“I know the quality of this player. Everybody knows.” - There are no prizes for guessing which Borussia Dortmund player was the subject of Pep Guardiola’s words. Indeed, you’d have to have been living under a rock to not be aware of the prodigious talent of Norwegian wonder-kid Erling Haaland.
However, while the focus of the match will almost certainly be on the threat posed by Haaland – with his teammate and former City academy graduate Jadon Sancho also likely to merit attention in the build-up - Guardiola certainly will not be falling into the same trap. Borussia Dortmund are a team brimming with quality, and it would be a fatal error to assume that containing Haaland and Sancho is the only objective for City defensively.
At the heart of the defence, Mats Hummels is ever-present. He’s now in his eleventh year with Dortmund – albeit interrupted by a three-year spell with Bayern Munich – and the experienced German will be hoping he can finally add a Champions League medal to his already not insignificant list of honours.
Then, there’s the likes of Marco Reus, Mahmoud Dahoud, Jude Bellingham, Thomas Meunier, and Raphael Guerreiro. Clearly, if City do not perform to their best, this Dortmund side is more than capable of punishing the Premier League leaders.
The bookmakers have Guardiola’s side as short as 1/7 to progress past Dortmund, but any football fan will tell you that odds tend to count for little when City are in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Indeed, a victory would see City secure only their second ever place in the competition's semi-final stage.
It’s clear that Dortmund are a potent force going forward, but they can also be a soft touch defensively – that’s an accusation that would normally apply to City, too, but the arrival of Ruben Dias in the summer and the renaissance of John Stones has completely changed that.
At the time of the draw according to WhoScored, in the Premier League and Bundesliga respectively, City are averaging 15.5 shots per game, while Dortmund are not far behind with 14.6. As you’d expect given they are one of the best sides in Germany, Dortmund also tend to control games – they are level with Bayern Munich with an average of 58.6% possession this season – but City’s freakish talent in the area provides a clear edge with 61% and a pass accuracy of 89.1% to Dortmund’s 85.5%; however, only two other Premier League sides, Chelsea and Liverpool, boast a better pass rate than Dortmund.
In the more important stats, though, the difference becomes even clearer. City sit top of the league, with 71 points and a goal difference of +43, with 64 goals scored and only 21 conceded all season; if you discount the freakishly bad early performance against Leicester City, prior to Dias’s arrival, those numbers look even more impressive. Dortmund, meanwhile, are fifth in the Bundesliga, with 43 points (albeit with four less games played than City), 54 goals scored and 37 conceded.
They are also not the fitness freaks or gengenpressing obsessed side of the Jurgen Klopp era. They sit 15th in the Bundesliga table for distance covered, 13th for intensive runs and 9th for sprints. So, what can we expect over the two legs?
To find out, we spoke to Tushar Bahl from @BVBBuzz to learn more, such as just how good is Haaland, could Sancho haunt his former side, and who else will City need to keep an eye on?
Thank you for joining us. What was your initial reaction to the draw?
My initial reaction to the draw was one of nervous excitement I’d say. Borussia Dortmund’s aim for the Champions League this season was to reach the quarterfinals. So I feel that this is a bit of a free hit for BVB and a chance to test ourselves against the Champions League favourites and see where we stand.
How would you describe Borussia Dortmund’s style of play - and do you think there’ll be any tactical shifts against City?
Dortmund’s style of play has changed a fair bit since the sacking of Lucien Favre. Edin Terzic seems to have finally found his first choice XI and he has implemented a more high-energy style on the team. Dortmund now usually play with a midfield three and they press high up the pitch trying to win the ball back. There is also an emphasis on playing the ball out from the back, with the centre-backs trying to play Haaland or one of the other forwards in on goal. Terzic has also added more width to the team, with the two wingers often interchanging positions.
A real feature about this Dortmund team is the ability to hurt teams on the counter attack. They used that to great effect against Sevilla, and I think we will see that against Manchester City as well. Dortmund will likely drop deep and allow City to have the ball. There will be passages of play where they will look to counter-press, with the likes of Reus, Bellingham and Dahoud pressing high up the pitch.
What are your thoughts on Dortmund’s season so far, and what gives you confidence that you can progress past City in spite of being the underdogs?
Dortmund’s season so far has been a mixed bag. While they have reached the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal and the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the performances in the Bundesliga have been fairly inconsistent. Dortmund have the tendency to shoot themselves in the foot with defensive blunders.
But the individual quality in the squad is there for everyone to see, especially in the Dortmund attack. The likes of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus can change the game in the blink of an eye. And if they are on their game over the two legs, Dortmund have every chance of beating City despite their defensive deficiencies.
Conversely, what are the vulnerabilities of this Dortmund side that City may exploit?
As I said, Dortmund are very vulnerable defensively. They struggle to defend set-pieces, make individual errors and at times there are lapses of concentration. Dortmund also only have two natural centre-backs who are fit at the moment, and they will give City a fair few chances to score over the two legs.
Pep Guardiola said everybody knows Haaland’s talent, but just how good is he and how much longer do you think he will be at the club for?
I don’t think Borussia Dortmund have had a better striker than Haaland since Lewandowski. If you look at his goalscoring numbers, it is absolutely ridiculous. But it is not just that. He is someone who pumps everyone up. He makes others around him better. He has more determination and desire to succeed than almost every other young player I have seen over the years. He works so hard on his deficiencies and he has immensely improved his all-round game over the last 12 months.
I still believe that Dortmund will be able to keep hold of Haaland for at least another year. He loves playing for this team, and we can see that with the way he celebrates not only his goals, but also his teammates’ goals. He has a real passion for this club, as he has said time and time again.
How important could Jadon Sancho be (if he is fit for either leg) against his former team, especially as left back is a possible weak point in City’s side?
Sancho will have a big role to play against City. He was in excellent form and was getting a goal or an assist in pretty much every game before he suffered his muscle injury. Like Haaland, he is someone who can produce moments of magic with his dribbling, directness and ability to get past players. Edin Terzic has instilled a lot of confidence back into him. And he will certainly need no motivation against his former club.
Who are Dortmund’s key players that City fans should be aware of, outside of the big names like Haaland, Reus and Sancho?
Other than Haaland, Reus and Sancho, City may well want to keep an eye on Mahmoud Dahoud. He was key in the win over Sevilla in the round of 16. His energy, commitment and ability to pick out forward passes makes him a real threat in midfield. Raphael Guerreiro, for me, is the world’s best left-back. He is often slept on but I think he makes the Dortmund attack tick.
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