Borussia Dortmund visit Real Madrid on Wednesday in what many have billed as a rematch of last year's Champions League semifinals. But don't be mistaken: The match we'll see at the Santiago Bernabeu will by no means be a rematch.
In reality, the fixture that will transpire on Wednesday will be a rematch in name only: The team names will be the same but the players entirely different, at least from the visitors.
Real have only minimally changed since 2012-13, with Mesut Ozil the only starter to have left the club along with substitutes Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol and Jose Maria Callejon, among others. Real have since signed Gareth Bale, Asier Illarramendi, Isco, Daniel Carvajal and Casemiro, and promoted several from their reserve team.
Real will be without Sami Khedira and Alvaro Arbeloa in the Dortmund match, although it's not certain at this point that either is first choice in Carlo Ancelotti's team. Even so, the trainer will be able to use eight of the first XI that featured against Dortmund last year.
The team that will face Real will wear Dortmund's black and yellow, but will be entirely different from that which Real faced a year ago.
Across the back, there will be few differences. Roman Weidenfeller will start in goal, with Lukasz Piszczek and Mats Hummels among the four defenders. But Marcel Schmelzer and Neven Subotic, undisputed starters when healthy, will miss both legs due to injuries. In place of the Serb will be able-bodied substitute Sokratis Papastathopoulos. In place of the German will be Erik Durm, a forward who in recent months has been converted to full-back to deputize for the oft-injured Schmelzer. Gareth Bale will be licking his lips at the opportunity to play against a defender who really isn't a defender.
Shielding the back four will be Nuri Sahin and Sebastian Kehl, neither of whom played against Real last year and neither of whom is first choice in a healthy Dortmund team. The captain will, at 34, do what he can to deputize for Sven Bender. But there is no comparison between the energy that Kehl can bring and that which Bender, a legend for his ability to close down space, has to offer in a pressing game.
Similarly, there is no comparison between the ability of Nuri Sahin and Ilkay Gundogan, the player he'll replace, to play in a congested midfield. Gundogan was by most accounts the best midfielder in the Champions League last season, his defensive pressing, close dribbling control and ability to move the ball quickly and efficiently making the difference for BVB against teams like Real and Manchester City. Sahin can deputize well in the Bundesliga, but his limitations are ripe to be exposed against an elite team like Real.
Across the attacking midfield, the only Dortmund player from last season's team who can expect to start in Madrid is Marco Reus. The 24-year-old will have enormous pressure on his shoulders, with Mario Gotze no longer by his side to share the attention of defenders. In Gotze's place will play new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the No. 10 who has yet to impress on the order of his predecessor.
Jakub Blaszczykowski, who was critical in closing the passing lane between Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso a year ago, will miss the tie due to a knee injury. Kevin Grosskreutz will in all likelihood replace the Pole, whose industry—if not attacking prowess—will be matched by his stand-in.
Finally, Robert Lewandowski, the striker who scored four goals against Real at Signal-Iduna Park last year, will miss the first leg due to suspension. Whether Klopp opts to use the lightning-quick Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or natural center-forward Julian Schieber in a central attacking role, the Poland international will be sorely missed. By the time Lewandowski kicks the ball in the second leg, the tie could well be already over.
All in all, in the first leg, Real will face a maximum of just four starters from the BVB team that beat them last year. In the second leg, that number may increase but only to five. Talks of Real having a chance at "rematch" or "revenge" are faulty: Their rival at present is nonexistent.
Rather than Dortmund having the advantage of experience in beating Real, more relevant is the inexperience of Sokratis, Durm, Sahin, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang in the latter stages of the Champions League. The task they will face is greater than any they have ever encountered.
Real, by contrast, have taken a largely unchanged team to three consecutive semifinals. And now they stand to extend that streak to four years as they face a depleted shell of a Dortmund team that barely resembles that they lost to last April. Victory for Dortmund was improbable then; now their task borders on the impossible. The rematch will have to wait for another time.
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