Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, led by Marco Reus and Cristiano Ronaldo, will go head-to-head in the UEFA Champions League semifinals. This will be the third time the two clubs have met this season with Real Madrid still looking for their first win over the German giants.
The sides have been two of the most entertaining teams in Europe this season and meet in a match that promises to be one of the most intriguing of the entire competition.
La Liga vs. the Bundesliga for the hearts and minds of European football
Few would argue that Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have been the best sides in Europe this season. The four teams represent the shift in power from the Premier League and Serie A, who dominated European football over a 20-year period between the early '90s and the late 2000's.
Their club football philosophies come on the back of a complete overhaul of youth and coaching systems in each country, and now both Germany and Spain are seen as the template to follow in international football.
In recent years, Jurgen Klopp's team has become the beacon in Europe for all that is good about football. They play an exciting brand of football that relies heavily upon the creative skills of the front players. They are the epitome of modern German football more than any other team. The days of pragmatism over skill have long been banished into the record books.
Bayern have always been a gigantic club but could never compete with the likes of Barca or Real as a super-club. That era may also be gone with the impending arrival of ex-Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola next summer. The highly rated manager will take over from Jupp Heynkes when he retires at the end of the season.
Real and Barca are no strangers to anyone who loves football. Both teams have been associated with exciting football ever since the European Cup was first played in 1955. Barca's climb to European dominance took more than 50 years since the tournament's inception, but they are now heralded as one of the games great teams.
Bayern and Dortmund will be keen to show that the rising power in European football is German. While the royalty that is Barca and Real will be out to show that they will not give up their thrones easily.
Borussia Dortmund: How They Got There, Form: Pld-10 W-6 D-4 L-0 F-19 A-9
|Manchester City||1-1||Borussia Dortmund|
|Borussia Dortmund||2-1||Real Madrid|
|Real Madrid||2-2||Borussia Dortmund|
|Borussia Dortmund||1-0||Manchester City|
|Shakhtar Donetsk||2-2||Borussia Dortmund|
|Borussia Dortmund||3-0||Shakhtar Donetsk|
After being placed in the toughest group with the Spanish, English and Dutch champions, Borussia Dortmund surprised everyone, except Jurgen Klopp, to win the group quite easily.
They picked up a routine win against Ajax in the first game before completely decimating and embarrassing Manchester City on their home pitch in the second game. However, it was not until their back-to-back games with Real Madrid that everyone started to think of the 33-1 outsiders as potential champions.
The 2-1 victory to Dortmund was easily the standout tie of the entire group stage with the German side well deserved winners. When Real got them back to the Bernabeu on Matchday 4, it was Dortmund who proved to have the big-game mentality. Mesut Ozil's 89th-minute equalizer saved Real from defeat, but the 2-2 draw proved to everyone that Dortmund were a serious team.
They followed up their heroics against Madrid with the 4-1 mauling of Ajax in Amsterdam and then beat Manchester City 1-0 in Group D's final game to put the icing on the cake.
Dortmund was drawn against Shaktar Donetsk in the Round-of-16 and went through after after a stunning 3-0 victory in the Westfalen following a 2-2 draw in the Ukraine.
As ever, the attacking-midfield trio of Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Jakub Błaszczykowski ran the show with Götze and Błaszczykowski getting on the scoresheet in the rout inspired by Reus.
Fearing no-one in the quarterfinals, Dortmund was drawn against the third Spanish team in the last eight, Malaga.
The first leg was in Spain and produced the first 0-0 draw for either side in this season's competition. However, it was Malaga who got out of jail as Borussia could easily have won 3-0 or 4-0 such was their domination. Malaga also lost two important players in Weligton and Manuel Iturra for the dreaded return leg in the Westfalen.
The return leg proved to be one of the most controversial and entertaining of the entire competition. Malaga were outstanding and dominated midfield and suffocated possession to Dortmund's attacking triumvirate.
Malaga took the lead twice through Joaquín and Eliseu with Robert Lewandowski scoring in between, The visitors then looked set for a place in the semifinals until Marco Reus and Felipe Santana scored in the 91st and 93rd minutes to win the game.
The controversy came from Eliseu's and Santana's goals, which were both scored from offside positions.
Key Player: Marco Reus
The 5'11" midfield maestro is one of the best practitioners of attacking-midfield play in Europe this season.
The German international is the most creative player in the Dortmund team and is one of the most finely balanced players in the modern game; he is also one of the hardest-working. Reus is comfortable with the ball on either foot and in any position on the pitch and has the uncanny ability of being able to push off either foot before passing or dribbling past an opponent.
He is ever present in the first XI and has contributed four goals and one assist from 10 games in the Champions League in 2012-13. However, these statistics do not show his true creative genius. It is only when you see his overall contribution of 21 goals and 10 assists in 43 games that you see what a truly dangerous player Reus is.
The Key To Beating Real Madrid:
Jurgen Klopp will do his level best to exploit the ugly ducklings of the Spanish side, the full-backs.
Fabio Coentrao on the left and Michael Essien on the right are very vulnerable to pace and often leave huge gaps behind them as they bomb up the pitch. Essien is expected to play on the right after the suspension to Alvaro Arbeloa following his red card against Galatasaray. The other option for Mourinho is to introduce Pepe to the center of defense and switch Sergio Ramos to right-full.
While Dortmund does not play wide-players in the traditional sense, Götze, Błaszczykowski and Reus can often be found in wide-positions as Lewandowski becomes the central focal point. Exploiting this weakness is crucial if they are to progress.
These players also, more often than not, provide width from defense and initiate many of Madrid's attacks. They feed the ball into the likes of Xabi Alonso in center-midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria in wider positions.
If Dortmund can contain their out-balls from defense, and in essence shut down the major supply route into midfield, they will have one foot in the final.
Felipe Santana: Borussia Dortmund Defender speaking to UEFA.com.
"If you're talking about the Champions League, of course it's our dream – not just mine but that of all children born with the desire to play football," Santana said. "To play in the Champions League and to reach the final."
"We are facing Real Madrid and we already know each other. There is mutual respect – and we know about the difficulties. So we will put into practice everything we have shown so far in the Champions League, so we can leave [the second leg] with a victory and continue our dream."
Real Madrid: How They Got There, Form: Pld-10 W-5 D-3 L-2 F-23 A-13
|Real Madrid||3-2||Manchester City|
|Borussia Dortmund||2-1||Real Madrid|
|Real Madrid||2-2||Borussia Dortmund|
|Manchester City||1-1||Real Madrid|
|Real Madrid||1-1||Manchester United|
|Manchester United||1-2||Real Madrid|
Even though Group D contained the champions from four leading countries, Real Madrid were seen by many as the easy favorites to progress.
They began the competition with a thrilling 3-2 over Manchester City at the Bernabeu, which the English champions never really recovered from. Aleksandar Kolorov put City 2-1 up with just five minutes to go before two goals in the final three minutes from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo ended their resistance.
That 3-2 win was followed up by the first of two 4-1 hammerings of Ajax and put Jose Mourinho's team on course for an easy route to the knockout stages. However, a run of three games without a win including two games where they were thoroughly outplayed by Borussia Dortmund threatened to end their Champions League season early.
Another routine 4-1 win over Ajax sent them through to the Round-of-16, but the warning signs were there for all to see.
Real received Manchester United for their troubles when the draw was made for the Last 16.
The game would pit old rivals Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho against each other, and provide Cristiano Ronaldo with a return to the club where he made his name.
The two legs turned out to be tight tactical affairs with United marginally on top until Luis Nani was sensationally sent off following a high challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa. The tide of the match completely shifted in Madrid's favor as Mourinho made attacking substitutions as Ferguson looked on fuming.
Luka Modric scored the first before Ronaldo scored the inevitable second as Madrid came from behind to progress to the quarterfinals.
Galatasaray were the team everyone wanted to play in the last eight and it was easy to see why as Madrid tore them apart at the Bernabeu to win an easy 3-0 contest.
The return leg proved far from routine, though. Ronaldo seemingly put the tie to bed with an early goal that gave Real a four-goal lead. However, Galatasaray refused to lie down and tore into Madrid and then had the temerity to go 3-1 up. They bombarded the Madrid goal but could not score again. Arbeloa was sent off for back talk to the referee as the pressure built on Madrid to hold out.
It was Ronaldo who saved their blushes with an excellently taken goal in the 92nd minute.
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
In the Portuguese star, Real Madrid have one of the best players of all-time.
The 28-year-old has been brilliant for some time now and has only lost out on winning the Ballon d'Or because he happens to be playing in the same era as Lionel Messi.
However, this season he is threatening to eclipse the little Argentinian. Ronaldo has scored a phenomenal 43 goals in 46 games this season, across La Liga and, including a remarkable 11 goals in 10 games, the UEFA Champions League. He only needs three more goals to match Messi's record haul of 14.
The speed at which Ronaldo moves with the ball is breathtaking to say the least and when cutting inside from a wide position, he is the most dangerous footballer on the planet.
He has made huge strides as a player under Jose Mourinho and has cut out the self-indulgent tantrums and step-overs that used to plague his game. In essence, he is the complete player.
The Key To Beating Borussia Dortmund:
If there is one team in this competition who are as comfortable on the ball as Barcelona, it is the Dortmund.
Their best performers have been Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Jakub Błaszczykowski, but they are also a weak link in that they rely heavily upon lesser players to give them the ball.
Dortmund lack real pace in center-midfield no matter which combination Jurgen Klopp decides to choose from. Illkay Gündogan, Sebastian Kehl and Sven Bender will fight it out for the two berths in center-midfield. If anything, the most impressive centre-midfielder Dortmund had against Malaga was Nuri Sahin, who is on loan from Real Madrid and is eligible to play in the semifinal.
None of these players is the most mobile, and their lack of pace can be exploited by a Spanish midfield that zip the ball around at an incredible rate. This was how Malaga set about dominating proceedings in the return leg at the Westfalen in the quarterfinals.
If Madrid can keep possession of the ball and deny Dortmund an influence in midfield, then Reus, Götze and Błaszczykowski will, in turn, be kept out of the game due to lack of supply.
Sami Khedira: Real Madrid Midfielder speaking to UEFA.com
"When I came to Madrid, everyone was talking about the 'Décima'. Since I didn't speak any Spanish, I didn't know what they were talking about. It took a while for me to understand, but at Madrid the 'Décima' is everything.
"Pressure? The Champions League is not pressure, it's our goal.
"In the team there is a desire to win the Champions League – our goalkeeper Iker Casillas is the only player who has won any of the nine. Pressure is always there at Real Madrid, we are used to it. I want to win trophies – that's been my ambition since the beginning of my career – which is why pressure is not a problem.
"It's more of a motivation than a burden."
Cristiano Ronaldo has had the most shots on target in the Champions League with 49.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the competition's top scorer with 11 goals in 10 games.
Dortmund's most successful passer in the Champions League is Illkay Gündogan with just 355 successful passes from 462 (77 percent completion rate). He is ranked as the 30th best passer in the UCL.
Dortmund are the only unbeaten side in the competition.
Dortmund's overall pass completion rate is 67 percent. Real Madrid's rate is 72 percent.
Sergio Ramos' own-goal against Manchester United was the 6,000th goal in the competition.
There is little doubt that Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund are two of the most exciting teams in Europe. It is also hardly surprising that they have fallen short in defending their domestic titles this season.
Both teams are extremely vulnerable across the back-four. Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are good players, but they can be drawn out of position and exposed. Rafael Varane has grown immensely as a player since he made his first appearance this season for Real Madrid against Manchester City earlier this season.
The young Frenchman is a star in the making and on his day he is the best defender either team can boast.
Both managers are respected tacticians, but to achieve their tactical ideal they need their players to play to the height of their abilities. That has not happened for either team this season, with the odd exception of Dortmund's superb route to the semifinals.
Madrid, however, are a far more settled team now that they were when they first met last autumn and will provide a sterner test all around. In Cristiano Ronaldo, they possess a player who is impossible to keep quiet and out of the game and it is he who will make the true difference.
The two semifinal legs should provide plenty of end-to-end action and goal-mouth drama, but Real should shade it and make it to the final.
Statistics provided by uefa.com
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