Our European football scribes gives his opinion on tonight's Champions League clash between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
This promises to be something quite special, with the onus on the home side and reigning European Champions Real Madrid to usurp Borussia Dortmund atop the Group F table. Trailing by two points, Madrid need the victory to secure first place and harness a potentially more fluid path to the quarter-final stage. Zidane’s side are in imperious form but will be well too aware of the threat posed by Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund. Dortmund have been electrifying in Europe while failing to make in impression in the Bundesliga. It’s almost as if a sense of calculated resignation has befallen the Bundesliga as to the eventual champions, and it perhaps makes more sense for Dortmund to focus on the hurly-burly of European knockout football.
Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund | Wednesday 7 December | Santiago Bernabeu | 21:45
To Win (90 Mins)
Real Madrid 8/10 | Draw 29/10 | Dortmund 28/10
Real Madrid remain unbeaten this season, having won 20 of their last 21 home matches in the Champions League. Curiously enough, it was Dortmund that were the last to frustrate them in November 2012. They also possess an excellent record against German sides at the Santiago Bernabeu, winning 11 out of 14 games. Zidane will have been pleased with their grit against Barcelona, which essentially left them in pole position in La Liga. They will be without Gareth Bale until April, while I expect them to reshuffle his pack here somewhat.
I expect Casemiro to be recalled to the starting line-up. His high-octane midfield industry will be essential against a Dortmund side that is pure adrenaline on the counterattack. For that reason, I can very likely see Kovacic and Modric partnering him in their 4-3-3 system.
I expect Vazquez to partner Ronaldo and Benzema in the front three. Isco may prove a luxury in a game of this magnitude while Morata will wait patiently on the bench. He has scored 4 goals in his last 5 games at Madrid’s home ground, for the Galacticos and Juve. Madrid have beaten Dortmund in 4 of their 5 games at home, scoring at least twice in each game.
Dortmund are definitely not predictable. In their last 17 matches, they have only drawn 2, winning 16 and losing 9. They are a results based side, that like to upset the rhythm of games, utilising their perilously quick attacking players to pounce from awkward areas.
Thomas Tuchel has drawn criticism from some circles for failing to replicate European form in the domestic format. But it probably has more to do with the fact that he isn’t Jurgen Klopp. He isn’t the papa bear figure who is going to act as jumper cable between fan and player.
Having said that, this Dortmund side is far from boring. In fact, if they score another goal tonight - and mark my words they will - they will have equalled the goal-scoring group stage record in the Champions League: United scored 20 in 1998/199, Barcelona the game in 2011/2012, while Madrid repeated the feat in 2013/2014.
Aubemayang has been amazing while Pulisic and Dembelle have evolved this season. Tuchel may opt to drop Reus to the bench and bring him on as an impact player. Gotze will play in the ten role while Bender and Rode will have their work cut out in the holding roles. Defensively, Dortmund have had issues and this looks likely to be an end-to-end affair.
Verdict: Total Goals over 3.5 21/20
This is all set to be one of those memorable end-to-end Champions League nights. Real Madrid have been stereotypically prodigious in front of goal while Dortmund look set to concede as liberally as they score. Both sides will look to play on the counterattack, potentially leaving the midfield vacated.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets