The team’s many injuries along with absences to key players put them at a disadvantage from the start, but Jurgen Klopp’s team were not only outplayed, they performed well below their standards for much of the game.
In the end the loss was symbolic of what has at times been a very frustrating season for a club trying to live up to last year’s remarkable run to the final and the two domestic titles preceding that.
Klopp advised caution ahead of the match and underlined his team’s underdog status in his usual charming laid back manner, but even he could not hide his frustration after the game as he stormed out of an interview on German television.
Following the trauma of Madrid, an important game now awaits them against VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga this weekend. If Dortmund want to see out the season strong they must regroup and make sure they finish as strongly as possible domestically.
In reality, other than Bayern there could not have been a worse opponent coming after Real Madrid than Wolfsburg. Klopp's squad has beaten the Wolves just once in their last four games and have conceded nine goals in the process.
The game also raises unpleasant memories of the season-ending injury Neven Subotic picked up in their encounter back in November. Injuries really have been the crux of Dortmund’s issues this season, and that will be tested once more against Wolfsburg.
More than anything, though, the Wolfsburg game will test Klopp’s resolve and his ability to pick up his players after yet another big defeat this season. Considering rivals Schalke are breathing down their neck and the already thin squad seems to have reached its limits, Klopp’s player management skills will be put to the test.
Dortmund’s next four games are all against sides in the top half of the table, and a slip-up against any could put Schalke into the driver’s seat for second place. Klopp emphasized the team’s goal of finishing second, and the pressure to live up to that expectation increased even more following the debacle in Madrid.
Wolfsburg very much had Dortmund’s number earlier this season and are themselves just one point off a Champions League spot. Dieter Hecking’s team have impressed this season and possess the quality to take all three points against Dortmund.
There are a couple of things that Klopp needs to address heading into this and the rest of the fixtures this season, and the Wolfsburg game could be a great platform to regain the momentum they had earlier this year.
For one, Dortmund will have to start better against Wolfsburg. Dortmund have struggled to come out and really take their game to their opponents. In the last couple of years, no other side in the league have scored more goals in the opening 15-30 minutes of a game than Dortmund.
Quick starts and early pressure have been characteristic of Dortmund’s play under Klopp and more often than not yielded plenty of goals. Yet recently Dortmund have been sluggish and put themselves in difficult positions against opponents. They went 2-0 down last week against Stuttgart and started poorly again in Madrid.
The sluggishness is of course down largely to having their resources stretched too thin because of the many injuries. Yet Klopp has consistently trusted some of his veteran players over younger fresher legs even when it looked as though that experience had little to no impact.
Dortmund were particularly poor in midfield against Madrid. Sebastian Kehl seemed a step or two behind on all plays, and Sahin struggled to win tackles or distribute the ball quickly enough to his teammates.
The team could benefit from having fresh legs and eager young players out there. Jonas Hofmann, for example, has been a very effective player off the bench, but he has proven that he can handle playing at the highest level and merits a start.
Similarly, nothing so far has suggested that winter signing Milos Jojic cannot start the odd league match. If anything, trust at such a crucial time may even get them to step up their game. Klopp has achieved so much by taking bold risks, and the payoff could be great if that continued.
Another reason this tie could be crucial is that just 10 days later, the two sides will again meet in the semifinals of the German Cup. A win in the league game could give either team a psychological advantage heading into that match.
Despite what looks like an inevitable Champions League elimination, the most crucial part of the season is just approaching for Dortmund. The most realistic chance of a title is the German Cup.
And although not a title in itself, making sure they finish above Schalke in the league would surely match any silverware for die-hard Dortmund supporters.
Follow Cristian on twitter @cnyari
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