Reigning European champions Real Madrid will head to Germany during the second week of the 2016/2017 Champions League to face Borussia Dortmund. The Group F clash is an early contest between two clubs who have serious ambitions about winning the competition this season. While it is too early in the season to draw lasting conclusions, an emphatic victory for either club would send a message to the rest of the continents’ giants.
Since 2003, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have met eight times in the Champions League. Over those games the teams have shared have been hard to separate, with Los Blancos winning 3 and Borussia also claiming 3 wins (plus two draws). The tale of the head to head battle is that the home team usually wins these games. Indeed, Real have never lost to Dortmund in Madrid and BVB is undefeated against the Spaniards at home.
Actually, the cauldron of the Westfalenstadion has not been a happy hunting ground for Real Madrid. The 11-time European champs have lost their last three games in the stadium, shipping 8 goals and scoring just 2 in the process.
Zinedine Zidane has a challenge on his hands. He has been a part of the Real Madrid furniture long enough to know that Dortmund poses a very particular threat. The French legend guided Los Blancos to what many believe was an unlikely European Cup last season. However, Zidane has doubled down through the summer and his Madrid team seems to be one of his own design.
Of course, the squad is littered with star attractions and juggling them will arguably be Zidane’s biggest challenge this season. That said, so far so good as Madrid have had a perfect start to the season. The team sits atop La Liga despite Barcelona’s eye-catching performances. In game one of Group F, Real was made to work hard, overcoming Sporting Lisbon 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
As mentioned, Zidane has plenty of quality at his disposal, but the tactician seems to have fallen on a trusted starting 11. Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Gareth Bale are tasked with providing the flair, while Luka Modric and Toni Kroos provide the midfield base. In defense, Raphaël Varane has quickly established himself as first choice alongside veteran Sergio Ramos.
Expect Zidane to go with the same starting team that faced Sporting, but it is the Real Madrid bench that provides the interesting stories. James Rodriguez is known to be unhappy with his role as substitute, while Isco struggles to even get on the bench. These two (above) have the potential to disrupt Madrid’s season if their annoyance becomes a problem.
Álvaro Morata seems to be happy back in Madrid and provides a potent danger, but he too is unlikely to be happy with a season playing second fiddle to Benzema. How Zidane manages his out of favor stars will be pivotal.
He will know Dortmund is a dangerous team and is likely to pick his best 11 to face the Germans. That will mean Cristiano Ronaldo playing a significant role. The Portuguese sensation seems to still be shaking off an injury that kept him out at the start of the season, but by time Los Blancos head to Germany on September 27 he should be in full flight.
Zidane is going to manage Ronaldo’s minutes this season, which is going to mean he completes less 90 minute games. The three time Balon d’Or winner is 31-years old and Zidane will want to maximize his potency this term without overworking him. That’s for another day though, Ronaldo will almost certainly play the whole game against Borussia Dortmund.
Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo
Casemiro, Kroos, Modric
Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
Bench (from): James, Casilla, Pepe, Morata, Kovacic, Asensio, Danillo
BVB’s 2016/2016 season has started well, however the German club cannot boast a 100% record like Real Madrid. A 1-0 away loss to RB Leipzig on the second weekend of the Bundesliga campaign served as an early season shock. How does the saying go? It’s not how you fall, but how you get back up. Borussia Dortmund recovered from the defeat in explosive style.
The club opened its Champions League campaign with a blistering 0-6 win over Legia Warsaw in Poland and followed that up three days later with a 6-0 league win over Darmstadt 98 in the league. In other words, Dortmund may be vulnerable at times, but the team is capable of turning it on and sweeping teams aside.
Borussia Dortmund boasting ultra-talented players is now something of a cliché, the club has been showcasing some of the most exciting players in Europe since Jürgen Klopp’s Bundesliga winning days. Thomas Tuchel has taken the reigns from Klopp, and while he has been unable to unseat Bayern Munich, it looks as though BVB is a serious threat this season.
Tuchel decided to relegate German player of the year and last seasons’ top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (above) to the bench against Darmstadt. However, the Gabon international was part of the Leipzig dismantling and will almost certainly line up against Real Madrid. An interesting side story here is that Aubameyang has stated the only club he would leave Dortmund for is the Spanish giants.
The game against Los Blancos should be a showcase for free flowing football. Dortmund will not be set up to stifle Madrid and will instead rely on typically pacey play and transitioning the ball from midfield to attack in fluid style. In the Real Madrid ranks, Modric and Kroos will likely have to be more aware of their defensive duties to pick Mario Götze making darting runs out wide to cut inside and supply Aubameyang.
Piszczeck, Papastathopoulos, Bartra, Schmelzer
Pulisic, Goetze, Castro, Dembele
Bench (from): Schurrle, Ramos, Passlack, Kagawa, Rode, Weidenfeller, Guerreiro
Prediction: Celtic 1 – 4 Manchester City