Schalke 04 thoroughly outplayed Ruhr rivals Borussia Dortmund to beat their great rivals for the first time since September 2014 and make them firm favourites to finish second in the Bundesliga this season.
The hosts were much the better team in the first half, however it was only after the break that Yevhen Konoplyanka gave the Royal Blues a deserved lead.
Dortmund showed sign of fights as the game wore on but a stunning goal from Naldo sealed all three points, moving Schalke four points clear in second and, perhaps more importantly, giving his fans a derby day memory to cherish.
Firece tempo but neither side able to break the deadlock
Schalke were looking to win the Ruhrderby for the first time in seven attempts, although coming back from 4-0 to draw 4-4 in the reverse fixture – a sixth-consecutive draw between these two rivals – would certainly have felt like a win. Their seven-game winning streak in the league was surprisingly ended by Hamburger SV last weekend, with three changes from that team – Matija Nastasic, Max Meyer and Breel Embolo were replaced by Nabil Bentaleb, Alessandro Schöpf and Konoplyanka. Dortmund recovered from their mauling at Bayern Munich with victory against VfB Stuttgart to leave them just a point behind Schalke, and Peter Stöger stuck with the same eleven.
The intensity to this game was unsurprisingly high. Dortmund tried to take the early initiative, and looked the most secure early on, yet the chances were going the way of the hosts. Schöpf had the first big chance, running forward before finding a spot in the middle to take aim, with Roman Bürki sending the shot wide. Guido Burgstaller also went wide with Sokratis attempting to close down the ball.
Ralf Fährmann didn’t have too much work to do. He saved an early header from Lukasz Piszczek, whilst a free-kick headed for the top corner from Marco Reus was still taken relatively comfortably by the goalkeeper. By that stage of the game four-and-a-half months ago, Dortmund were already 4-0 up but a repeat was looking unlikely. At the other end, Daniel Caligiuri’s free-kick was headed over by Thilo Kehrer, who should have tried to direct his effort lower.
Schalke were making all running by now, with Dortmund having to hold firm at the back. Sokratis and Ömer Toprak were especially preoccupied by the nuisance offered by Burgstaller, although they were coping well. Sokratis, along with Piszczek, couldn’t stop Konoplyanka firing an angled shot soon before the break, and Bürki was struggling to get to it, however the Ukrainian’s effort was wide of the post.
Konoplyanka and Naldo earn memorable win with second half goals
Stöger brought on André Schürrle to try to improve their attacking play, and although the early signs were good, they were soon behind. Marcel Schmelzer gave the ball away upfield to Caligiuri, who brought it forward. With Dortmund’s defence completely all over the place, he then saw Konoplyanka to his left, and he struck through Bürki’s nearside to send the home fans into raptures.
Just after the hour, Burgstaller tried to double the lead but volleyed over after an attempted clearance from Toprak. Soon after the goal, Reus had found Christian Pulisic only for Naldo to clear at his feet, but other than that it took them a while to get back into the game. Reus eventually recorded another shot on target, saved by Fährmann, before his cross was popped over by Pulisic.
The momentum seemed to be shifting Dortmund’s way as the clock ticked into the final 15 minutes. Naldo was putting in a shift in defence to hold them back, but still Reus had another shot wide before Piszczek presented Michy Batshuayi with his first chance of the game, but he couldn’t do anything but head it wide.
Having done his day job expertly, Naldo then took his chance to become the hero again, having scored the equaliser at Signal Iduna Park. Schalke had a free-kick, and it was played indirectly by Marko Pjaca and Caligiuri to the Brazilian, who launched a right-footed rocket that got round the ball and left Bürki static, such was its velocity. 2-0, and Schalke had beaten their Dortmund for the first time in seven attempts, the last time a 2-1 win in September 2014, whilst there were now four points clear of them in the table.
With the game gone, there was little Dortmund could do. Reus had another, tamer, effort saved by Fährmann, whilst injury was added to insult late on. Stambouli won a fair tackle on Batshuayi, however the Belgian striker turned his ankle as a result, and had to be stretchered off. Like many of his teammates he had been anonymous here, but with Dortmund clinging on to a top four place his absence could be disastrous for their final four games of the season if the injury is as bad as it looked.