It feels like we have seen this match a million times in the last few years, but the football gods – or rather the guys who took the draw balls out of the bowls – are bringing us another encounter between the universally beloved Borussia Dortmund and the villains from Real Madrid. What can we expect from CR7, his team-mates and their charismatic bald-headed coach?
The ability of a novice like Zinedine Zidane to manage a wild horse that is Real Madrid remains questionable. Even the win of the Champions League title in May hasn’t changed the perception of the former world-class player turned professional coach completely. You could make the argument that his second season in charge including the first full pre-season camp is the true test for the 44-year-old.
Real Madrid itself is as shiny and as crazy as it has ever been. Los Blancos still assemble outstanding footballers, although some of them have noticeable mileage on their bodies, with centre-back Sergio Ramos being an obvious example. But still, Real Madrid can rely on their advantage against almost every team in the world by simply overpowering them.
With the return of Alvaro Morata who has been signed for a reported transfer fee of 30 million Euros from Juventus, Madrid’s front office filled up the last hole in their roster, as Karim Benzema is no longer the only world-class centre-forward wearing a white shirt. Morata offers a different kind of skill-set up front, but also bears a resemblance to Benzema. Both don’t just loaf in between the opponent’s centre-backs. Both love to stretch the defence and give Cristiano Ronaldo as well as Gareth Bale space to drift inside. It is something that has been practised since the Ancelotti days and it is still of value for the Blancos.
Something that has noticeably changed after Ancelotti’s departure is the lack of coordination between the playmakers at the back and the athletes up front. Zidane has not been able to change this weakness which first occurred when Rafa Benitez took the coach’s chair, and it still can hurt them when a smart pressing team puts the pressure on the Blancos by isolating the deepest players.
There’s something to be said about Borussia Dortmund being able to come on full force when the Black and Yellows smell blood. Even though it is somewhat contrary to Thomas Tuchel’s concept of BVB football, it wouldn’t be too daunting to see a Dortmund side mostly working against Real Madrid’s build-up play rather than trying to dominate the match while running right into the trap.
Dortmund’s back-line, especially with the absence of one Marc Bartra, should probably avoid the impact of a Real Madrid hammer as often as they can. And Cristiano Ronaldo counter-attacking is like a sledgehammer dropping directly on your head. Nobody in the illustrious Westfalenstadion wants to see that. Nobody wants to see Matthias Ginter defending Gareth Bale at full speed with no backup.
Therefore, Dortmund should avoid to over-commit and being befogged due to long possession periods and a pretended dominance which could open the door for the Spanish powerhouse. That said, letting Real Madrid circulating the ball in BVB’s half of the field doesn’t look like a desirable scenario either. So that leaves Tuchel’s side with a match plan that asks for intensive pressing and counter-pressing with the ultimate goal of creating quick transition attacks from around the half-way line towards a lightning fast Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
As for Real Madrid’s personnel, the injury bug has hit their back line and defence in general pretty hard, with Marcelo, Fabio Coentrao and Casemiro being definitely unavailable and Pepe questionable. Other than that, Zidane can make use of a stacked roster with several options in midfield.
Dortmund’s situation is quite similar. Bartra and Sven Bender will be side-lined, which leaves Sokratis and Ginter as remaining centre-backs while Mikel Merino has not been nominated for the Champions League roster. Thus at least the back line is more or less cut in stone. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Tuchel really trusts a player like Sebastian Rode to shut down the middle or if he really thinks Ousmane Dembele is ready for these sneaky Spanish defenders.
BVB: Bürki – Piszczek, Sokratis, Ginter, Schmelzer – Weigl – Castro, Götze (Guerreiro) – Dembele, Schürrle, Aubameyang
RM: Casilla (Navas) – Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Nacho – Kroos, Modric, Isco – Ronaldo, Bale, Morata (Benzema)