BOWNJOURNO! (it’s a meme and not a misspelled word)
The Champions League is coming! And
the dead a number of enticing fixtures come with it. Before I make myself sound like a Jon Snow aficionado, let me clarify the subjects here.
And I swear I know nothing!
Borussia Dortmund will host their favorite . . . well . . . somewhat favorite Champions League Rivals Real Madrid this week as they look to bounce back from their matchday 1 sufferings against Tottenham Hotspur.
Both sides with contrasting starts to their respective campaigns, it is promised to be a fascinating encounter in the Champions’ League Group Stage this season.
Defending champions Real Madrid have stuttered with their early-season form. Six games into the campaign, Zinedine Zidane’s men are trailing league leaders Barcelona by a whopping seven-point margin in the league table.
Failing to win in each of their three games at home in the La Liga so far, Real Madrid’s early struggles will be a test for Zidane as he prepares for a crunch encounter against Borussia Dortmund.
Speaking of Dortmund however, oh boi! There’s something in the air for Peter Bosz and his men this season, following their thunderous start to the Bundesliga campaign. Not only have they made the brightest start to the campaign in the club history, they’ve also broken their record of not conceding a goal in five consecutive matches from the beginning of the season.
The Black-and-Yellows lead Bayern by three points, with a goal difference of +18 after six Bundesliga games.
So, it all adds up to what will be a truly fascinating clash between Real Madrid, struggling with form despite boasting arguably the best team on the planet, and Borussia Dortmund, a perennial underdog against the Spanish giants, propelled into a bubble of optimism following their solid start to the campaign.
Just when everything seemed perfect, it’s time to once again take off your optimism glasses and instead focus on Dortmund’s problems.
Believe it or not, Real Madrid are an optimum threat, even if they start the season with a 100% losing record, which, as satisfying as it seems, will probably never happen. Rather than taking pride from their exceptional start to the campaign, it’s important to look back on what Peter Bosz missed in his matches so far this season.
Let’s take a look at the Gladbach match, for example. Borussia Dortmund gave away a number of chances to the opposition. Clear-cut chances. Chances, which likely would have been put to good use, had it been Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale, rather than Thorgan Hazard and Lars Stindl.
So, the defense clearly remains a problem for the Black-and-Yellows, especially on the counter, where they always seem to lack the men to help see off opposition counterattacks.
Here, we can see Mahmoud Dahoud playing a ball to Julian Weigl in a compact area, but still a pretty doable situation for the 21-year-old, who is tempted by the acres of space available on the right.
However, Lars Stindl’s clever pressing blocks the passing area and eventually grabs Dortmund by the neck, with Raffael showing great anticipation to latch onto the loose ball.
The whole Dortmund defense gets obsessed with Raffael, but the Brazilian plays a clever pass to Stindl, whose through-ball to Thorgan Hazard in the wide area completely exposes the Dortmund defense. Sokratis’ positioning, on the other hand, doesn’t help as the Greek is basically singled out from the main defending area and is too slow to recover.
Unfortunately for Gladbach and fortunately for Dortmund, Hazard’s shot is straight at goalkeeper Roman Burki, who comfortably parries the ball away, but things could have been a lot different had it been higher-caliber players such as Real have in long supply.
The home side really needs to avoid silly mistakes like these if they are to salvage at least a point against the defending champions. And what’s worse is that this is not the only mistake they had made during the match. Piszczek’s awful second-half back-pass nearly caught Dortmund on the break again
In Bundesliga play, die Schwarzgelben have managed to nestle through these types of individual errors with a bit of luck, but what about the Champions League?
In the game against Spurs, it became evident that Dortmund lacks some physicality in their overall game. The likes of Harry Kane, Moussa Dembele, and Eric Dier were outmuscling the Dortmund players throughout the match.
But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean they have to start with Sebastian Rode in midweek. Besides, he’s injured!
Dealing With Casemiro
“The demon” or “the villain” – call him whatever you please, but he’s the most important part of Real Madrid. He covers the entire defensive setup with the help of Real’s efficient pressing system under Zidane. So, what can we expect from the Brazilian?
Borussia Dortmund usually like to push high, as they showed against Spurs. Expect Toprak/Bartra and Sokratis to play with a high line and rely on their offside traps to keep out the opposition attack.
To counter this, Zidane may start with a 4-3-3 formation with the shape often shifting to a 2-1-4-3 in Dortmund’s possession phases. On the contrary to Dortmund’s backline, Real Madrid’s defensive line will remain fairly deep with Casemiro sitting in front as the main defensive cover.
This allows Real Madrid’s midfielders and wingbacks to move up and compress the space, whilst the front three constantly tries to press the opposing center backs. Modric’s ability to carry the ball and Kroos’ long-range passing aids Madrid on the counter as both can swiftly carry the transition from defense to attack immediately after winning possession.
Casemiro, who has averaged an impressive 4.2 tackles and made 2.2 interceptions per game whilst bagging a certain amount of physicality into the midfield, is key to this system. As the partnering midfielders groove forward, the Brazilian keeps check of the midfield base by hovering around the area and clearing any balls that fall into the dangerous territory.
Once again, shedding light on Dortmund’s midfield problems, Peter Bosz could lineup a 4-2-3-1 formation in order to counter Casemiro in the center. Unlike their Bundesliga matches, where they lined up in a 4-3-3, with two attack-minded midfielders partnering alongside the holding midfielder. Going with the same formation could create a series of problems for the Dutch manager as it was last season for Tuchel’s 4-1-4-1 formation. Lone holding midfielder Julian Weigl was often isolated in the Champions League matches due to the lack of support around him and the midfielder just wasn’t strong enough counter the pressure exerted by the opposition. Therefore, having a midfield partner in the holding role could significantly make an impact. Don’t be surprised if both Julian Weigl and Nuri Sahin start the game.
Piszczek Vs Marcelo/Theo/Nacho?
Similar to Borussia Dortmund, passing triangles are crucial for Real Madrid when it comes to ball circulation and eventually, progression into the offensive third. Primarily, Los Merengues prefer the left-side overload, largely due to Marcelo’s offensive abilities. Casemiro feeds off left-midfielder Toni Kroos and creates a passing triangle with Marcelo and either of Sergio Ramos or the left-sided attacker, depending on the situation.
Lukasz Piszczek needs to be at his best and show his true qualities on the field. It will no doubt be a stern test for Borussia Dortmund’s Mr. Reliable, who wasn’t so reliable with his poor back-pass against Gladbach on the weekend.
Now that we have covered Borussia Dortmund’s potential problems in defense and midfield against Real Madrid, let’s take a look at their offensive department, which has been sensational, to say the least.
Andriy Yarmolenko is expected to start ahead of Maximilian Philipp on the right wing, with Christian Pulisic shifting to the left flank. The former’s exposure in the Champions League will be crucial going into this game.
However, Dortmund are unlucky not to have Raphael Guerreiro or Marco Reus available for the clash. Both Philipp and Yarmolenko are unfamiliar with Bosz’s system and like to distance themselves to the rest of the pack when on a defensive stance. Dortmund needs to be absolutely coherent if they are to keep out the dangerous Real Madrid.
Forming a unified whole is the most-important thing, and there were signs of improvement in Aubameyang’s overall play against Gladbach. Coach Peter Bosz will hope Yarmolenko and Philipp follow suit.
Borussia Dortmund comes into this with a series of doubts and the fans are definitely not feeling very optimistic against the Spanish footballing giants, despite a positive start to the campaign.
Many believe this could be the first real test of Peter Bosz’s credibility as a top-drawer football coach. But on the flip side, Real Madrid also carry troubles of their going into this match. It has been quite an intimidating fixture for the twelve-time European Champions in the past and it will be no different this time. Truth be told, no side can be deemed as favorites, when the two perennial giants of European Football lock horns this week.
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