of chances were instigated by his physicality and ball control. With an ice-cold brace, he saved his team's bacon, too.
MF Mario Gotze, 8 -- Introduced for 30 minutes for Reus, Gotze was a massive influence as Dortmund became heavier in possession in the second half. Two breathtaking assists rounded off a great night for the German international.
MF Mahmoud Dahoud, NR -- Came on in the final 10 minutes with Weigl being close to a sending off. His passes into the box were not read by his teammates -- again.
MF Alexander Isak, NR -- Was thrown on late in the match as Dortmund were searching for a winner.