Real Madrid’s form this season is, um, bad — but all things considered, it looks like they haven’t woken up from their duodecima / SuperCopa hangovers yet, and they’re off to the round-of-16 of the Champions League in the same position they were in last season. (None of this is necessarily supposed to get you excited about Real Madrid’s obviously troubling position in both Europe and La Liga).
Yet, they’re still alive and loaded with enough talent to turn this around, if Zidane can fix some tactical kinks. Even with Gareth Bale almost never around, the team is theoretically good enough to figure this out. Relatively speaking, they’re still in a better position than some other big clubs in Europe, and even if they’re behind some others, there’s no question they can turn to new gears even against teams like Manchester City, PSG, and the like.
Their opponents on Wednesday, Borussia Dortmund, have sunk into some strange, unfamiliar depths this season. For them, this idea of ‘buying time to figure it out until the next round’ doesn’t really exist. They are done — out of the Champions League, with still a possibility of not making it to the Europa League. They’ve won just once in their last 10 games, Peter Bosz has been a disaster (don’t forget, Real Madrid walked into Dortmund earlier this season while struggling and completely mopped up their bizarre high-line), injuries have annihilated them, and they’re also in real danger of not qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Real Madrid aren’t playing for anything in this match apart from pride, confidence, and match fitness for fringe players. Dortmund will want to get a result in order to secure their Europa League spot — although, it does remain unlikely that APOEL will get a result against Tottenham to keep the pressure on Bosz’s men.
To help set the stage, we reached out to Brian Meyers of SB Nation’s ‘Fear The Wall’:
Kiyan: Brian, what happened to Dortmund? Can you pinpoint the main problems for us?
Brian: A man named Peter Bosz. His tactics and choices have led us to two months without a win. He has 100% lost the locker room. His questionable lineup choices and die hard religious loyalty to a 4-3-3 with a high line has been the bane of BVB this year.
In addition to this, injuries have also hurt us quite a bit. Reus, Gotze, Schmelzer, Piszczek, Phillip, Bartra, Weigl, Toprak, Schurrle and more have all missed time due to injury. That many players could sink a season for most teams.
Kiyan: Are there any positives you can extract from this season?
Brian: Pulisic has developed a lot this year. He is always calm and collected, and looking for a way to attack. Phillip, Zagadou, and Dahoud are other young guys that have played well and may very well be the future of BVB.
Kiyan: How big of a blow was it losing Mario Gotze until the new year?
Brian: Huge. Most people would argue Gotze has been our best player this year. Losing him could slash the chances BVB creates in any given game. Luckily, Bosz-problems aside, Kagawa still is a top class player and can slot in at that starting spot nicely. Also, Pulisic probably deserves some time in the center as well.
Kiyan: How have things changed for Dortmund offensively in the post-Dembele era?
Brian: Well I don't think last year’s success was all the Ousmane Dembele show, but the differences between Tuchel Dortmund and Bosz Dortmund are significant.
But there actually are some similarities. While Tuchel never had as bad as a stretch as Bosz, he too had rough Autumn-spells in both his years as BVB manger. Other then that the major difference is tactics. Tuchel made a lot of dumb personnel choices but him and Bosz are entirely different when it comes to formations. Bosz sticks with one formation while Tuchel changed things up (not always quickly though, as those who watch BVB will remember how bad the three-back system was for Tuchel).
Kiyan: Against Real Madrid earlier this season, Dortmund played a curiously high line, and Gareth Bale and co. licked their lips. Do you think Dortmund will change that this time?
Brian: Nope. We are playing a line so high that our center backs wont even be on their field when RM is in possession. If you think I'm joking, that’s exactly how we got scored on over the weekend.
Kiyan: How badly does everything have to go wrong tomorrow in order for you not to qualify for the Europa League?
Brian: Bosz stays in power, injuries build up. Every single dumb English tabloid is right and we sell all of our star players to their favourite teams. Think that would do it.
Kiyan: Call it.
Brian: Its going to be a bloodbath. Real Madrid is gonna score 5-6 goals. Yes, yes — I know Madrid have had troubles. But Dortmund can't even handle Stuttgart. Real will run rampant on them.