Borussia Dortmund 2 – 1 Real Madrid – Dortmund top group with historic win

Borussia Dortmund’s pulled off one of the great results in club history with their win against Real Madrid. It was their first win against Spanish opposition in almost two decades and puts them atop the so called Group of Death. Lewandowski opened the scoring before Ronaldo equalized two minutes later but Schmelzer’s left footed half volley shortly after the hour mark secured the three points for Jürgen Klopp in what could become a defining moment in the development of the team.

Lineups and Tactics

Klopp wanted to bounce back after their disappointing loss in the Ruhr derby over the weekend, a loss he rightfully took responsibility for given the questionable tactical changes.  Either way, he promised Dortmund would be back to their best for this match.  Schmelzer and Götze passed late fitness tests and both started while Gündogan only made the bench.

Jose Mourinho was able to rest some of his players over the weekend and after their 2-0 win over Celta Vigo, Khedira, Di Maria and Benzema returned to the starting lineup. Like Dortmund, Madrid too had to deal with some key absences with his three preferred fullbacks all missing due to injury. Ramos replaced Arbeloa at right back and Essien filled in on the left giving Dortmund an ideal area to exploit.

Match & Analysis

Perhaps some thoughts of the loss to Schalke were still lingering in the minds of Dortmund players because Madrid was the more comfortable side in the first 20 minutes.  The visitors held the majority of the possession in the first half and looked the more dangerous side but overall both sides’ passing was uncharacteristically sloppy, thanks in large part to the slippery conditions of the pitch.  Madrid and Dortmund had almost 100 misplaced passes in the first half which more or less summed up the play of both teams.

Madrid could have gone up as early as the fifth minute though when Ronaldo burst past Piszczek and sent in a cross that Özil should have tapped past Weidenfeller but instead skipped past everyone in the box. Dortmund struggled to play the ball out of the back and build their plays without a stray pass or odd bounce.  Grosskreutz did have a go from distance in the 13th minute but that was as close as they came.  Madrid were dealt a heavy blow in the 20th minute though when Khedira had to be taken off due to a hamstring injury.  In the end the substitution would prove quite detrimental to Madrid as they lacked the bite and energy Khedira normally brings to their midfield.

From then on Dortmund started gaining more confidence and slowly but surely took the game to Madrid.  Götze and Grosskreutz combined brilliantly to lay the ball off to Kehl in the 27th minute, the captain’s swerving shot just parried to safety by Casillas.  On the other end Di Maria remained one of Madrid’s biggest dangermen, constantly looking to cut in and shoot but Dortmund held their positions well and began taking advantage of Madrid’s increasingly sloppy play.  Pepe’s poor attempt to play the ball out in the 36th minute was intercepted by Kehl who put Lewandowski clean on goal.  The Polish forward picked out the near post to put Dortmund ahead and send the sell out Signal Iduna Park into a frenzy.

The euphoria did not last long however.  Mesut Özil noticed Dortmund’s defense was ill positioned and sent a chipped the entire Dortmund defense with a brilliant through ball to Ronaldo from around the halfway line, the Portuguese winger controlling the ball with his first touch before touching it over an onrushing Weidenfeller.  Just like that Dortmund’s lead was undone but the home side seemed to learn their lesson after that and dropped their backline unusually deep for the remainder of the game.  It was clear that Madrid’s biggest strength was their pace and Dortmund did not want to compromise the result with adventurous defending.

Both sides resumed the second half without any changes. The most noticeable change if anything was how strong Dortmund came out and how increasingly unsure Madrid began to look.  Already in the 50th minute Dortmund began knockin on Madrid’s door when Reus and Piszczek combined on the right to set up Götze but his shot was again kept out by Casillas who would be the busier of the two keepers in the second half.  Minutes later Casillas was called on once more on a Reus free kick and again on the following corner.  After surviving Dortmund’s early spell of pressure Madrid countered with Benzema who set up Di Maria.  The Argentine’s pace again beat the Dortmund’s defense but his shot lacked the necessary accuracy and went wide.

While some teams tire as games progress Dortmund’s stamina and workrate only seem to increase and Madrid quickly found out why they were up against arguably the fittest and most intense running team in Europe.  Piszczek and Schmelzer became increasingly involved in Dortmund’s attacks in the second half.  Piszczek set up a Bender shot in the 57th minute and Schmelzer would get the crucial go ahead goal and eventual match winner soon after.  Götze did well to get past Essien on the right before crossing the ball but only as far as Casillas who punched the ball.  Fortunately Schmelzer burst forward just in time to hit the ball on a half volley past everyone and into the bottom right corner. A deserved goal to say the least.

By then the dynamic of the match had changed quite curiously.  In the first half Madrid controlled much of the match and Dortmund’s only opportunities came on the break.  The second was the complete opposite with Dortmund dictating the tempo and possession while Madrid’s only openings appeared to come on the counter.  Part of that had to do with Khedira’s substitution.  He usually covers so much ground and does most of the dirty work in midfield.  Modric, while excellent in his own right, is less involved defensively and less equipped to deal with Dortmund’s relentless pressing and running.

Another reason for Dortmund’s improved performance in the second half was Klopp’s introduction of Gündogan.  After Schmelzer’s goal, Klopp realized that he needed to slow the game down.  To try and defend the lead may have proven unwise so Klopp pulled Bender in favor of Gündogan who is arguably Dortmund’s best retainer and their standout performer in the match against Manchester City. With Gündogan on Dortmund kept possession better and never allowed Madrid to settle, forcing them to shift the focus on preventing another goal as opposed to chasing the equalizer.  Sure enough, Mourinho’s only other substitution was the like for like of Higuain for Benzema.  Dortmund could have even extended their lead when Grosskreutz got behind Madrid’s defense in the 77th minute but shot over the bar or when Reus went down on a challenge from Alonso in the 82nd minute but referee Viktor Kassai let play continue.

In the end it was a deserved win for Dortmund.  Whatever they did wrong against Schalke on Saturday they corrected against Madrid.  Kehl and Bender fulfilled their duties well in midfield, the captain doing well in marking and tracking Özil and Bender effectively cleaning up when Piszczek and Schmelzer ventured forward.  Hummels and Subotic held their own against Benzema, Ronaldo and Di Maria and Reus, Götze and Lewandowski exploited Madrid’s makeshift defense as well as anyone.

Final Verdict

Borussia Dortmund are now a win away from qualifying for the knockout stages, something few people gave them a chance of doing before the campaign got going.  After two underwhelming campaigns in Europe under Klopp it seems as though Dortmund are finally playing to their potential and there is still a lot of room for growth. With the win Dortmund proved that the City performance was not a one off and that they can indeed compete with the elite in Europe.  In the last three years Dortmund wavered from underperforming in Europe to performing well but not quite getting the result.  The last month has become a turning point in that sense and regardless of what happens from now on Dortmund can be proud of their progress.

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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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