The UEFA Champions League last 16 second legs have rolled around and the situation for Borussia Dortmund is simple. They welcome the Portuguese champions, SL Benfica to the Westfalenstadion on Wednesday with their future in the competition at stake; win or go home.
The importance of this game lies in the fact that the German side lost the game in Lisbon. Though it was only by a one-goal deficit, it is still possible to turn things around, especially at home where they are undefeated for 32 consecutive games.
Both sides flying high
The clash carries high potential considering the current form of each team. The away side are in good form with their last loss in late January against Vitoria de Setubal, they have won every single game since then. The Schwarzgelben must give everything if they want to stop that winning streak.
In their last meeting, Kostas Mitroglou scored the only goal of the game at Estadio da Luz, and protecting this advantage will be their main concern. With their strong defence - that has conceded just 13 times since the start of the season - it is far from impossible. In their first-leg win over Dortmund their tight defence wasn’t so compact, but the Dortmund forwards’ incompetence in front of goal was to thank for an unlikely cleansheet.
Conserving this small lead might not be easy for the away side, with their opponent also in good form. After their disappointing performance with many big chances missed, including a penalty, Borussia Dortmund won their last three games, including a massive 6-2 triumph against Bayer Leverkusen. The kind of crisis which erupted a few weeks ago, after many bad performances, seems to be over.
The Ruhr side are now full of confidence and ready to reach the next round in front of their fans. With the yellow wall now behind them, there is still hope. Moreover, if they reproduce the performances of the last few weeks, it should be possible. But they must stay focused if they don’t want to leave the competition earlier than expected, knowing what happened in Liverpool last season.
Big expectations ahead of a big game
On Tuesday afternoon, Gonzalo Castro and Thomas Tuchel spoke to the press and expressed their feelings for the game. They showed their determination as well as their desire to pursue the competition while keeping a cool head, just like the midfielder said: “Benfica can always score out of nothing. We will have to consider that in our tactical approach to the game.” Despite that, he has faith in his teammates with what they showed during the first-leg: “We saw in the first leg that we were the clearly better team. However, we must not concede a goal. Benfica have a good defence. Nevertheless, we created a lot of chances.”
The BVB head coach agreed with his player when he said that they were favourites: "We have the feeling that we can progress, we are feeling that it is the right moment for it as well.” We can see their confidence is flowing after the last three victories. Furthermore, the German coach pushed his team to “free their mind from the 1-0 scoreline” to prepare the match properly. He then warned his team about not conceding goals "to avoid running extra yards and extra calculations”.
Finally, Tuchel praised their opponent: “The aura of the club always rubs off on the players, who take confidence from that.”
Samaris and Vitoria have their say
After the home side spoke to the press, Benfica player Andreas Samaris and Rui Vitoria, the head coach, did the same. And we could remark that the defensive midfielder did not seem impressed by the history nor their rival: “We are not looking at the history (Dortmund are undefeated at home against Portuguese teams). But we want to make history. We have respect for Dortmund’s attack – as we do for every opponent – however, we are not afraid of them."
They are completely determined to continue in the competition, though they recognised their luck in the first meeting: “We have the ambition to proceed to the next round, but we have to play better than we did in the first leg.”
The Portuguese manager was focused on the tactical approach, which will be influenced by the result of the first leg: “We will see what happens in the game. Maybe we will play deep, maybe we will push our line higher up. We must defend, we want to win the game. We want to play on the same level with Borussia Dortmund – it‘s always our ambition.”
To preserve the lead his team must be “extremely focused and [we] have to rely on our strengths to score – via counter attacks for example”. The aim is clear, they want to advance in the competition, no matter how. playing at the Westfalenstadion, in front of the Yellow Wall does not seem to be a problem: “The atmosphere in Dortmund is bombastic, but it is the same at the Estadio da Luz. We are used to that atmosphere. Of course it is nice to play the second leg at home, but I don’t have any preferences.”
The away side will have to do without Lisandro Lopez as well as Lubomir Fejsa who are both injured. Tuchel’s squad will not be complete either as Marco Reus suffered a hamstring injury on Saturday. Sebastian Rode and Sven Bender are still injured too, while Raphael Guerreiro is doubtful due to muscular problems. A decision on the versatile Portuguese will be made just before the game on Wednesday morning.