A late Axel Witsel strike was enough for Borussia Dortmund to pick up three much-needed points away to Mainz on Wednesday evening, putting them within four points of Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.
The Bavarian club remains favourite to clinch a record-extending 10th consecutive league title, but it dropping points in three of its last five games has allowed Borussia Dortmund to cut its lead to only four points.
The Belgium midfielder side-footed a Giovanni Reyna free-kick past Mainz goalkeeper Robin Zentner with three minutes left to claim his first Bundesliga goal for two years.
Bayern has the best defence in the league, with only 28 goals conceded in 26 games. But it’s a misleading statistic, and the importance of Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who is only recently back from an operation on his knee, cannot be overstated.
Bayern lost at Bochum 4-2, drew 1-1 at Salzburg in the Champions League and drew 1-1 with Bayer Leverkusen while Neuer was out. Neuer was busier than he’d usually be as Bayern drew 1-1 at Hoffenheim on his Bundesliga comeback last Saturday. The home team had eight good chances.
The game was relatively uneventful for the most part, with Dortmund enjoying 60 per cent of the possession and struggling to give their hosts too much to worry about. They managed 11 attempts at goal – the same number Mainz had – and only four of those were on target.
“It was a hard game, sometimes you can’t play beautiful football and have to win like this,” Witsel said.
“This was about body language and fighting spirit – for the second straight game we didn’t concede a goal,” he added, referring to Saturday’s 1-0 home win against Arminia Bielefeld.
“I am not a goalscorer, but I was very happy to get this one.”
The result saw second-placed Dortmund further reduce Bayern’s lead — which was 10 points on Saturday night — with the Bundesliga’s top two teams still to meet on April 23.
Dortmund struggled to break down the home defence before Witsel struck. Zentner had repeatedly denied Dortmund’s attack, including star striker Erling Haaland, who came on for the last half-hour.
After Witsel finally broke the deadlock, Dortmund twice came within a whisker of doubling their lead in stoppage time. Julian Brandt fired just wide with the goal at his mercy before Reyna forced Zentner into a diving save from his free-kick.
Dortmund’s last three games are against Bochum, then relegation candidates Greuther Furth and Hertha Berlin.
Bayern next plays Union Berlin, Freiburg, Augsburg and Bielefeld before hosting Dortmund. The defending champion’s last three games are against Mainz, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg.