Borussia Dortmund head into their Champions League rematch against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu on the heels of a dispiriting 0-0 draw at home to Stuttgart on Saturday.
In fact, Jurgen Klopp told reporters that the draw felt more "like a defeat," leaving the two-time defending Bundesliga champions 11 points adrift of a Bayern Munich side displaying absolutely dominant early season form.
The draw with Frankfurt also saw defensive midfielder Sebastian Kehl join Dortmund's ever expanding injury list (sound familiar) with a facial injury courtesy of an elbow from Stuttgart midfielder Raphael Holzhauser. The incident, which didn't draw a red card, understandably made Klopp furious and seemed to shake the side's equilibrium.
Particularly their finely calibrated midfield equilibrium, as ESPN Bundesliga correspondent Stephan Uersfeld noted:
"Dortmund could not retain their rhythm against Stuttgart, with Kehl's replacement Moritz Leitner's more attacking approach to the position taking Germany international Ilkay Gundogan out of the creative role"
WhoScored has Kehl listed as doubtful, so that means if Leitner is selected again his understanding (or lack thereof) with Gundogan could also be a key to this match against Madrid, who didn't face the underrated German playmaker in the first match.
Obviously, they will have had a few days to train and work on their timing and tactics, but this potential disruption in Dortmund's finely-tuned engine room is worth considering ahead of tomorrow's rematch. In other notable team news: Sven Bender is viewed as doubtful and Jakub Blaszczykowski remains sidelined.
Saturday's draw marked the first time that Dortmund were held scoreless in 29 matches at the Signal Iduna Park. This can be viewed as a mixed blessing for Real Madrid, as the German side certainly seems a bit vulnerable, yet vulnerability is sometimes a disguise donned by a truly dangerous team.
It is interesting to consider that a strangely similar pattern played out before the last meeting of these 2 sides. Dortmund lost 1-2 at home to hated rivals Schalke and Klopp's tactical decisions were widely questioned. Klopp opted for a 3-5-2 formation, despite never having had the side train in that system. The manager assumed the blame and the skies suddenly looked very gloomy with Real Madrid looming on the horizon. We all know what happened next.
You don't win a league of the Bundesliga's caliber two-times running without quality and mental toughness in equal measure, so I expect a show of resolve at the Bernabeu. Still, it seems that there is a sense of unease around Dortmund that could turn into panic if Real Madrid were to start fast.
I'd love to know your thoughts, Madridistas.