Real Madrid 2 – 2 Borussia Dortmund – Mourinho’s changes salvages a draw against spirited Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund continued their fine European form with a well deserved draw in Spain that puts them a win away from securing passage to the knockout rounds.  Goals from Marco Reus and an own goal from Alvaro Arbeloa put the Germans in the driver’s seat to get a historic win in Madrid before their National team mate Mesut Özil equalized with a brilliant free kick minutes from time.  Dortmund was the stronger of the two sides in the first half but Mourinho rectified his tactics at halftime and took the game to the visitors to rightfully salvage a draw.  Both teams remain in pole position to advance from the group.

Lineups and Tactics

Madrid came into this game under enormous pressure, especially after their loss in Germany , and although the Spanish champions have upped their domestic form in the last couple of months the Champions League remains their primary target.  Following their 4-0 win against Real Zaragoza at the weekend, Mourinho made just two changes, bringing back Alonso and Verane in place of Essien and Albiol.  Higuain and Modric kept their spots in the starting lineup due to Benzema and Khedira’s injuries.

The dichotomy of Dortmund’s domestic and European form this season has been quite bizarre to say the least.  Jürgen Klopp’s team may just have an added element of motivation in Europe to cast away memories of their last two season in Europe. Despite a disappointing 0-0 draw against Stuttgart on Saturday Klopp trusted in the same eleven at Madrid.  The last time Dortmund won in Madrid it was 74 miles away at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon in the 1996/97 season, the very same season they reached and won the competition. It remains to this day their only win in Spain from eight matches.

Two weeks ago Madrid struggled against Dortmund’s high tempo pressing game which begs the question, why did Mourinho opt for Modric instead of the pacy and powerful Essien?  As the first half proved, Mourinho misjudged the situation and rectified it in time for his team to come away with a crucial point.


Match Analysis

Dortmund’s matches usually start in frantic fashion and this was no different.  High energy pressing comes at a cost and Madrid are one of the best teams in the world on the break.  Two minutes in Higuain was played through on goal and only an onrushing Weidenfeller saved Dortmund from going down early.  The visitors weren’t phased though and really kicked into gear after that.  In the 9th minute Götze played a brilliant through ball to Schmelzer who had eluded everyone and bombarded down the left but his finishing let him down one-on-one with Casillas.  Five minutes later Götze engineered another great chance for Dortmund after dribbling his way into space and setting up Grosskreutz but he was overzealous with his attempt and Casillas made an easy save.

Madrid were beginning to struggle with Dortmund’s tempo, particularly in midfield. Normally so accustomed to controlling games from the middle forward Mourinho’s team had difficulties getting a grip on the quick interchanging duo of Reus and Götze and never closed down Gündogan who after the first quarter of an hour really started taking control of the game.  Instead Madrid were trying to play their own game through Modric but with him and Alonso distributing the ball to waiting attackers there was no one to chase or physically impose themselves on their elusive opponents.

To match Dortmund teams have to play them at their own game, increase the tempo, defend in high numbers and press from both sides.  Mourinho did not set his team up to do that and sure enough, they were outplayed in their own stadium in the first half.  Modric won a measly 4 duels before getting subbed off at the break while Higuain was not successful in a single one. Lewandowski on the other hand won a team high 13 duels, a glaring and significant difference.  The few good chances Madrid did create in the first half all came through quick counter attacks when Dortmund committed numbers forward, one in the 22nd minute when Higuain found Ronaldo in the middle from the right and the other a minute later when Di Maria and Ronaldo combined but Dortmund’s defense did its job and blocked Di Maria’s shot.

Dortmund were extremely effective in their transition game.  Kehl and Gündogan did well to win the ball back and then distribute it quickly and accurately enough for Reus, Götze, Lewandowski and Grosskreutz to initiate attacks faster than Madrid could react.  Quick transitions is also how Dortmund opened the scoring.  Subotic’s long ball over Madrid’s midfield in the 28th minute found Lewandowski whose header laid the ball off to Reus who hammered the ball past Casillas with a powerful half volley.  It was nothing less than Dortmund deserved and even though the visitors controlled the game Madrid got back into it when Pepe got on the end of an Özil cross following a corner in the 34th minute  The air was seemingly the only way to beat Dortmund in that first half and for the remainder Madrid’s strategy deteriorated into Alonso trying to play long balls over the Dortmund defense in vain.  Dortmund’s second goal was almost inevitable considering the flow of the game.  Lewandowski was involved in the build up again, this time flicking the ball on to Grosskreutz on the left who cut it into the middle for Götze.  The playmaker got ahead of Arbeloa and his shot was deflected by the Spanish fullback into his own net.  A rare sight at the Bernabeu as Madrid went into the locker room down.

Mourinho clearly needed to make changes and unsurprisingly, he pulled the ineffective Modric and Higuain (who also picked up a knock in the first half) in favor of the power of Essien and pace of Callejon. The difference was almost immediate. Two minutes after the restart Alonso played Callejon behind Schmelzer and goalbound. The substitute should have had the equalizer but the linesman incorrectly waived it off due to offsides. Dortmund were lucky to get away with that. Three minutes later the quick Callejon again got in behind Dortmund but shot wide.  It wasn’t just his pace that unsettled Dortmund.  Essien made an enormous difference in midfield.  The Ghanaian midfielder won almost three times as many duels in the second half than Modric did in the first.  He was exactly what the doctor ordered and the momentum swung almost completely in Madrid’s favor in the second half.

Number of duels won, notice difference between Essien and Modric. bundesliga.de (c)

Mourinho also rearranged his players on the field.  Özil, who was in and out of the game in the first half, moved to the right, Di Maria to the left, Callejon into the middle and Ronaldo up front.  After 20 minutes of pressure from Madrid the match settled a bit but Dortmund were still on the backfoot. Klopp brought on Bender for Reus to try and keep the result and counter Madrid’s resurgent influence in midfield.  Mourinho pushed for the win though and brought on Kaka with 13 minutes to play and a minute after the substitution they should have equalized.  Di Maria played a ball in from the right and after a scramble Ronaldo had a clear shot on goal just two meters from the goal but Weidenfeller’s lightning quick kick save kept Dortmund ahead.

Dortmund were defending frantically by this point but Madrid’s pressure finally paid off a minute from time when Özil of all people curled in a delightful free kick over the wall and into the bottom left corner. There was little Dortmund could have done about it and Madrid deserved the draw in the end.  Mourinho did well to readjust his tactics in the second half.  Özil’s play out wide pulled Grosskreutz back even further and Callejon and Essien made a world of difference in the middle, offensively and defensively.

 Final Verdict

Real Madrid’s home record in Europe is quite impressive, 12 wins from their last 13 matches.  For Dortmund to come so close to beating them at the Bernabeu speaks further of their development as a team and their improved form in Europe.  More importantly, with this result Dortmund have won the head-to-head against Madrid in case the two finish level of points. One could ask what the game would have been like had Mourinho started Essien in the middle but nevertheless, Dortmund took the game to them and did everything right in the first half.  A win from their next two games is all Dortmund need now to secure qualification for the knockout phase for the first time since 1997.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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