With the Champions League group stages getting underway next week, what are the chances for Borussia Dortmund this season?
Since losing to Bayern Munich in an all-German final at Wembley in 2013, Dortmund have not progressed beyond the quarterfinals.
They were pitted in the ‘Group of Death’ last season alongside the eventual champions, Real Madrid, and Tottenham. Failure to progress from the group signified how far the team were away from going on a European run like they did in the 2012/13 season.
At one point under Peter Bosz last season, it looked like the Yellow and Blacks would struggle to qualify for this year’s competition.
Under the stewardship of Peter Stoger, Dortmund scraped into Europe’s biggest competition on goal difference. Finishing level on points with Bayer Leverkusen meant that it came down to three goals to decide their fate, and turn a disappointing campaign into an acceptable one.
Now, Dortmund are eyeing a more fruitful return than last season’s group-stage exit. Lucien Favre’s team are going to have to be at their very best to qualify from a group containing Atletico Madrid, Monaco and Club Brugge.
Under the guidance of Diego Simeone, Atletico are expected to really challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for the Spanish league title this season.
Boasting the experience of Diego Godin, Koke and Antoine Griezmann, as well as the goal-scoring prowess of Diego Costa, makes them look an exciting proposition. Alongside such names, the Spanish side have England’s UEFA Nations League tormentor, Saul Niguez, in their ranks.
There are fragilities, however, which Celta Vigo proved with an impressive 2-0 win over Simeone’s side before the international break. Stefan Savic was sent off for two yellow cards to add to Atletico’s woes against a Vigo side who have raced to second in the table from their first three games.
Simeone was not worried by the result, and said:
“I’m calmer than ever because this is a wake-up call for us. We didn’t play well and Celta were lethal.”
Expect them to step up a gear for the Champions League tussles. They have the experience and firepower in attack to do so, and in Simeone, they have a coach whose talented leadership is indisputable.
Monaco have not had the best of starts to their season in France. After being totally outclassed by the super giants of Paris Saint-Germain in the French Super Cup Final, they have lost two of their opening four games in Ligue 1. Their solitary win so far came against FC Nantes, but they were defeated by Bordeaux and Marseille in consecutive matches.
Dortmund play Leonardo Jardim’s side in early October, by which time they may have found their feet after a torrid start. With talismanic skipper Radamel Falcao up front, the French side have a proven goal scorer on the biggest stage.
Ultimately, both Monaco and Madrid have recognisable strikers with plenty of experience at putting the ball in the back of the net when presented with any sniff of a chance. Favre may opt for either Abdou Diallo or Manuel Akanji to man-mark Falcao and Costa all night. With Griezmann also lurking for Madrid, it is sure to be a battle for Dortmund’s defence against their Spanish opponents.
Favre’s side will begin their Champions League campaign away to Club Brugge a week on Tuesday. The Belgian team have lifted their domestic title 15 times but will be written off by many in Group A.
However, unlike Monaco and Atletico, they are unbeaten in their league campaign so far and are perched at the top of their table at the moment. After edging Anderlecht 2-1, they followed this up with a convincing 5-2 win at Zulge Waregem.
Dortmund will fancy themselves to get off to a good start in Belgium before they welcome the other two group teams to the Westfalenstadion for back-to-back home games.
Come away with a result in Belgium, and Favre’s team will be in a great position to qualify as they face their two main challengers in front of their own fans.
With the steadying influence of Alex Witsel in midfield, and the attacking flair of Marco Reus, Maximilian Philipp and Christian Pulisic, Dortmund will rightly believe they are in good shape to improve on last season’s Champions League disappointment.