September, the month from hell, is nearly over - but not before we visit hell itself. As Real Madrid travel to Dortmund this week, they near the end of a tumultuous month, one that saw them inch past Sporting Lisbon before dropping points against Villarreal and Las Palmas. It goes without saying, despite being undefeated this season, morale is shaky, and the team is far from its best.
So what a time to pay a visit to Westfalenstadion, an arena which Real Madrid fans don’t have fond memories of.
On Tuesday, they face a Borussia Dortmund team that said goodbye to a previous generation of core players, and has been completely stream-rolling opponents this season. To help us preview the upcoming clash, we reached out to Alex Greenberg, editor of SB Nation’s Fear The Wall.
Kiyan: Do you have any idea that Madridistas are generally terrified about this match?
Alex: No but we have heard a bit about Madrid's struggles since the draw with Las Palmas, and since you guys struggled a little bit with Sporting. It's a scary fixture for us as well, but most Dortmund fans are just happy to be back in the CL, and I don't think many of us are worried about not advancing from the group stage.
Kiyan: How is life in the post Hummels-Mkhi-Gundogan era?
Alex: Life is actually great! Bartra will miss this match, but he's slotted in seamlessly for Hummels. Mkhi has been replaced by like a dozen wingers, so we're fine there. Gundogan appeared like he'd be the toughest to replace, but Raphael Guerreiro has been a revelation this season. He signed this summer and we thought he'd be fighting Schmelzer for the LB role, but Tuchel's dropped him in central midfield and Raph has seized the opportunity. He'll be up for the challenge of playing Real.
Kiyan: On a scale of 1-10, how mortified should we be of Ousmane Dembele?
Alex: I'd say 7 or 8. He's a very skillful player with an extremely bright future, but he doesn't always have a final product at the moment. He's coming off a really solid game against Freiburg, where he did show a bit of said final product, setting up Aubameyang's goal. But he's got the talent to torture your defenders if he's at his best.
Kiyan: Let's get into some tactics. Watching your game against Freiburg, something I noticed was that, as deadly as you are offensively, you didn't create an opportunity until the 18th minute. That was largely due to Freiburg bunkering up. Do you think Zidane should sit back and absorb pressure, while slinging back with counters through Bale and Ronaldo on the flanks? That's the method we used against Bayern in '14 and in last year's Clasico at the Camp Nou. It worked both times.
Alex: Hmmm it's a tough call. Without Casemiro, you guys may be better off backing up and playing for counter. Modric and others are good enough that you'll still get a bit of possession, but BVB have been quite vulnerable on the counter so far this season. No matter your tactics, you'll have plenty of opportunities. Our defense isn't super solid, and will be even shakier without Bartra.
Kiyan: Against Freiburg, Julian Weigl was other-worldly good. I didn't enjoy it, fully knowing we were linked with him over the summer. He would've been a great pickup for us. How important is he on Tuesday?
Alex: He's massive. Without a dominant DM to shut down your attacks, we are in trouble. I sound like a broken record with the mentioning of Bartra, but we especially need that cover for our defenders with him out. If Weigl plays like he did against Freiburg, we think we can get a result. Pls don't try and sign him tho.
Kiyan: What is Dortmund's approach here? Does it differ from previous games?
I don't think it changes too much. Maybe our fullbacks don't bomb forward as much, as we're very wary of Bale and Ronny. But we're going to attack as we always do and try and set things up for Aubameyang. We don't have the personnel to pack it in like some teams playing Madrid would. But Dortmund parking the bus sounds wrong, we'll be playing the free flowing attacking game we always want to play.
Kiyan: We typically have a mental barrier in Germany bar some exceptions. The stadium is wild, and it seems like the ideal game for Sergio Ramos and Varane to do something nonsensical under the pressure. What do you think Real Madrid should be most worried about?
Alex: The atmosphere is definitely intimidating. A defensive mistake like you mention could come into play, especially when trying to deal with such a quick striker like Auba. But If I were you I'd be most worried about Weigl and Guerreiro combining to have really good games. If they both play well, we will create plenty of chances while hopefully staying strong at the back.
Oh and you should definitely fear our American Messi as well.
Kiyan: What should Dortmund be most worried about?
Those forwards running at our defenders. The thought of Ginter having to stop Ronaldo or Bale in a one-on-one is actually nightmare inducing. If that's how your goals come, I would not be surprised at all.
Kiyan: How close is Mario Gotze to returning to his old self?
Alex: He's getting there. His game against Freiburg wasn't great, other than one incisive pass to start the move for Aubameyang's opener. Don't be surprised if his role in this game is off the bench, but I'm a firm believer that he'll be back to his old self at some point this season. Just wish some of our fans would stop whistling every time he touches the ball.
Kiyan: Let's hear your prediction.
I don't think anyone in the world is expecting a 0-0 here. There will be goals, and the deciding factor could ultimately be keeper play. Burki is solid, but Navas is clearly the superior goalie. I'm going to go for a 3-2 Madrid win. Shame your old Barca friend Bartra cannot play. Different story with him in there.