Following a run of three games without a win, Borussia Dortmund return to the continental stage on Tuesday, taking on Sporting CP at Estadio Jose Alvalade.
The Black and Yellows currently lead Group F, as they are level on points with Real Madrid but have the better goal difference after smashing Legia Warsaw away from home on Matchday 1. With Los Blancos beating Sporting on the same day and getting the Polish champions twice in a row, however, chances are they will overtake Dortmund in the coming two weeks.
Seeing as the Ruhr side have to travel to Santiago Bernabeu on the final matchday, the two meetings with Sporting will go a long way in deciding how stressful the trip to Madrid will be. Ideally, Dortmund will hope they will not need a result from that match, and, in order to do so, they likely need at least four points against the Leoes.
A draw in the away fixture would be a positive result. That could be hard to come by, however, seeing as Sporting have won nine straight in front of their own fans and only lost three home matches since Jorge Jesus took over as head coach in the summer of 2015.
The personnel situation is also not really helping Dortmund. With team captain Marcel Schmelzer joining a long list of key injuries in the 1-1 draw with Hertha BSC on Friday, head coach Thomas Tuchel will probably have to experiment with his starting XI.
In Schmelzer and Raphael Guerreiro, two left-backs are injured, while Joo Ho Park, who did surprisingly well in his first action since January, is not eligible after being omitted from the Champions League squad. Without a single natural left-back in the team, Dortmund are likely going to rely on Felix Passlack moving over from the right side of defence.
Of course, the 18-year-old is not only untested at this level of competition, he may also well be needed at right-back, where Lukasz Piszczek returned from international duty with Poland suffering from knee problems. Tuchel said in his press conference that the 31-year-old is trending in the right direction after training without issues earlier in the day, but it remains to be seen whether he can be make the starting XI.
If the Pole can not start, Dortmund would either have to start someone like Sebastian Rode out of position – the 26-year-old played at right-back a few times for Bayern Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt earlier in his career – give 18-year-old Dzenis Burnic his senior debut at left-back, or opt for three at the back.
Mikel Merino joined the team on the trip to Lisbon but is not eligible for the same reason as Park, but Marc Bartra, whom he replaced against Hertha on Friday, should be good to return to the pitch after a four-week absence, having finally recovered from a muscle injury he reaggrevated ahead of the previous Champions League match against Real late in September.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos would be the third centre-back in this scenario, with the Greece international also going through the team’s first training session on Monday without problems. He had picked up a knock during the international break but has not missed too much time.
Playing with a “Dreierkette” could help Dortmund’s struggling buildup play, as Bartra and Matthias Ginter have showed they can break defensive lines with sharp ground passes this season. Taking some responsibilities off Julian Weigl’s shoulders would not seem such a bad idea, especially with Guerreiro and Gonzalo Castro unavailable.
Passlack and Rode would be options for the wing-back spots, perhaps even Ousmane Dembele, who will likely replace either Emre Mor or Christian Pulisic on the wing after bringing an important spark off the bench on Friday.
Shinji Kagawa also improved the team as a substitute against Hertha and could be set to replace Rode or Mario Götze in midfield. The double pivot with Weigl and Rode has (decidedly) not worked whenever it was tried, but playing Götze and Kagawa next to each other could be deemed too adventurous away from home.
With Dortmund needing a result away to Sporting, Tuchel has to carefully weigh the few options the lengthy injury list leaves him with.