A week ago the world witnessed Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, deliver a stellar performance at the expense of Spanish giants, Real Madrid. That match was held in Germany and Dortmund was as relentless in attack as their supporter’s energy was fanatical. Dortmund thumped four goals into the back of the net, with Robert Lewandowksi, the Polish striker, terrorizing Real’s backline throughout the game and scoring all four. Dortmund won the game but conceded one goal in the first half to Cristiano Ronaldo. Now this semifinal battle heads to Spain, with Real seeking revenge and determined to resurrect their Champions League title ambitions. The “simplest” scenario for Real to advance is for them to capitalize on their away goal and win this match 3-0 and 4-4 on aggregate. It is a major task for Mourinho’s men, but can they do it?
In the second legs of the semi finals, the match schedule is reversed, so Real and Dortmund will battle it out first (Bayern and Barcelona play tomorrow) to see which side heads to London for the May 25th final. The first match saw a master class of Jurgen Klopp’s suffocating tactic of gengenpressing, or counter pressing. As explained in my preview article: it is the idea that if you lose possession in attack, you do not retreat in defense, you swarm for the ball instead. This philosophy worked to perfection last week as Klopp’s men covered every blade of grass on the field, 73 miles to be exact, and denied Real’s midfielders, even their defenders, to breathe and allow their game to develop. Klopp’s men will need to do more of the same, albeit with maybe a more traditional defensive lens; Klopp has asked his team to find this balance in order to progress. With Angel DiMaria back in the starting line up, I expect Mourinho will reinforce Real to exploit his speed along with Ronaldo’s when a counter attack opportunity arrives and if Dortmund get caught on the break, things could be very interesting. Also, Di Maria’s return will mean that Ozil will resume his position in the center of Real’s attack. Last week he played out wide, with former Tottenham playmaker, Luka Modric, in the center. Despite their collective talents, this alignment was stunted by Dortmund and neither men were able to influence the game effectively. Ozil was on the periphery, both tactically and figuratively, and it hurt Real. With Ozil returning to the center of the attack, he will need to instrumental in attack if Real is going to mount a comeback.
Obviously Dortmund’s defense will need to be sharp in order to book their ticket to London. Due to a groin strain, the potential absence of energetic right back Lukasz Piszcek, is good news for Real, as the Pole ran rampantly down the right side and defended with equal fervor. With the exception of a lapse in judgment in the first half, which lead to Real’s lone goal, center back Mats Hummels was fantastic in the second half and will need to exert that same prowess in this match if Dortmund want to end Real’s Champions League dreams. He marked well in the back and continued to impress offensively: combining with Illkay Gundogan on 11 passes, completing 74% of his passes, and galloping forward in attack. Dortmund will also need their midfielders to be stellar again. Mario Gotze, Gundongan, and Sven Bender were monumental in last week’s victory, with each completing at least 70% of their passes and sending a combined 16 to Lewandowksi. After all, it was Gotze’s swift cross which allowed Lewandowski to score Dortmund’s first. Real also had no answer for Marco Reus, who’s blistering runs into the center of the defense tormented Real’s backline and even won Dortmund the penalty, a goal which could have put this match out of Real’s grasp.
Much has been discussed this season of Mourinho’s decision to leave goalkeeper Iker Casillas on the bench in favor of Diego Lopez (especially after last week’s game) but I do not expect the Portuguese tactician to sway from his alteration. Also, to be fair to Diego Lopez, all of the goals that Lewandowski scored were finished with such brutal efficiency that any goalkeeper, even the revered Casillas, would simply not stop. Lewandowski was always a threat inside the box and every goal he scored was a tribute to what you look for in a complete striker: awareness, sublime control, and clinical finishing. Plus buoyed by Klopp’s counter pressing philosophy, he constantly chased after Real’s defenders providing them with no respite.
Ahead of today’s mach, Mourinho has asked for mental toughness from his side and called the upcoming match the club’s “most important match in ten years.” Playing at their majestic Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Real Madrid should come out inspired and convinced that they can overturn this deficit in their favor. It will take stalwart defending, precise interplay from the midfield through the likes of Ozil and Khedira, and magic from Ronaldo. Real will also need to knock Dortmund’s players off the ball physically, albeit not illegally. Also, do not be surprised if Real seems eager to fall to the ground after being challenged for the ball in the attacking third. It is a terrible tactic to employ, I know, but it could prove useful if it garners a Ronaldo free kick. His trademark free kick, a thunderous strike that soars over a wall, only to dip with acceleration at the last instant, can leave a goalie helpless. Klopp knows that Dortmund have not won anything yet and will encourage his side to continue to play at their normal pace which mesmerized soccer fans across the globe last week. As the last game portrayed, there are plenty of goals that can be scored in this match and the return leg should be end-to-end entertainment. I do not expect Real to get trounced again and they could even win this match, but they will not garner enough goals to advance to the final. Dortmund will eliminate Real in this game by a score of 2-2 and return to the Champions League final after a sixteen-year absence.
You can watch Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund today, live on Fox Soccer Channel at 2pm ET.
You can follow Jeremy Ghassemi on twitter @jermg11