Champions League Group D heavyweights Dortmund and Real Madrid square off on Wednesday in the first of a two-leg series that could settle which sides advance from the so-called "Group of Death."
Late dramatics saw Real claim three points from Manchester City in their first match of the group, but the Spanish champions silenced any doubters with an emphatic 4-1 win away to Ajax earlier in October.
Dortmund similarly had a late winner to thank for their first three points, but stumbled in the second matchday as they outplayed Manchester City, but only managed to take a draw following a late equalizer. They could leapfrog their opponents on Wednesday with a win, but have it all to do, as the visitors will be keen to open a potential five-point lead in Group D.
Many tactical battles will be on display on Wednesday, and how they play out should decide the fixture. Read on for an analysis of all the key individual matchups to follow...
As a player who has scored more than a goal per game since joining Real Madrid in 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo needs no introduction. The Portuguese winger is unstoppable when in form and can decide matches on his own. The only way to stop him is to keep him very well-covered and force him to lose focus.
Dortmund will likely mark Ronaldo with both a fullback and a winger, similar to their tactics used against Bayern Munich duo Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. With Marco Reus and Mario Goetze set to shoulder the majority of the attacking burden, Klopp will use his third "attacking" midfielder in a primarily defensive role. Kevin Grosskreutz would normally be the ideal player for the task, but if left back Marcel Schmelzer is not fully fit before kickoff, the less defensively capable Ivan Perisic may play on the wing, with Grosskreutz deputizing in the back four.
Even with the best possible lineup, and even though Dortmund have had success using similar tactics in the past, Ronaldo is another monster and might be too much to handle.
Even with a full squad available, the fullback positions would have been Real Madrid’s weakest area, especially while defending. And with Marcelo, Fabio Coentrao and Alvaro Arbeloa all sidelined with injuries, Jose Mourinho has a serious selection problem on hand.
Assuming he uses the same back four that featured over the weekend, the trainer will deploy Sergio Ramos on the right and Michael Essien on the left. And while the Spaniard is a more-than-capable deputy, there are serious question marks as to whether the Ghanaian is up to the task. Essien was once a great player, but not as a defender. And since suffering two anterior cruciate ligament tears, his characteristic explosiveness has deserted him.
Dortmund will line up formally with Marco Reus on the left wing and Mario Goetze in the playmaker position, but viewers can expect the pair to play freely in the center, on the left and on the right. And in the latter case, they will pose a serious test for Essien. Reus and Goetze had their way against Manchester City, and unless the Spanish side keep two players near both at all times, they certainly will have their chances on Wednesday.
Chances on goal will likely come from the wings, but the flow of play will be largely dependent upon each side’s central midfield trio. Jose Mourinho recently asserted the two clubs play a similar style, and he has a point: Both play a pressing game and are at their best when quickly counterattacking.
Dortmund conceded 66 percent of the possession to a Manchester City side that was far less proficient in midfield than Real Madrid, and especially if Ilkay Guendogan unable to recover fitness before kickoff, the Spaniards can expect to enjoy a significant majority share of the ball. The hosts will hope to break up play in the middle third and minimize the time Ozil and Xabi Alonso have on the ball.
If the Madrid pair have space in which to operate and are able to spray passes across the length and width of the pitch, Real Madrid could win in a rout. On the other hand, if Dortmund can contain the Spanish giants as they did City, the Germans may find themselves once again in command.
Dortmund’s high defensive line struggled against long passes in the City match, and that was against Edin Dzeko, a striker with far less impressive pace than Benzema. Weidenfeller bailed out BVB once before and will undoubtedly be called into action against the prolific Frenchman.
Benzema scored seven goals in the Champions League last season and has started off the 2012-13 campaign with strikes in each of the Spanish giants’ European fixtures thus far. He not only is a clinical finisher, but has a knack for scoring wonder goals. Just ask Ajax, who fell victims to a brilliant scissors kick in their recent match.
Crucially, Benzema also has the pace to outrun Dortmund’s central defenders and will certainly have his chances to take on Weidenfeller. The question is: Will he convert?
Dortmund’s biggest advantage on Wednesday will be the 12th man: Their fans are world-renowned for the passion they show on a regular basis. And while the vast majority of Real Madrid’s players have plenty of experience on the greatest stage, the 19-year-old Varane has never faced fans like those he'll meet on Wednesday.
Varane will have his hands full as he tries to contain Robert Lewandowski, whose physical play makes him a nightmare for defenders. The striker scored a critical winner against Ajax, but missed a clear chance to put the Man City match to rest in the second matchday. He’ll now look to rebound against the side that undoubtedly will pose Dortmund’s strongest opposition of the group stage.