Blancos' Midfield Has Big Troubles: What We Learned from Dortmund vs Real Madrid

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistOctober 24, 2012

Blancos' Midfield Has Big Troubles: What We Learned from Dortmund vs Real Madrid

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    Round three of the 2012-13 Champions League group stage was full of shocks and surprises, and one of the biggest upsets was Dortmund's 2-1 win against Real Madrid.

    Juergen Klopp's men have struggled to earn results in European competition over the last two seasons and counting, but Wednesday's result marked their biggest win on the continental stage in over a decade. For Jose Mourinho's side, it was their first slip-up in the Champions League this season and proved their recent struggles are not limited to the domestic front.

    Read on for a full analysis of the game and its major talking points.

Real Madrid's Star-Studded Midfield Is Disjointed

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    Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso...Real Madrid certainly have an abundance of talent in their midfield. However, their players all are of different backgrounds, each with different training, and each with limitations.

    Xabi Alonso was comfortably the most active man on the pitch, recording 102 touches before full-time. However, with Di Maria aside, the attacking midfielders ahead of him were not nearly as involved as one would expect. Ozil received the ball less often than five of his teammates, while Ronaldo's touches exceeded only those of Iker Casillas among Real players that played the full 90 minutes.

    Whether Ronaldo did not do enough to receive the ball or whether he was not given service is irrelevant. One way or another, there clearly is a problem with the Spaniards' midfield. The same weakness was exploited last season, as Bayern starved Ronaldo of the ball and kept Ozil at bay in the center.

    For an example of the alternative, one does not need to look far. Dortmund saw less of the ball than their opponents, but their five-man midfield was far more fluid. Attacking midfielders Mario Goetze, Kevin Grosskreutz and Marco Reus were the second, fourth and fifth-most active players on the ball among BVB players. Dortmund had no trouble getting the ball to their forward players.

Dortmund Will Survive the Group of Death

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    There may still be three games to play, but based on the way the teams in Group D have played, as well as their current points tallies, it's hard to see BVB failing to advance.

    Dortmund are four points clear of Ajax and six ahead of a Manchester City side they dominated away from home. City need three wins to stand any realistic chance of advancing, and while Ajax are closer, they have to face Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and City in Manchester. Realistically, the English and Dutch sides will both drop points at least once.

    Group leaders Dortmund, meanwhile, could even advance with the points they currently have. Even if they lose in Madrid, a draw in Amsterdam may be enough for the Ruhr side to finish runners up. And if they really need a win in the final match day, they will have nothing to fear as they host City.

Real Madrid Need to Find Their Killer Instinct Once More

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    The visitors may have been defeated, but they were hardly outplayed. They always looked to have a chance to equalize or go ahead and had more than enough opportunities to counterattack. Yet by full-time, they only capitalized once.

    On their day, Mourinho's men are a fearsome side. However, their day has not come often thus far this season. Out of 13 competitive matches, the Spanish champions have only won seven. And given the quality they have in depth, there is no excuse for their shortcomings.

    Many teams have played poorly, but still managed to earn the results they needed, and Mourinho is a master of winning by any means necessary. However, this skill seems to have evaded Real Madrid thus far this season. They'll need it if they are to stand any chance of taking silverware in May.

Dortmund Wanted It More. Klopp 1-0 Mourinho

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    Jose Mourinho and Juergen Klopp are similar in many ways. Both are very emotional, both came to success by building smaller clubs and both emphasize aggressive, passionate play.

    Mourinho's CV in Europe needs no introduction. Historically, his teams have been incredibly hard to beat, especially in the Champions League, because of the confidence and energy with which his teams play. On Wednesday, however, something surprising happened: Real Madrid were matched every step of the way.

    Dortmund fought tooth and nail for every ball. They flew into their challenges and never conceded an inch. Everyone pressed, including the front four: Winger Kevin Grosskreutz covered 12.7 km on the evening, an incredible figure for a player of his position.

    Klopp's pre-match speech must have worked wonders, as it was quite clear that Dortmund's players were ready to give anything and everything for their collective cause. The fact that Marcel Schmelzer, a left back who almost never scores, netted the winner was very fitting. Though he may have been the most limited footballer on the pitch, he has a reputation for being one of the most industrious players in Germany. And his passion and sheer will produced the winner.

The German Model Is Working, but Bundesliga Teams Won't Dominate Europe Soon

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    Dortmund's intensity in the Champions League has been truly remarkable and should be an example for any young footballer hoping to make a name for himself. Schalke used similar tactics in their 2-0 win away to Arsenal, and indeed, most German teams—the national side included—aim to press their opponents high up the pitch and use a quick, short passing strategy.

    Based on the results Schalke and Dortmund have obtained, and especially after Wednesday, it's clear that the German model is finally working. However, as effective as it may be, it's also incredibly exhausting.

    The only way any team can effectively play three games within seven days at the tempo Dortmund display is to employ a rotation, especially in the midfield. Few German teams have enough depth to do so effectively, however, and fatigue will certainly be a recurring problem.

    Depth requires money or youth development, both of which require time. The Bundesliga continues to create many young talents, but teams like Dortmund and Schalke need to retain their stars and continue to build if the Bundesliga is to enjoy success similar to that which the Premier League had for most of the 2000s. It should happen eventually, but might take a few years.