Tactical Battles That Will Shape Borussia Dortmund's Clash with Zenit

Stefan Bienkowski@@SbienkowskiFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

Borussia team players celebrate their opening goal against Zenit during the Champions League soccer match between Zenit St.Petersburg and  Borussia Dortmund at Petrovsky stadium in St.Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

Borussia Dortmund return to Champions League action this week with the second leg of their tie against Zenit St Petersburg feeling somewhat relieved to be focusing on something aside from their troubling Bundesliga campaign. 

The former finalists will want to forget the prospects of Bayern Munich lifting the famous salad bowl this weekend, with another strong performance against the Russian side as Jurgen Klopp undoubtedly turns his team's full attention to another strong campaign in Europe.


Marcel Schmelzer vs. Hulk

Our first clash of the night is undoubtedly through the manner in which Zenit will hope to hurt Dortmund and score goals quickly in an attempt to get themselves back into this tie. 

To do this, they will be relying on none other than Brazilian forward Hulk and his game-changing ability to get the better of Dortmund left-back Marcel Schmelzer. For even though the former Porto forward is usually played on the right wing, he can just as easily cut in and shoot or set up a goal like he was in the Dortmund penalty box. 

Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

As we saw in the first match, the Russian side's entire game plan revolved around Hulk to the point at which Klopp's defence were able to single him out and effectively close down each attack. If they want to beat Zenit convincingly, as they did in the first leg, they'll need to make sure they keep this Brazilian beast quiet again. 


Nuri Sahin vs. Axel Witsel 

Away from the more obvious danger zones of the match, Dortmund central midfielder Nuri Sahin and his opposite number, Axel Witsel, propose an interesting battle in the middle of the pitch. 

Here, the two sides will ferociously fight over possession of the ball. Yet without the likes of Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender due to injury, Dortmund will be forced to play veteran midfielder Sebastian Kehl, leaving Sahin with the sole responsibility of leading the team in the middle of the pitch. 

Fortunately for Dortmund, Witsel didn't quite look like himself in the first leg and often seemed uncomfortable among the usual high pressing that he was having to endure against his German opponents. 

Yet we can't rule out the Belgian international's obvious talent. If the Bundesliga side do give him room to play in, then he will undoubtedly hurt them on the break. It's down to Sahin to ensure that this doesn't happen. 


Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

Robert Lewandowski vs. Nicolas Lombaerts

In terms of attacking options for Dortmund, we have the ever-dependable Robert Lewandowski as the sole striker for his side and potentially the key man to score goals and really kill off this tie. 

In seven games in the Champions League this season, Lewandowski has scored six goals and assisted two, according to Whoscored, and continued the handy habit of showing his worth in the important games such as this. With two goals already in this tie, Zenit will want to do their best to keep the Polish striker quiet. 

The man who will undoubtedly be tasked with such a challenging job is Nicolas Lombaerts, the 28-year-old central defender who actually came out of the first leg with pass marks, despite his side conceding four goals. 

The ball-playing defender is far from the most physically imposing player on the pitch and could struggle to handle Lewandowski's physical approach to the game, as well as his astute ability to dribble and pass like any attacking forward.