Last week’s 4-1 thumping confirmed what everyone knew: that Madrid, despite being a team who are hugely capable of playing high-intensity football, are by and large a counter-attacking side who can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. While Ronaldo’s away goal will be the straw that they will inevitably clutch on, it is worth remembering that that advantage can easily be wiped out and more if Dortmund score. On to the second leg, then…
1 Real need to find the bridge between defense and attack
Madrid are famous as a counter-attacking side for a very good reason: the ball travels from defense to attack in split seconds, sometimes in three to five passes. Against opponents who do not leave them that space, however, they struggle because of the lack of mobility in midfield needed to escape compact pressing. Largely, they are unable to even play the ball out past the midfield and then often resort bypass midfield entirely by lumping balls for Ronaldo to win in the air. Madrid need to be fluid and mobile.
The key men for this job then would be Modric and Ozil. Despite Modric’s presence on the field last week, Alonso was left isolated because he lacked short passing options and was closed down quickly, forcing him to face his own goal more. This greatly reduced his influence and the attack was separated from midfield by sheer number of bodies. Modric gives Madrid the outlet to beat a man and work his way out of tight corners, and this will be invaluable against Dortmund’s intensity.
If Modric is the man who links defense to midfield, Ozil links midfield to the attack. With Alonso incapacitated to deliver his diagonals, the forwards were left without service and Ozil was stranded out on the wing. Mourinho must move Ozil into the middle and hope that the German asserts his influence to prompt movement.
2 Energy or technique?
Real have to decide between matching Dortmund for their intensity or to play around them. If Ozil starts, he does not have the stamina required to last the 90 minutes of intensity and most likely Khedira will be omitted in his place. Real will be left with one man short in their defending and will lack physical presence in midfield. If Ozil doesn’t start, Real may be able to compete in terms of energy (perhaps even play Pepe in midfield), but will be severely lacking creativity upfront. The former option seems more likely given that Real desperately needs goals. Ozil will start.
3 Be proactive with possession
Jurgen Klopp mentioned that the key to victory is to find the balance between defense and attack, and he was more than right for the case of Real. According to reports, Essien and Arbeloa is injured, and hence the natural replacement for right-back would be Ramos. This is a double blow for Madrid, as not only will they lack the defensive solidity of Arbeloa, but also Ramos’ ability to carry the ball out from defense and relieve Alonso of the sole responsibility of distribution. This is surely motivation for Dortmund to press Real harder than ever.
It is hard to see Real working out any clear cut chances if they fail to play the ball out from the back, which is essentially the story of the first leg.
4 Real left wing/Dortmund’s right
This is where the key battle will be fought. Marcelo’s ability to bring the ball out of tight corners will be missed, and so Coentrao will start in his place. The Portuguese is less reliably defensively, and hence Ronaldo will have to do his fair share of defensive work or risk being a passerby in the game, especially when Gotze, Blaszczykowski and Piszczek’s presence on the right will also overwhelm Alonso.
5 Press high or sit back?
Madrid certainly have the personnel required to perform a pressing job themselves, but this leaves space at the back for Dortmund’s pacey forwards to chase balls over the top. They also have to be wary of conceding while needing to score three. If, as stated above, Ozil starts, Madrid will not be able to press with intensity for prolonged periods and this will play into Dortmund’s hands by the second half. Should Madrid tire, you can be sure Klopp will capitalize.
If they sit back and invite Dortmund onto them, it may free up space at the back, but this is unlikely. Firstly, Madrid are 3 goals behind in the tie. Secondly, Dortmund also play their best football on the counter. Madrid will look to be proactive and play a high line, which suits Dortmund just nicely.
6 End the feud with Casillas
It might just give them that extra 5% probability of winning.