Clash of the Titans II: Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund
Well, yesterday’s clash of the titans turned out to be bloodbath. Bayern was favored, but no one saw a 4-0 demolition of Barcelona coming. More on that later in the week..
In the meantime, we’re looking forward to the 2nd semfinal 1st leg later today, another Bundesliga club hosting a Spanish club, with Real Madrid at Borussia Dortmund. A somewhat unusual feature of this matchup is that these squads are quite familiar with each other, as they finished 1-2 in the Goroup of Death in the group stage in the fall. Dortmund unexpectedly finished top of the group, drawing 2-2 at the Bernabeu (a game they probably should have won), and beating (and outclassing) Madrid 2-1 at home.
As yesterday, here’s a few preview links to get you ready for today’s big match:
As usual, if you have time to read only one thing, read Zonal Marking’s tactical preview. Two players to watch, as ZM highlights, are the two opposing young German umlauted star creative midfielders–Madrid’s Mesut Özil and Dortmund’s Mario Götze:
Götze v Özil
Maybe the most interesting battle, however, will be between the number tens. Last year Mesut Özil was outclassed by Toni Kroos at the semi-final stage, because Kroos was more comfortable dropping into deeper positions to allow Bayern to dominate.
They won’t literally be duelling on the pitch, of course – both will be fielded as central attacking playmakers, closely supporting their side’s main striker – but both will be charged with providing creativity from between the lines and leading quick counter-attacks.
Perhaps the style of this contest will suit Özil, but if the match becomes a patient battle of possession, Götze has the opportunity to dominate. Although a playmaker who thrives on space between the lines, and loves dribbling with the ball at speed, he’s also intelligent with his positioning, happy to drop deep into midfield to find space. In the previous round, with Manuel Pellegrini ordering Malaga to sit deep in two banks of four, Götze often retreated to extremely deep positions, behind Dortmund’s holding midfielders, to collect the ball and start attacks. You won’t find Özil doing that.
Götze’s role this week will be fascinating. He unwittingly finds himself at the centre of a very modern tactical debate — next season at Bayern Munich he’s likely to become a false nine, but in this Champions League semifinal tie, will he play as an Özil, or play as a Kroos?
The big surprising news of the week alluded to above is that Götze will be moving to Dortmund’s hated rivals Bayern Munich–the timing of which news that Dortmund’s star manager Jurgen Klopp is understandably unhappy about.
From a profile of Klopp, who, as much as any player, is the public face of this team: “Dortmund want to play football people will remember, says Jürgen Klopp: Talismanic manager has taken the club from uber mediocrity to a:
Dortmund pounced on Klopp when others hesitated. The manager was delighted to join a “football city” (although he later revealed he thought the club’s first contract offer “was a mistake” as it was less than he had earned at Mainz) and started rebuilding the squad. “I have the feeling that I will be able to work with the full support of the club here,” he said in August 2008. “Life is too short to worry about things anyway. I am 0.0% naive. I know how it works by a business. If you don’t do your job properly you lose your job.”
There has not been any chance of Klopp losing his job at Dortmund. Borussia finished sixth in his first season in charge and then fifth in 2010, having sold the club’s two top scorers, Mladen Petric and Alex Frei, in the process. The following season Dortmund won the Bundesliga, seven points ahead of Leverkusen, while still operating on a much smaller budget than most of their rivals. Dortmund had gone from the brink of bankruptcy to winning the league in six years, Kloppo style.
Mats Hummels, a Bayern Munich reject, cost €4m, Robert Lewandowski €4.5m, Neven Subotic likewise, Shinji Kagawa a measly €350,000. Lukas Piszczek arrived on a free while his compatriot Jakub Blaszczykowski joined for a reported fee of €3m. Nuri Sahin, Marcel Schmelzer, Götze and Kevin Grosskreutz all came through the ranks. Since that first league title win, Ilkay Gündogan has signed from Nürnberg for €4m and Marco Reus from Borussia Mönchengladbach for €17.1m.
No wonder Brendan Rodgers said recently that he wants to build Liverpool’s squad “the Dortmund way” (although the way Sahin, now back at Dortmund after a short-lived loan spell at Liverpool “thanked God” he was no longer playing for Rodgers suggests the man at Anfield has some way to go to match Klopp’s man-management skills).
But the Dortmund way is so much more than just scouting and bargain buys. Klopp has his own philosophy of what makes a squad competitive and it is one that sums up the ethos of the city they play in. “There are certain places where you have to conduct yourself and play football in a certain way, where you just can’t be pleased with staying back and hoofing the ball upfield,” he told the German football writer Uli Hesse last year. “There are certain places where, if you do that, people will say: ‘If that is the way you are going to play then I won’t go and watch you.’
“And Dortmund is one of those places. Here people demand that the team should play with the attributes that are closest to my heart: with a lot of feeling and with intensity until the very last minute. We want to play the kind of football people remember.”
Finally, one for the hipsters: SBNation with an essay on “Borussia Dortmund and hipsterdom“.