The final day of Champions League Group competition saw both Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, ironically bitter and longstanding rivals in domestic play, both finish atop their respective CL groups. The two Ruhr valley clubs achieved their notable Group finishes by virtue of a 1-0 victory over Manchester City, in the case of Dortmund, and a 1-1 Schalke draw away to Montpellier. Both clubs had secured their advance to the knockout rounds of the Champions League competition in their prior Group games. Along with Bayern München, who play BATE Borisov Wednesday at the Allianz, three Bundesliga clubs will be among the final 16 Champions League clubs that will begin elimination play in the new year.
Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Manchester City
While Manchester City have suffered a difficult time in the Champions League ‘Group of Death,” earning only three points from three draws in their five previous CL Group D matches, the blue-clad club still had the opportunity to earn a Europa League spot going into Tuesday’s matchup with Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Arena. But unfortunately for their supporters, City instead became the first English club to go winless in the group stages of the Champions League.
Having already secured their spot and having played a grueling, intense match with Bayern on Saturday, Coach Jurgen Klopp made several changes to his starting lineup. Oliver Kirch and Felipe Santana, who had played less than 330 combined minutes in Bundesliga action this season, formed Klopp’s backline along with regulars Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer. Twenty-year old Moritz Leitner, who’d only started three league matches, was paired with Ilkay Gündogan as holding midfielders while backups Ivan Perisic and Julian Schieber were counted on to supply some of the attack. Marco Reus started, but played only the first half, replaced by Jakub ‘Kuba’Blaszczykowski.
With the pressure on Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City side to produce a result, Dortmund were able to absorb pressure during the first half, allowing City more of the ball (55% of first half possession), but stifling City whenever they approached the home side’s final third of the pitch. While City had the greater possession and accumulated more corner kicks, it was Dortmund that attempted eight first-half shots against only two for the visitors and covered more ground. Goalkeepers Joe Hart and Roman Weidenfeller were called upon to make some good saves, with Hart stopping a Reus shot with his fingertips while Weidenfeller’s did well to stop a header from Eden Dzeko while his save on Tevez ‘later header wasn’t necessary as the play was judged to be offside anyway.
The scoreless first half gave way to second 45 minutes in which Dortmund were able to keep slightly more possession (52%), outshoot City 10-4, cover more ground again and most importantly, win the match. Shots by Perisic and Großkreutz for Dortmund foreshadowed a goal and near the hour mark Dortmund scored. With the energetic Kuba squaring a perfect low cross from the right into the goal area, Dortmund summer-acquisition Julian Schieber reached out and knocked in the game-winner. Although match commentators referred to Klopp’s squad selection for Tuesday’s match as a ‘B’ team, the bespectacled coach certainly had no intention of losing the lead to the City team that got a late PK goal to draw with BvB in early October. Kloppo brought on regular striker Robert Lewandowski in the 77th minute, whose attempt at an insurance goal was denied by Hart, but City seemed to slump as the game wore on, reviving just enough for a late Sergio Aguero shot from the left forced Weidenfeller into making a quality save. Mario Balotelli, the City striker who levelled against BvB two months ago and bedeviled the German national team in the Euros, was symbolic of City’s frustrated attempts to find victory as he received a late yellow card for his mouthing off at an official. With the game in its final moments, Klopp brought on 18 year-old Leonardo Bittencourt for his Champions League debut, and only his second appearance for Dortmund’s senior squad as Weidenfeller earned a well-deserved clean sheet.
Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Kirch (Bittencourt 88′), Felipe Santana, Hummels, Schmelzer – Gündogan, Leitner – Großkreutz, Reus (Blaszczykowski 46′), Perisic – Schieber (Lewandowski 77′) Manchester City: Hart -Maicon, Kompany, Lescott, Nastasic – Javi Garcia, Barry – Nasri (Zabaleta 68′), Tevez, Sinclair (Agüero 56′) – Dzeko (Balotelli 64′)
Montpellier HSC 1-1 FC Schalke 04
While Dortmund scored an impressive win over City, their rivals Schalke made a less direct attack on the top berth of Group B, but nevertheless finished atop the group. Schalke’s 1-1 draw in France, coupled with Arsenal’s loss to Olympiacos, saw the German side finish with twelve points in group play, two points ahead of the London-based club. Schalke were undefeated in group play.
Coach Huub Stevens rested several of his regulars with Champions League advancement already assured before Tuesday’s kickoff. Left back Christian Fuchs, along with midfielder Jermaine Jones and striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar were absent from the starting XI, along with injured winger Jefferson Farfan. Nineteen year-old Sead Kolasinac replaced Fuchs, while Teemu Pukki and Ciprian Marica led the Royal Blue attack. Timo Hildebrand again started in goal in place of Lars Unnerstall. Montpellier, last year’s Ligue 1 champions, had little to play for but pride, especially in front of their home fans, after only a point in earlier group play.
Neither team was able to score in the first half at the Stade de la Mosson, with the French side having the edge in first-half shots (4-2) and possession (52%), while the German club covered more ground. Montpellier keeper Jonathan Ligali was in good form, thwarting chances by Julian Draxler and Marica, while Pukki shot wide on his chance. But the second half was more lively, as Montpellier opened up but were denied a goal by Hildebrand and a goalliine clearance by Schalke’s Japanese international, Atuto Uchida. But Schalke drew first blood. A Lewis Holtby free kick into the box was headed across the goalmouth by veteran Christoph Metzelder with a diving Benedikt Höwedes heading into the Montpellier goal nine minutes after intermission. Montpellier replied only three minutes later, as Argentine striker Emanuel Herrera levelled, heading in a cross that was blocked on the goalline by Metzelder, and then kicking in the resulting rebound. A struggling Schalke side that has only had one win in its last five matches held on for the draw, thanks to the fine goalkeeping of Hildebrand, and Olympiacos provided the result necessary to make Schalke the winners of Group B.
Montpellier: Ligali – Congre, Yanga-Mbiwa, Hilton, Bedimo – Stambouli (Pitau 46′), Estrada – Mounier (Belhanda 67′), Cabella, Camara (Utaka 67′) – Herrera Schalke: Hildebrand – Uchida, Höwedes, Metzelder, Kolasinac – Holtby, Neustädter – Pukki, Barnetta (Jones 72′), Draxler – Marica (Huntelaar 77′)