Can Borussia Dortmund achieve the unthinkable against Tottenham?
Background Image: Валерий Дед, CC-BY-3.0
Borussia Dortmund faces a monstrous task when Tottenham Hotspur visit North Rhine-Westphalia on Tuesday. To reach a Champions League quarter-final, the Germans must conjure the spirits of AS Roma against Barcelona from last season's edition. The mission is very much possible.
A tingle sigh of relief accompanied BVB's pairing with Tottenham in December. It could have been worse. Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Barca were all potential heavyweight opponents. On paper, only Roma was the lightest. The confidence levels at Signal Iduna Park was extreme.
Dortmund held a nine-point lead at Bundesliga summit, flaunting an exciting brand of football and an infectious positivity. They sailed through Champions League group stage untainted, finishing ahead of Atletico Madrid. Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus and Paco Alcacer formed a deadly combo that sent jitters.
However, that draw ushered a cold stretch, started by Fortuna Duesseldorf, finished off by Augsburg last week. There were three disappointing stalemates but the horror show in Wembley nauseated the most. Lucien Favre’s men swept aside with an effortlessly precise second half performance. Spurs showed class, ruthless in attack while the visitors buckled under pressure.
Dortmund can rewrite history in the return leg. It's a tall ask especially with their pathetic form of late. Although no team which lost 3-0 away in the first leg of a knockout game eventually made the next stage, another miracle is possible. Eusebio di Francesco famously sent Barcelona parking, overhauling a 4-1 first-leg deficit with a 3-0.
The Black-Yellows made the Signal Iduna Park a fortress this season. Visitors dread the 85,000-edifice. The Bundesliga leaders are unbeaten on home soil across 90 minutes. Club Brugge was the only side that escaped with a point in Europe. Others received a bashing. While AS Monaco collected three goals, Diego Simeone’s team took one more to Spain. A repeat would be enough against Spurs.
King Reus returns
Reus was sorely missed in the first leg. Without the 29-year-old, Mario Gotze and Mahmoud Dahoud struggled to create any real threat through the middle. Sancho showed brilliance, though, but was isolated. The trio of Gotze, Sancho and Christian Pulisic combined for just one shot.
Reus' remarkable leadership, creativity and experience would make a huge difference. He is able to use his speed and power to drive play through the middle, which could open up chances for Alcacer and Sancho. The Dortmund captain has 17 goals this season, combining with teammates for another seven.
The playmaker wasn't the only major absentee. Alcacer and Manuel Akanji didn't feature due to injury. The pair are just as influential as the German. Alcacer has 13 strikes, averaging a goal every 85 minutes. Akanji commands the backline. Favre’s starting XI featured players in unnatural positions, particularly in defence.
Above all, though, Dortmund will benefit from extra time off. The Germans had 24 hours to recoup after Friday's 2-1 defeat at Augsburg. Spurs, on the hand, battled Arsenal to a 1-1 draw on Saturday before embarking on the trip to Dortmund. Mauricio Pochettino isn't pleased.
“It’s strange for me that no-one has said anything about that. The first leg was the same. It’s impossible, how important is the game, that one team has 24 hours more to prepare. It’s massive."
Verdict: The tie is potentially still open, especially with Spurs going through things at the moment. Dortmund has enough to win the encounter. However, victory will be Tottenham's.