Newcastle considered signing Felix Nmecha in the summer before spending double that for £52m on Sandro Tonali. While the latter is awaiting a ten-month ban for illegal gambling, the former appears to be a safe replacement for Jude Bellingham in Dortmund.
The German midfielder, who grew up in Manchester and was once an England youth international, was the standout performer of the game and his goal made the difference on a rainy night that brought Eddie Howe and Newcastle back down to earth in one fell swoop.
In the week that Kevin Keegan Howe said his team could win the Champions League, this defeat has catapulted them from the top of their group into the Europa League place.
They don’t have a mountain to climb yet, but the summit over which they were in danger of disappearing after the 4-1 win against Paris Saint-Germain is looking a little blurry at the moment, especially with trips to Dortmund and Paris looming.
Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic has a touch of Howe – intelligent, calm and committed. We shouldn’t be surprised to see him in this country at some point in the future. He did a good job here with one of the Premier League’s best and his use of Nmecha changed the game.
Nick Pope made a series of saves in the first half to deny Dortmund striker Donyell Malen
Man City academy graduate Felix Nmecha opened his account for Dortmund with the winner
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The 23-year-old, who previously played for Manchester City, is earmarked as Bellingham’s heir apparent after joining from Wolfsburg for £25million. Three years older than Bellingham, but not, as you might expect, light years behind the Real Madrid star.
There is also an immediate similarity, the ability to disappear from midfield without a trace, and that talent has certainly haunted Newcastle.
His goal in the 45th minute was the perfect example of him hiding in the penalty area while waiting for a cross from teammate Nico Schlotterbeck. The finish was also reminiscent of Bellingham: he opened up his body before sweeping home with the confidence of a far more experienced pro.
“He’s a player we looked at and really liked, but yeah, he’s obviously at Dortmund,” Howe said.
You signed Tonali instead? “It’s never that easy,” he replied.
For nights like this, Newcastle bought Tonali from Milan. No other midfielder has played more minutes in the Champions League since the start of last season. This record will expire if the Italian is suspended this week.
He was introduced in the second half, but there was no romantic farewell. Like his teammates, he soon ran into a yellow wall.
Remember that there was a feature in the matchday program detailing how to beat Dortmund, four pages of tactical analysis. Maybe Newcastle will find holes in the dressing room wall where the Bundesliga club has pinned this as motivation.
Edin Terzic’s clever use of Felix Nmecha proved decisive in the game on Wednesday evening
Gregor Kobel made a brilliant save from Wilson from close range and kept Newcastle at bay
Anthony Gordon impressed for the home side and was the main attacking threat for Howe’s team
PLAYER RATINGS AND GAME FACTS
Newcastle (4-3-3): Pope 7:5; Trippier 6.5, Lascelles 6, Schar 6.5, Burn 6; Longstaff 6 (Tonali 65, 6), Guimaraes 6, Joelinton 6 (Murphy 65, 6); Almiron 6.5, Isak 6 (Wilson 15, 6), Gordon 7
Subs: Dubravka, Karius, Dummett, Tonali, Targett, Hall, Livramento, Murphy, Willock
Manager: Eddie Howe 6
Dortmund (4-3-3) Kobel 7.5; Wolf 7, Schlotterbeck 8, Hummels 7, Bensebaini 6.5; Sabitzer 6.5, Emre Can 6 (Ozcan 42, 6.5), Nmecha 8.5; Reus 7 (Adeymi 63), Fullkrug 6.5, Malen 7.5
Subs: Meyer, Lotka, Reyna, Haller, Moukoko, Sule, Blank, Bynoe-Gittens
Scorer: Nmecha 45
Manager: Edin Terzic 8
Ref: A slide 7
Without a goal and with just one point previously in the group of death, this breathed life into their campaign.
For the second time in this competition, there was tension on the city streets in the hours before kick-off. Last time the PSG fans showed more fight than their players.
The Dortmund fans also marched through the stadium in a fighting mood, bottles and punches were thrown, but unlike PSG, their team was ready to fight. These pre-match clashes were anything but friendly from earlier in the day when Geordies joked that every bar stool in the city was already occupied by a German towel.
But how everyone in St. James’ wished they had one of these in the midst of a rain that caught the wind and seemed to constantly swirl across the ground. The climate was a bit chaotic, and so was the pitch.
This wasn’t a caged group stage, but more of a cage fight type of match. They exchanged blow for blow and shot for shot. Dortmund’s Donyell Malen ran clear within 90 seconds and Nick Pope saved with his foot. Newcastle prevailed at the other end and Anthony Gordon’s curler was scooped clear by Gregor Kobel.
In the 10th minute, Pope’s double save after a low shot from Malen and Niclas Fullkrug’s follow-up shot ensured the game somehow remained goalless. Newcastle retaliated again and Gordon should have scored when Alexander Isak cleared him but he shot into the chest of Kobel.
However, Dortmund were the better team and that was never in the minds of those who still have PSG fresh in their minds. The home fans were the twelfth man on the night.
Howe’s team were brought back down to earth with a result that saw them drop to third in the group behind PSG and Dortmund
They were drenched and dejected when the visitors took control here. Their mood was not helped by the sight of Isak being sent off with a leg injury within 15 minutes.
Howe shook his head and was even more confused when Dortmund took the lead. Centre-back Schlotterbeck used his strength to overwhelm Gordon before launching an unusual push forward and directing Nmecha into the bottom corner for the first time.
They raced downhill towards the Gallowgate in the second half – Newcastle needed that as a jump-start – and would have been level just before the hour mark had Kobel not stuck out a leg to block Callum Wilson’s strike. Those behind the goal and in the dugout were already cheering.
They were back on their feet when Wilson hit the crossbar with a header and Gordon’s deflected shot did the same. However, Dortmund had raised the bar. They were deserved winners.