After a one-year absence, Borussia Dortmund are back in the Champions League. The first step on the road to Cardiff is in Warsaw, where Thomas Tuchel’s men take on Polish champions Legia Warsaw.
It is Tuchel’s own personal debut in Europe’s elite club competition after an impressive first year in Dortmund. His second season at Westfalenstadion has not got off to the best of starts but a solid opening display in the Champions League would put some concerns to bed.
“The training team have decided among ourselves to enjoy the group stage a bit,” said the head coach, who compared the feeling before his first Champions League game to Christmas Eve.
If so, I guess that makes the performance at the weekend something akin to Halloween. Heading to the east of Germany on Saturday, the black and yellows struggled to build play and create chances against an intelligently organised RB Leipzig team. Despite having plenty of the ball, BVB could not break through Leipzig to even enter the final third, let alone forge clear-cut opportunities. A late winner from Naby Keita was not exactly coming but it was hardly a game Dortmund deserved to win.
Well then, the timing is perfect for a change of scenery.
Borussia travelled to Poland without Nuri Sahin on Tuesday but are strong favourites with an almost full-strength squad: long-term absentees Erik Durm, Neven Subotić and Marco Reus remain unavailable while Mikel Merino is not registered for European fixtures. Sven Bender remains out after a minor injury suffered at the Olympics.
We are still awaiting a full debut for Raphaël Guerreiro but this game seems a little too important to throw him in regardless of his impressive performances from the bench. The Portuguese could be the most natural replacement in the squad for Ilkay Gündogan but a midfield spot next to Julian Weigl is likely to be given to either Sebastian Rode or Gonzalo Castro. Out wide, Ousmane Dembélé, Christian Pulisic and Emre Mor will hope to brought into the side to add a much-needed spark to the attack. Mario Götze was impressive on his second debut for BVB but Shinji Kagawa is back in the squad and could take his place.
One player who does seem sure to start is André Schürrle: after his transfer was met with confusion, the winger was impressive against Mainz and lively against RB Leipzig.
If Dortmund have had a shaky start to their campaign, Wednesday’s opponents Legia Warsaw are in the middle of a minor crisis. After winning the Ekstraklasa last season, they sit 13th in the table with just one win from their eight matches so far. Their form was slightly better in qualifying for the Champions League but even then they only narrowly overcame Irish side Dundalk, who drew in Poland. That was Legia’s last home game and the fifth in a row they have failed to win.
Nonetheless, this will not be easy. The Champions League never is, especially away from home. Under Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund won five of 12 away games in four seasons; the trend continued last year under Tuchel in the Europa League, when the team lost away against Krasnodar and drew with PAOK.
The Legia danger man to look out for is Nemanja Nikolics: the Hungarian international scored 36 times last season and netted five in six Champions League qualification games this summer.
The focus, though, is on how BVB can improve and dictate play. Saturday’s performance and result in Leipzig was disappointing but now we can at least get into the swing of things and there’s no better way to respond than by opening our Champions League campaign with a win.
Predicted line-up: Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Bartra, Schmelzer; Weigl, Castro; Dembélé, Götze, Schürrle; Aubameyang