When nine-time European champions Real Madrid
were paired with Jürgen Klopp’s plucky Borussia Dortmund
in the final four last season, it was their third successive semi-final appearance after six hapless years of failing to negotiate the second round. It was also their best chance to reach the final, and finally land the historic Décima
that causes so much fuss in Spain’s capital.
REAL MADRID FORM
- Real Madrid 5-0 Rayo (Lge)
- Sevilla 2-1 Real Madrid (Lge)
- Real Madrid 3-4 Barca (Lge)
- Real Madrid 3-1 Schalke (Cup)
- Malaga 0-1 Real Madrid (Lge)
- Stuttgart 2-3 Dortmund (Lge)
- Dortmund 0-0 Schalke (Lge)
- Hannover 0-3 Dortmund (Lge)
- Dortmund 1-2 Zenit (Cup)
- Dortmund 1-2 M'gladbach (Lge)
But the wait was extended another year. Robert Lewandowski’s stunning four-goal haul in Dortmund paved the way for the Germans’ route to the final at Wembley, with a nervy 2-0 second-leg defeat at the Bernabeu meaning they stumbled through as 4-3 aggregate winners.
Fast-forward 11 months, however, and the outlook is rather different. Jose Mourinho, Mesut Özil and Gonzalo Higuain are gone at the Bernabeu; these days Los Blancos are generally in ruder health, spearheaded by free-scoring colossus Cristiano Ronaldo and thriving on the form of Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria & Co. That said, they're currently nursing bruised egos after Clásico woe followed by last Wednesday night's shock defeat at Sevilla. Wrenching back their La Liga crown may not be so easy now, despite a thumping five-goal win over Rayo Vallecano at the weekend.
In Europe, however, they reached this stage with a frightening 9-2 aggregate win over Schalke. If only Dortmund could say the same. Perhaps it was inevitable that Klopp’s men would slide after three seasons in the spotlight. After all, they simply can’t compete with the financial muscle of Europe's big guns (OK you, Bayern). Injuries haven’t helped their cause either, culminating in the fruitless efforts to stop their all-conquering rivals cruising to the Bundesliga title.
Just look at last season’s Champions League final side: of Dortmund’s starting XI at Wembley, only four are set to start at the Bernabeu – Lewandowski is suspended after picking up a third booking of the tournament against Zenit, Mario Götze moved north nine months ago, while Marcel Schmelzer, Neven Subotic, Lars Bender, Ilkay Gundogan and Jakub Blaszczykowski make up an eye-watering injury list.
Klopp’s men might not be the force of last year, but they’re still potentially just as entertaining – only a late Kevin Grosskreutz winner in Marseille saw them through to the last 16, where they dismantled Zenit in the first leg before losing 2-1 in the second (at home) to tee up a nerve-jangling final 20 minutes.
In a nutshell, the Bundesliga’s Jekyll & Hyde are utterly unpredictable this season, equally capable of tonking a side as they are of complete implosion. You won’t find too many backing a repeat of last season’s feats – not least at the Bernabeu, where they almost threw everything away last time – but they’ll give it a good go.
Player to watch: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Twelve months ago you wouldn’t have heard too many nice things said about the Frenchman. But as we’ve already seen, a lot can happen in a short space of time.
Higuain’s departure to Napoli was the best thing that could have happened to the 26-year-old former Lyon hotshot. Carlo Ancelotti wasn’t consumed with finding a replacement – he was happy for Benzema to support Ronaldo's obscene exploits. So far the striker has duly obliged too, with 23 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions, and 6 assists in 30 La Liga games this season.
His brace against Barcelona – the second goal, in particular
– was fitting reward for his rebirth, and highlighted just how important he could be if Real are to land the silverware they really want this season. If there is a criticism to make, however, it’s that every goal at this stage of the competition counts – and that means converting opportunities like this
when they come around. In total the Frenchman had 8 attempts at goal in just 65 minutes – not bad considering he made only 12 passes in that time too.
After the dramatic Clásico defeat to Barcelona, Ancelotti was at a loss trying to explain why Real haven’t turned up in the biggest games this season – they’ve lost both matches with their rivals, and taken a point from two tussles with Atletico. “I am not happy with this,” boomed the Italian. “It is difficult to explain as Real are one of the strongest teams and we will continue to show this until the end of the season.”
Some comfort for Klopp then. The Dortmund chief has been as entertaining as ever in his sixth season at the Westfalenstadion, and is relishing his side’s second tie with the Spanish giants in as many seasons. “It's a good draw,” insisted the 46-year-old. “We're thrilled with this challenge and will try to use our small chance. The fact we play first in Madrid can be an advantage. It is certainly not the time now to raise the white flag.”
Facts and figures
- Real come in to this match on the back of a 9-game unbeaten run in the Champions League (W8 D1). The last CL game they lost was the semi-final first leg in Dortmund last April.
- It’s been nearly three years since Real failed to score in a CL game (April 2011 vs Barcelona) and they have scored in 33 successive CL matches.
- Dortmund have lost only 1 of their last 5 CL meetings with Real (W2 D2 L1), but this defeat was away in the Bernabeu last season (0-2).
- Dortmund have won their last 3 CL quarter-final ties, including a victory over Spanish side Malaga last season (3-2 on aggregate).
- Ronaldo has scored 48 goals and assisted 11 more in 47 CL appearances for Real.
- No player has more assists in the CL this season than Real duo Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria (5).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Madrid, regardless of recent defeats, have enough firepower to make sure this is a job well done. For Dortmund without Lewa, it's difficult to see them getting one. 3-0.