Borussia Dortmund dropped two points on the road at SC Freiburg on Saturday but remain top of the table in the Bundesliga. On Wednesday, they open their UEFA Champions League campaign at Tottenham Hotspur, which means a first visit to Wembley Stadium since the 2012/13 final.
As if a goalless draw wasn’t bad enough on its own against a side Dortmund had beaten 12 times in a row, the game at Freiburg came with two more negative developments. Marc Bartra and team captain Marcel Schmelzer had to leave the pitch within 30 minutes of play.
The Spanish centre-back exited the game due to muscular problems in his adductors and didn’t make the trip to London, while Schmelzer suffered a partially torn ligament in his right ankle and will miss about six weeks of action, according to BVB.
Ömer Toprak is already accustom to replacing both Bartra and Sokratis Papastathopoulos off the bench and has picked ample experience in European football’s premier competition with Bayer Leverkusen. Dortmund should be fine here.
Replacing Schmelzer will be more troublesome given Raphael Guerreiro remains out as well. In all likelihood it’ll be either the biggest game of Dan-Axel Zagadou’s young career or a debut for newly signed Jeremy Toljan. The 18-year-old Frenchman is a centre-back playing out of position, while Toljan has about 10 days’ worth of practice time with his new team-mates and considers himself a better player at right-back, anyway.
In more positive news, Julian Weigl came along on the trip after playing 45 minutes for Dortmund’s under-23 team on Saturday and thus is available for his season debut at Wembley.
Spurs, of course, have to deal with a number of issues themselves. Goalscoring attacking midfielder Dele Alli is suspended for the first three rounds of matches after getting sent off in the UEFA Europa League last season. Anchoring holding midfielder Victor Wanyama, meanwhile, is injured, as are left-back Danny Rose and winger Georges-Kevin N’Koudou.
Despite a late entry to the transfer-market frenzy by manager Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs added a few quality signings. Davinson Sanchez joined from Ajax, having excelled under Peter Bosz last season. Serge Aurier was brought in from Paris Saint-Germain to replace Kyle Walker at right-back, and target man Fernando Llorente should offer more of a punch from the bench than Vincent Janssen, who’s already left the club after one disappointing season in London.
On paper, Spurs have the players and coaching quality to finally make some noise in Europe, but they’ll have to prove they take the Champions League seriously this season to offer strong competition to Dortmund in the (presumed) race for second behind group favourites Real Madrid. Last season, Tottenham failed to make it out of a group consisting of AS Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow.
The biggest obstacle seems to be their temporary home. With White Hart Lane under reconstruction, Spurs will play all of their home fixtures at Wembley this season, and a worrisome trend has continued from the last campaign, when they played European games in one of the most hallowed grounds in the world.
Pochettino’s side managed to win only one home game last season, losing to Monaco and Leverkusen but beating CSKA, while they also drew with KAA Gent on their way to a rather humiliating Europa League exit. This campaign, they suffered a late 2-1 defeat to champions Chelsea and dropped two points to minnows Burnley after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser.
Of course, the sample size is far too small for anyone to put much into this supposed Wembley Curse, but there’s something to be said for such a weak home record nonetheless.
Dortmund have good memories of their only previous matchup with Spurs, having beaten them 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa League round of 16 in 2015/16 under Thomas Tuchel — even though Pochettino decided to rest a number of his regular starters.
Still, it’s a new situation and a Champions League debut not only for a number of players, but also head coach Bosz. The Dutchman could be looking to introduce some fresh ideas into his team after Dortmund failed to create much of anything against Freiburg. Mahmoud Dahoud, Shinji Kagawa and Andrey Yarmolenko would seem to be the most likely candidates for such a change in the attacking set-up.
Where the game will likely be won or lost, however, is in their defensive stability against the likes of Harry Kane, who’s begun scoring again now that August is over, and Christian Eriksen, who remains one of the best creative midfielders in the game.
Ultimately, coming away with a draw would be a job well done for BVB, but the Black and Yellows absolutely have enough quality themselves to do even more damage in a stadium where they still have a score to settle with fate.
Prediction: Tottenham 1 – 2 Dortmund
Probable Starting Lineups
Tottenham: Lloris; Trippier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies; Sissoko, Dier, Dembele; Son, Eriksen; Kane.
Dortmund: Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Toprak, Toljan; Sahin, Castro, Götze; Pulisic, Aubameyang, Philipp.