Borussia Dortmund Should Tap into Bayern Game Plan for Real Madrid Clash

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2016

Dortmund, Germany 27.09.2016, UEFA Champions League - 2016/17 Season, Group F - Matchday 2, BV Borussia Dortmund - Real Madrid, 2:2,  Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) gegen Gonzalo Castro (BVB), Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid)   (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
TF-Images/Getty Images

As far as final matchdays of the UEFA Champions League group stage go, Borussia Dortmund's trip to the Spanish capital to face Real Madrid is a fairly relaxed one.

With both teams already qualified for the round of 16, the group win is still up for grabs. However, it is far from certain that topping the section is that big of an advantage for the start of the knockout stages.

As group winners, the Black and Yellows could have to face Manchester City or Sevilla, whereas coming second could lead to an ostensibly easier draw against Leicester City or Napoli

Of course, winning the group could also bring a draw such as FC Porto, who Dortmund dismantled in the UEFA Europa League last season, while finishing runners-up could have them face Atletico Madrid.

The Ruhr side will have the luxury of knowing one half of their potential opponents in the next round by the time their game at Madrid kicks off on Wednesday evening, but there is no question they will play to get a positive result regardless of what the implications may be.

Head coach Thomas Tuchel will make his debut in the Santiago Bernabeu.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel will make his debut in the Santiago Bernabeu.Michael Probst/Associated Press

The Santiago Bernabeu is too big a stage in European football and Dortmund are too much in search of rhythm at this point in the season for head coach Thomas Tuchel to be content with playing for a draw or not caring about the result at all.

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As the 43-year-old prepares for perhaps the biggest test of the campaign so far—and certainly the most prestigious away trip of his coaching career to date—he would do well to remember his side's 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in November.

Unlike previous meetings with the perennial Bundesliga champions, when Pep Guardiola was still at the helm, Dortmund did not opt for an ultra-defensive approach despite playing with a back five.

Before, it served to give the team the most compact shape as they looked to weather the storm of Bayern's unrelenting possession machine. This time around, it allowed for immediate access in the middle of the pitch, where Dortmund's pressing of the Bavarians' central-zone players was the key to the match.

Tuchel correctly identified that, under Carlo Ancelotti, Bayern tend to struggle with pressure up the middle, as their possession game is less fluid and the entire team depends more on the individual class of a few key players than the system being a weapon itself.

Carlo Ancelotti won La Decima in 2014 and Real still play like a team coached by the Italian.
Carlo Ancelotti won La Decima in 2014 and Real still play like a team coached by the Italian.MIGUEL RIOPA/Getty Images

Los Blancos take a similar approach, with head coach Zinedine Zidane leaning towards Ancelotti's pragmatism more than Guardiola's creativity.

Considering it has only been one-and-a-half years since the Italian left Madrid—and the fact that the player personnel is largely the same—it comes as no surprise that Bayern and Real have notable similarities in their game.

Madrid also rely heavily on the individual class of key performers, with Dortmund catching a break seeing as Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos will miss the match. 

The Welshman would have presented huge problems for the Black and Yellows, who have conceded an inordinate amount of goals over the left side of their defence, as Jurgen Koers detailed for local paper Ruhr Nachrichten (link in German). 

Dortmund would likely have struggled to match Bale's pace and drive on the ball. Even though they kept him quiet for most of the first meeting, a 2-2 draw back in September, the 27-year-old still made an impact assisting Cristiano Ronaldo's opener when Real caught the hosts in transition.

Bale's replacement will presumably again be Lucas Vazquez, who is a hard worker and, per Bleacher Report's Karl Matchett, has done well in Bale's absence "without ever really looking close to providing the top-quality delivery and threat on goal the Welshman does."

Toni Kroos occupied special attention in the first meeting.
Toni Kroos occupied special attention in the first meeting.Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Germany international Kroos, on the other hand, dictates Real's play together with Luka Modric, forming one of the most press-resistant midfield duos in European football. His surgically precise passing and intelligent positioning would have made for a potentially frustrating 90 minutes for Dortmund's midfielders.

His replacement, Mateo Kovacic, is a fine player in his own right, coming off a strong performance in El Clasico against Barcelona at the weekend, but he does not possess the same strategical capabilities as Kroos.

Much like they managed against Bayern's Spanish duo, Xabi Alonso and Thiago Alcantara, Dortmund have to find access to Real's Croatian duo in the middle of the park.

Tuchel will be forced to make at least one change from the XI that largely kept Bayern at bay, allowing only a few half-chances from open play—Alonso had an effort from range clang off the bar, but that was the only big scoring opportunity for the Bavarians.

Mario Gotze, who put in perhaps his best performance in that win against his former club, will miss the the game with a slight knock to the knee, per the club's official website. After remaining on the bench for the 4-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach, the 24-year-old's underrated defensive work rate would have been useful in what is likely to be a physically demanding game for Dortmund.

Gonzalo Castro will likely stay in the XI and take on those responsibilities, although it would not be shocking to see Sebastian Rode make a rare start. After all, it seems probable the former Bayern midfielder was brought in with games like the one against Real in mind, with Dortmund as underdogs who are not obligated to dominate on the ball.

It also seems somewhat unlikely that Tuchel will again opt for two out-and-out strikers as he did against Bayern, especially after his attack looked sumptuous in the Bundesliga with a fluid trident of Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele combining for almost every dangerous situation in front of the opposition goal.

Andre Schurrle scored a late equaliser in the first meeting and is set to start on Wednesday.
Andre Schurrle scored a late equaliser in the first meeting and is set to start on Wednesday.TF-Images/Getty Images

Reus may not be ready to start two games in relatively quick succession after a six-month lay-off until late November, with Andre Schurrlealso rested against Gladbachready to take his place.

The summer signing played an unusual role against Bayern, as detailed by Constantin Eckner for Spielverlagerung.com, acting as a central midfielder next to Gotze despite being a natural left-winger. His tactical discipline and physicality made him a key man in Dortmund's pressing scheme, which could again be the case against Real.

Defensively, the back five that played against Bayern and, as a back three with wing-backs Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek pushing further up the pitch against Gladbach, seems the most solid foundation for Dortmund.

As the centrepiece, Greek defender Sokratis Papstathopoulos has been a rock the more inexperienced Matthias Ginter and Marc Bartra can hold on to when the going gets tough, which is surely to happen in some phases of the match at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

If their defence holds up against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Dortmund will like their chances of coming away with a result. If nothing else, they can rely on the hottest striker in Europe.

Aubameyang is on a tear, scoring an absurd eight goals in five appearances since the start of November—and one of those was a goalless 20-minute cameo against Legia Warsaw.

The Gabonese superstar has often talked about his affection for Los Blancos, most recently in an interview with David Kappel of Soccer Laduma, and he would like nothing more than to keep his scoring streak going against them.

Real, of course, are unbeaten in 33 matches and would match a club record if they avoid defeat to the German side, per Marca. Dortmund would not mind if they matched that record—with a draw on Wednesday.


Lars Pollmann also writes for The Yellow Wall. You can follow him on Twitter.

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