Champions League, Borussia Dortmund Scouting Report: Jürgen Klopp Brings A Depleted Squad To Madrid

Laurence Griffiths

Jürgen Klopp's men visit the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium to play Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League with an injured and depleted squad. The key question: who starts?

The Rematch

When I wrote up Borussia Dortmund last year before the group-stage matches against Real Madrid in the Champions League I said that they were, like Real Madrid, a team of technically refined players. The difference was that they were a team that was more than the sum of its parts, while Madrid relied too greatly on the individual brilliance of key attackers. Much of this was down to the vision and tactical acumen of Klopp himself and the intelligence and drive of the youngsters he was entrusting with that vision. On that team, which eventually made the final of the competition, everybody ran for everybody else, and everybody played for everybody else.

I also noted that Dortmund could prove to be Madrid's big test in Europe. That proved to be the case in the group-stages and later in the semifinals.

This year is rather more complicated to predict.

Injuries, Injuries, More Injuries & A Key Suspension

Borussia Dortmund can't catch a break with injuries to the squad this season and for the moment, Sven Bender, Neven Subotić, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Marcel Schmelzer are all definitely out. Recently injured Łukasz Piszczek should be "fit", though he's far from 100% recovered from injury. The same can be said for Mats Hummels, who has spent most of the season glumly watching games from the stands and is recently returned.

Striker Robert Lewandowski will be missing, thanks to an accumulation of yellow cards in the group stages and the round of sixteen.

Dortmund don't have to line up very often without Robert Lewandowski. This game gives them an early chance to try experiments for next season. This is because their striker has already been filched by Bayern Munich, in what is reputedly the most expensive "free" transfer (after signing bonuses) of all time. Because they don't line up without him very often, it's really anyone's guess who will lead the line. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be played up front. He has the virtue of pace, pace and more pace, but not a great deal of technique. One drawback is that his ability on the break or counter-attack could be wasted if he's played at the top of Dortmund's formation.

The side's playmaker, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, has technique but doesn't finish well under pressure. Nevertheless, he could be used up front if Klopp isn't keen on trusting Aubemeyang. If he's feeling adventurous, Jonas Hoffman could start next to either one. Marco Reus has been tipped as someone who could play at the top. No two line-up predictions will be the same.

Injuries extend to midfield. Expect Nuri Şahin to start but whether he's paired with Sebastian Kehl or Oliver Kirch or Jack-of-all-trades Kevin Großkreutz (always good for a surprise goal) is anyone's guess. İlkay Gündoğan is out, and is another player Bayern have made known they have an interest in. Kirch rarely plays, though he did on the weekend in their 3-2 away-win over Stuttgart. It should be noted he was responsible for the mistake that gifted Stuttgart their first goal and Großkreutz or Kehl are more likely to pair with Şahin.

The one player fit and in form is Sokratis, their centre-back. The rest of the backline is a collection of the inexperienced and the newly-returned-from-injury. Hummels has been noted. Expect Erik Durm to line up for Schmelzer. Großkreutz could play in defence, rather than in midfield. Marco Reus has had a disappointing and injury-blighted season but did very well on the weekend and scored three. Nevertheless, his problems this season have been the team's problems: they continue to create chances, but they have been having trouble finishing them.

Recent Form

A week ago, Dortmund drew with Schalke at home in a joyless 0-0 draw - a game that didn't do much for their confidence, as the Revierderby is the most important and emotional game of the league season.

Away at relegation-threatened Stuttgart this Saturday they did better, with Reus getting his hat-trick. The team sit second in the Fußball-Bundesliga and have made hard work of getting to that position, slipping out of the European places earlier this year. Nevertheless, their continued success atop "the rest of the Bundesliga" (after Bayern Munich) is a testament to their hardwork and their ability to cope with pressure and with injuries to most of their starting eleven.

The team's financial constraints have Bundesliga neutrals feeling sympathy for them. The team managed to get Nuri Şahin back last year after failed foreign adventures in Spain and England, in a home-coming celebrated as a real triumph for what Dortmund call Echte Liebe. It's the club's motto and it means "True Love."

But a cynic would note that there's more to it than the fans' genuine and continuing affection for the footballers who leave, to the extent that a #freeshinji campaign to get an ex-player back - a reference to former player Shinji Kagawa, now at Manchester United - was trending worldwide at one point. This is not a club that can afford to be picky about taking back old players. Mats Hummels (Barcelona), Sven Bender (Arsenal) and İlkay Gündoğan (Bayern Munich) are all players expected to be tempted by moves abroad to richer clubs this summer. This follows on the losses of Şahin (before his return), Kagawa and Mario Götze, and the imminent loss of Robert Lewandowski.

This is a club that achieved wonderful things under a great and dynamic manager but is scarcely holding together at the moment. It is an exhausted side, that at its best played dynamic transition-football at a high-pace with a very thin squad for three years - and that squad is now suffering the physical consequences of over-achievement on little money. Also, every Dortmund success (most especially in Europe) doubled as a show-case; that is to say, it allowed richer clubs to scout their players effectively against big opposition.

Finally there is the coach - the man Football Weekly once said was the type of man who reminds you of the English teacher who makes you feel good about yourself. Klopp is a technical and refined man of considerable intelligence and there are persistent rumours he and the elaborate collection of reflex-strengthening toys he likes to give his players might join another club too. Constantly on the watch for tactical weakness in his own side, any hints at decadence or stagnation, and in love with positive, attacking, intelligent, beautiful-looking football - any club would want him. And he might like a stint in charge of a club that has the money to keep his best players.

The game kicks off at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium on April 2, 2014 at 20:45 local time.

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