After seeing Manchester City struggle yet again to assert their domestic dominance into Europe for the second season running, you would be forgiven in thinking that Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid are the two teams qualifying from this group.
Of course, four games left and 12 points to play for means a lot can change. With Los Blancos sitting atop with 6 points and the German champions not far behind on 4, both sides will be very careful as to how they play the upcoming double header. Ajax are by far the weakest side in the group of death and I would fully expect City to gain 6 points from their double header, meaning the English side could well be on the heels of the top two after game week 4.
Dortmund’s domestic form has been poor by their standards this season, losing to Schalke at weekend 2-1 means they are now 12 points behind rivals Bayern Munich. Having said that, they went to the Etihad stadium in game week 2 and outplayed City on their own turf. Only a last minute penalty from the fearless Mario Balotelli stopped Die Borussen going home with all 3 points. Marco Reus is always a threat coming in from the left whilst Robert Lewandowski is one of the hottest properties in Europe at the moment. They also have Mats Hummels back from injury after missing Germany’s World Cup qualifiers. Wonderkid Mario Goetze could also return from injury in time but with Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski injured, Jurgen Klopp will probably continue with a 3-5-2 formation, allowing Reus to support Lewandowski up front.
Madrid on the other hand have been ever improving since their shaky start in La Liga. Unbeaten since their 1-0 loss to Sevilla on September 15th means The Whites go into this game slight favourites. Injuries to Arbeloa, Marcelo and Coentrao means full backs are in short supply at the moment but loan signing Michael Essien stepped in to play left back against Celta Vigo in the 2-0 victory on Saturday and came away with many plaudits. The Ghanaian had played right back and centre back for Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and many may remember his goal against Valencia back in 2007 having broke through from his full back position. He is not the perfect replacement however and Dortmund may look to exploit his potential defensive inadequacies. Saturday’s game also saw Sergio Ramos move to right back. Personally, I am a huge fan of Ramos on the right. He offers a good attacking threat whilst keeping all of his defensive qualities. Ramos is also a superb outlet for Xabi Alonso’s passes and this allows Madrid to stretch the play wide, meaning more space for the likes of Di Maria and Ozil to expose.
With no other injury concerns, Madrid head to the Signal Iduna Park with all of their attacking options ready and available. Kaka made a return to the Brazilian national side over the international break and marked the occasion with a goal against Japan whilst Ozil and Di Maria were also influential for their respective sides.
I can see this game being a tightly fought contest with the impetus being on the home side to be the more attacking. Dortmund need the points more as such and I don’t fancy them going to the Spanish capital and getting much from it in the return fixture.
Both sides have their weaknesses and the game will be won on either team exploiting those.
Probable starting XI’s
Borussia Dortmund (3-5-2) – Veidenfeller: Hummels, Bender, Subotic: Piszczek, Leitner, Goetze, Kehl, Grosskreutz; Reus, Lewandowski.
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1) – Casillas: Ramos, Varane, Pepe, Essien: Alonso, Khedria: Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema
Predicted score: 1-2
-Dave Reay, twitter: (@reaydave)