Borussia Dortmund were deprived of one prolific prodigy. No matter, because they almost stockpile them. Minus the injured Erling Braut Haaland, they could grant Jadon Sancho a first start since March and, without their most natural goalscorer, they saw his replacement score the first hat-trick of his career against Paderborn on Sunday.
It amounted to a comeback to remember for a variety of reasons. Sancho has an eloquence on the ball and the assurance with which he scored his second goal, taking a touch before curling a left-footed shot into the far corner, was precocious.
But he had already made another kind of statement. When he doubled Dortmund's lead, he unveiled a T-shirt reading "Justice for George Floyd", the African-American who died in Minnesota, and while he got a booking for it, it was another articulate gesture after Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram had taken a knee when he found the net against Union Berlin.
Dortmund had eased Sancho back into action after a calf injury with three cameos. He returned with a vengeance with three goals, the last taken on the counter-attack in added time. He is unlikely to begin on the bench in the immediate future; not with 17 Bundesliga goals and another 16 assists. He brought pace and penetration, running riot as Dortmund ended with six goals in under 40 minutes.
For 53 minutes, however, it looked as though they were missing Haaland’s physical presence and clinical touch. But if Sancho’s star shone brightest, they have a galaxy of talents.
Thorgan Hazard is more false nine than out-and-out striker but the man deputising for Haaland as the Dortmund spearhead scored a poacher’s goal, a tap-in after the excellent Emre Can’s cross was parried by Leopold Zingerle. Then Sancho converted Julian Brandt’s low centre.
Once again, it was the sort of goal Haaland would score. Hazard helped set up Sancho for the third, Achraf Hakimi and Marcel Schmelzer added others and the Englishman completed a 6-1 rout of Paderborn.
Victory had a significance for Dortmund, whether or not it silences talk about manager Lucien Favre's future. Defeat to Bayern Munich may have knocked them out of the title race but seemed to plunge them into another battle: with Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Monchengladbach and Leipzig for the other three Champions League spots. Beating the bottom club makes it likelier they will dine at the top table again.
The minnows are winless since January and set for a swift return to the second tier. Paderborn have taken the prudent approach and spent less than £300,000 (Dh1.3million) last summer but they have been cast adrift at the foot of the table by Werder Bremen’s revival. This was their first defeat since the restart; for a while, they threatened a fourth consecutive draw but it ended in a thrashing.
Without Klaus Gjasula, who had somehow amassed 15 bookings, Paderborn initially showed plenty of defensive discipline. Dortmund were challenged to break them down and worked the ball from side to side and using the width eventually bore fruit.
Hazard had spurned two promising opportunities before he struck, drawing a save from Zingerle after meeting Lukasz Piszczek’s long pass and miscuing a shot wide when picked out by Sancho.
As can be the case, much of Dortmund’s threat stemmed from the wide men. Jamilu Collins got a goal-saving touch to Raphael Guerreiro’s shot. Their often potent wing-backs combined when they next came close. Guerreiro provided the low centre and, after a dummy from Can, Hakimi had a shot that Zingerle saved superbly.
It was not Dortmund’s only clever dummy. Julian Brandt skied a shot after Sancho’s fooled the defence by leaving the ball before eventually the deadlock was broken.
Paderborn took a 3-0 lead against Dortmund in November. Unsurprisingly, there was no repeat, but they worked two fine openings to break the deadlock. Each fell to the unmarked Christopher Antwi-Adjei, but the boyhood Dortmund fan drove one shot wide and lifted another over the bar.
After Dortmund’s quickfire double, the offside Dennis Srbeny had a goal disallowed before the deficit was briefly halved after Mohamed Drager’s shot hit Can’s elbow.
There was little the former Liverpool man could do but Uwe Hunemeier drilled in the penalty. That spurred Dortmund into four further goals. Hakimi drilled in a low shot and the substitute Schmelzer added his first goal for two years before, fittingly, Sancho had the final say.