Christian Pulisic hapless as Borussia Dortmund fail to clinch UCL qualification against Mainz

Borussia Dortmund's topsy-turvy season continued with an embarrassing loss to Mainz.
Borussia Dortmund’s topsy-turvy campaign hit another low with an embarrassing loss to Mainz.

DORTMUND, Germany — Borussia Dortmund failed to wrap up Champions League qualification in an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to then 14-place Mainz, who ensured their place in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

The visitors shocked Dortmund early. Bote Baku had Roman Burki beaten four minutes into the game. Just nine minutes later, Yoshinori Muto’s header doubled the lead as Omer Toprak and Burki failed to intervene against the diminutive Japanese forward. BVB struck back just three minutes later with Jadon Sancho setting up Maximilian Philipp. The hosts, however, failed to create another big scoring opportunity for themselves with 74 minutes left in the game.

Thanks to fourth-placed Hoffenheim losing in Stuttgart, and fifth-place Bayer Leverkusen drawing away to Werder Bremen, Dortmund hold three points and six goals in goal difference over Leverkusen going into the final matchday, where they will travel to Hoffenheim. A point will be enough for the Black and Yellows but in a season where the team inexplicably collapses on regular basis, UCL football next year is far from being guaranteed yet.


Roman Weidenfeller got an emotional farewell in his last home match, celebrating his 16-year Dortmund career in the midst of the Yellow Wall. It was a strange sight to behold as Weidenfeller was celebrated right after the game while the Sudtribune signaled that they were not in the mood to celebrate the rest of the players. In the end, however, Weidenfeller managed to mediate so that they would have a small celebration in front of their home fans. The relationship between team and fans remains awkward to say the least.


Sporting director Michael Zorc did not want to speak to journalists after the game, saying “It was a performance to be ashamed. That’s all there’s to say.” Dortmund were unable to break down a Mainz side that had a perfect start to the game and then crowded the midfield in a 4-5-1 formation. The game of Stoger’s men was mostly reminiscent of a casual training ground rondo among defenders as the attackers did not make enough runs to shuffle the chains of their opponents. Dortmund looked as stale as a two-day old bun and it’s hard to explain after so many things were done well in the previous two games — especially the off-the-ball-movement.

The outlook of wrapping up UCL qualification at home and ensuring Weidenfeller a few minutes of playing time in his last home match seemingly was not motivation enough and so they will have to hope Julian Nagelsmann won’t outfox Stoger in the last game off the season. Overall, BVB’s inconsistency remains a mystery.

Manager rating out of 10

3 — Stoger wore a yellow shirt that reflected brightly in sunny may weather. It did not, however, help to motivate his lacklustre men, nor did it help him to make impactful substitutions.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Roman Burki, 4 — Should have prevented Mainz’s second goal by coming off his line resolutely. He did so later in the first half to block a shot after a set-piece scramble.

DF Lukasz Piszczek, 5 — His own attacking performance was limited by Christian Pulisic, whose decision-making was somewhat impaired.

DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 3 — Picked up his fifth yellow card after Omer Toprak had to come off injured. Thus, BVB may have to face Hoffenheim with only one healthy centre-back. Overall, it was a classic Sokratis performance in which he often rushed off his line to anticipate a play only to get beaten and expose the rest of his defence.

DF Omer Toprak, 4 — Like his teammates, lacked robustness in defence which allowed Mainz’s attackers to combine in and around BVB’s box at will. Was limping heavily through the catacombs after the game, leaving him doubtful for next week’s game.

DF Manuel Akanji, 5 — Moved from left-back to centre-back in the game and was solid without creating too much attacking momentum.

MF Julian Weigl, 4 — Gave his all in defensive plays but crumbled in attack as he refused to find his teammates in the half-spaces, often turning back to pass the ball to a defender. Maybe it was a lack of courage after Mainz had already countered well twice but it meant that Dortmund hardly created anything for themselves in a very important game.

Against Mainz, Christian Pulisic had one of his worst games since breaking into the Dortmund team.
Christian Pulisic had one of his worst performances of the season in Dortmund’s 2-1 defeat to Mainz.

MF Mario Gotze, 5 — Had good moments on the ball but was limited due to his teammates not finding him in the aforementioned half-spaces. Stoger opted to bring Andriy Yarmolenko on for the German, starving Dortmund of even more creativity.

MF Jadon Sancho, 7 — The 18-year-old was the sole threat to Mainz’s rigid defence as he managed to win numerous one-on-one situations. He picked up the only assist by dribbling around defenders in the box.

MF Christian Pulisic, 3 — His hapless afternoon ended after 55 minutes. Pulisic did not manage to have an impact on the right side with all of his 15 completed passes finding either Julian Weigl or a defender.

MF Marco Reus, 4 — Was waving more than the Queen of England as he demanded the ball to be played toward him. He could create sparks of danger when it happened but his teammates made sure it didn’t happen often.

FW Maximilian Philipp, 4 — His goal in the 16th minute was well-taken and not easy to convert, as he turned around a defender to score from close range. It remained his only real chance, however.


DF Marcel Schmelzer, 6 — After being banished to the stands against Leverkusen and remaining benched in Bremen, the captain came on in the 38th minute for the injured Toprak. He was one of the hardest triers, which helped BVB to create most of their breakthroughs on the left side. Though, it wasn’t good enough to yield any big scoring chances. Schmelzer directed a tame header toward Florian Muller in the 90th minute, which was Dortmund’s best chance in the second half.

MF Andre Schurrle, 3 — Brought on for poor Pulisic and did not do better. No one-on-ones won, and only four out of eight completed passes. It’s hard to explain why Stoger picked him in a game where space was scarce.

MF Andriy Yarmolenko, NR — Brought on for Gotze with 15 minutes left in regular time, Yarmolenko broke through once on the right side. His squared ball missed everyone, though.

Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.