easyCredit Stadium, Nuremberg - It's a cliché. But this is the sort of stuff championships are made of. Defending league champions Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Nürnberg played in arctic temperatures Friday night, both sides never really managed to get their engines going.
But Dortmund managed to shift gears when it mattered and came through with a solid 2-0 away win, after having failed to do so in their previous five visits here. The goal that eventually sealed the game came courtesy of a player who was expected to be on his way out of the club just a few days ago.
Second-choice striker Lucas Barrios all but wrapped up the match with a simple tap-in in the 82nd minute, after coming on for in-form striker Robert Lewandowski. It was a goal that put gloss on a win that was by no means a foregone conclusion.
Nürnberg began brightly, dominating the opening exchanges. Czech international Adam Hklousek, in particular, made real inroads down the left for the home side, as Dortmund right-back Lukasz Piszczek struggled to cope with his pace and directness.
Borussia rode their luck as they first thwarted Dominic Maroh and were then lucky as diminutive midfielder Shinji Kagawa cleared a Christian Eigler header off the line. The Japanese international looked the most dangerous for Dortmund, as his teammates struggled to cope with host's aggression.
It was in fact their very aggression that had Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp hopping up and down the sideline berating the referee in his customary manner. Yet he had reason to be angry, as his key defensive midfielder Sven Bender hobbled off with an ankle injury in the 21st minute.
Replays showed the challenge going through his left ankle. How serious his ligaments have been ruptured remain to be seen. There will be many fans sweating on the injury update, for there are few players that Klopp can afford to lose more than his midfield general.
"It really wasn't easy today," Klopp said. "That is what makes the win so special. Nürnberg were only really dangerous on dead ball situations. We had to be patient. We really weren't convincing for periods of game. My thoughts go out to Sven Bender, who was really unlucky."
Enter the next Wunderkind
The removal of Bender may have sent further chills down the spines of the Dortmund fans watching, but the introduction of another former 1860 Munich midfielder, 19-year-old Moritz Leitner, proved to be the catalyst for Dortmund to step up their game.
A flurry of chances saw Lewandowski (22. min.) denied from close range by a Raphael Schäfer reflex save and then again a few minutes later, as Nürnberg's #1 went airborne to claw away a curling shot that was heading for the top right-hand corner. A glaring miss by Kevin Grosskreutz, who blazed over the bar from close range, meant that - in terms of chances - the momentum was with BVB going into halftime.
Kevin, not happy with misses
Post-match, Grosskreutz was not in the mood for joking after teammate Mats Hummels had just called him "Chancentod" (German expression for 'player who misses sitters').
"We don't always have to play perfect football," he snapped. "That's something that should also be accepted."
With Dortmund on a streak of 13 games without losing and Nürnberg having only managed one win against Borussia in the last 24 games, the stats clearly favored the reigning champions.
BVB's Barca moment
Coming out of the tunnel, Klopp's side almost instantly showed a glimpse of the one-touch football that has won them fans around the globe. Leitner opened up the defense with a ball to Piszczek, who passed straight on to Kehl. He said "Danke schön" and slotted home.
"That was the 'can opener' for the game," said Klopp, alluding to the importance of the goal and the probing nature of Leitner's initial ball.
From then on out, Dortmund increasingly looked in charge. "Der Club" threw on US international Timothy Chandler for Israeli international Almog Cohen and Alexander Esswein for Christian Eigler in the 60th minute to turn things around. Neither substitution had the desired impact.
"Following the 0-1, Dortmund stopped being cagey. Naturally, after that it was significantly more difficult for us," Nürnberg's coach Dieter Hecking concluded.
Trailing by one, Hecking went all in and threw on his final substitute, striker Albert Bunjaku, in the 80th minute.
Just two minutes later, however, it was game over.
Grosskreutz and Kagawa combined, only for Schäfer to save the Japanese midfielder's shot. The forgotten man, last year's star striker Barrios, was on hand to tap in, kill the game and prompt ecstatic and extended celebrations after a long injury layoff had seen him lose his place in Dortmund's starting line-up.
"The way everyone celebrated. His face almost exploded with joy," BVB-beanie-sporting Klopp said with a grin. "He had a number of offers, but he made it clear that he is 100 percent committed to Dortmund."
Klopp again refused to be drawn on any questions regarding their championship aspirations. "That kind of pressure takes away the fun of football," he said.
Borussia Dortmund can now relax and enjoy their temporary 3-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga, as their chief title rivals Bayern München take on Hamburg in the 18:30 kick-off away on Saturday, while Schalke are at home against Mainz and Mönchengladbach are away in Wolfsburg.
Alex Handcock is a sports reporter for The Munich Times. You can follow him on Twitter @bundesligafooty and listen to his insights on the German Soccer Podcast. Email TMT Sports at firstname.lastname@example.org
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