Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund are set to face off in a Champions League match for the second time in two weeks. Both teams must have key players win individual matchups in order to earn three more points in the Group of Death.
In the last meeting between these two teams, the reigning German champions bested last year’s La Liga winners in a 2-1 victory that gave them control of Group D.
With Manchester City and Ajax joining these two sides, this is undoubtedly the most competitive set of teams in this stage of the Champions League, and points are at a premium in every match.
Here are the matchups that will decide this showdown.
Pepe vs. Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski has continued to establish himself as a dangerous centre-forward this season and has three goals and three assists in nine Bundesliga Games.
In the Champions league, he has hit the back of the net twice in three matches, including a goal in the previous match between these two teams. Lewandowski benefited from a terrible pass by Pepe that was intercepted in a dangerous position by Sebastian Kehl.
Lewandowski has been in goal-scoring form this year, as he proved by calmly converting a one-on-one opportunity against Iker Casillas—rewarding Kehl's pass and punishing Pepe's error. The mistake against Dortmund two weeks ago has not been the only crucial blunder Pepe has made this season.
The centre-back must improve his play in this match in order to keep Lewandowski off the score sheet or Madrid’s Champions League campaign will face the possibility of an early end.
Gonzalo Higuain vs. Mats Hummels
On the other end of the pitch, Madrid must put pressure on Dortmund’s talented centre-halves. Mats Hummels is one of the German side’s top talents, and Jose Mourinho will be without first-choice striker Karim Benzema due to a groin injury, as noted by Yahoo Sports.
Gonzalo Higuain is certainly a capable replacement, but the Argentine will face a difficult challenge as he tries to find success against Hummels and Neven Subotic, who form one of the better centre-back pairs in club football.
Hummels is the leader of the back line, and if he can keep it organized and disciplined, Dortmund has an excellent chance to take a commanding lead in Group D.
But Higuain has the opportunity to turn in a fine performance and keep the Dortumund defense occupied. This would free up space for the midfielders and likely lead to a victory, making the final matches in this group extremely interesting.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lukasz Piszczek
Anytime a team faces Real Madrid, containing Cristiano Ronaldo is the first priority.
The Portuguese winger is an extraordinary attacking talent, and he grabbed Madrid’s lone goal in the previous meeting. If he is able to run free this time around, he will punish the Dortmund defense.
While stopping Ronaldo is near impossible, the primary responsibility for limiting his effectiveness as much as possible will fall to Lukasz Piszczek, and few right-backs are better suited for the job.
Piszczek is a sure tackler and also capable when going forward. He will need to get up the flanks in order to put pressure on Madrid and force Ronaldo back towards his own goal, but will also need to be flawless in defense. This is a tall order, and if Piszczek succeeds, Dortmund will sweep its matches with Madrid.