UCL Preview: Lewandowski returns, but Borussia Dortmund still long shots against Real Madrid
Amid the eccentric duality that’s lead Jürgen Klopp to wear blue jeans to his job interview as well as incur a UEFA ban for exploding at a fourth official is a philosophical soul, one that’s kept his team’s Champions League plight in perspective. Down 3-0 after last week’s disappointment at the Santiago Bernabéu, the Borussia Dortmund boss has dispensed with cliché to take comfort in the obvious.
Yes, his team is on the verge of leaving the competition, a fate many other teams have met at the boots of Real Madrid. If, however, Dortmund plays to its potential on Tuesday, last year’s finalists can leave the pitch with validated, regardless of its second leg’s outcome.
“I don’t know how many miracles have been proclaimed before they happened. We don’t have any right to speak about that,” Klopp explained in Monday’s press conference, “but we have the right to give everything tomorrow and perform with will power.
“If we somehow get a result that takes us through, then great; if not, we want to say goodbye to the Champions League with a good performance.”
Is it possible to charge into battle behind a white flag? Klopp’s trying to do so, though in the process, he’s showing the same charm that’s made him one of the more popular coaches in Europe. Perhaps victory it too remote to expect, but for professional athletes, pride is important. Klopp can’t bring himself to lie and tell his team they’ll win if they perform well. He can, however, remind them: Winning big games carry its own rewards.
Toward that end, Borussia Dortmund’s leading scorer, Robert Lewandowski, will be back, having served his one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation. Unless he replicates last year’s four-goal performance against El Real, it will likely be the Polish international’s final Champions League appearance for Dortmund, having already agreed to join Bayern Munich this summer.
Despite his return, BVB will still be shorthanded, with Sebastien Kehl’s suspension adding his name to a gruesome list of injury absences: Sven Bender (groin); Jakub Blaszczykowski (knee); Ilkay Gündogan (back), Marcus Schmelzer (thigh); Neven Subotic (knee). Lewandowski makes Dortmund a more dangerous team, but only marginally so.
And against a Real Madrid team that has rediscovered its form, Dortmund remains a decided underdog, with the Merengues 4-0 win on Saturday at Real Sociedad showing what the side is capable of without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo. Unfortunately, for Carlo Ancelotti, the Ballon d’Or winner was unable to complete Monday’s training session, leaving him a doubt for Tuesday’s second leg.
So Ancelotti will just have to rely on Gareth Bale, whose goal on Saturday brings his season total to 18. They’ll have to rely on 21-year-old creator Isco, who will likely get another start after a strong showing in leg one. He’ll rely on Karim Benzema, who scored last week at the Bernabéu, as well as Luka Modric, Ángel Di María and Xabi Alonso, who have proved a surprising well-balanced midfield since Ancelotti starting using them in January.
“There is no need to change the system or go for a more defensive approach,” Ancelotti explained on Monday. “They have 90 minutes to score three, four goals. We have 90 minutes to score one, which would make things very difficult for them. The earlier we score, the easier it will be for us.”
That’s the real danger for Dortmund, a team capable of scoring three. Between Real Madrid’s defensive problems and the talents of Lewandowski, Marco Reus, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, replicating their opponents’ first leg output is possible. Whether they can keep their guests from snatching a crucial away goal -- one that would force them to score five to advance -- is another, more difficult question entirely.