Oct 3, 2012, 2:20 AM EDT
Overloaded with three elite teams, Group D will always give us a match of the day. This week, it’s Germany’s champions visiting England’s, with Borussia Dortmund hoping to send Manchester City to two losses in as many rounds. Both teams will be looking to keep up with Real Madrid, group favorites trying to build on their opening day victory when they visit Ajax.
Manchester City (England) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
City of Manchester Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
They weren’t convincing on matchday one, but in hindsight, it’s hard to imagine a (realistic) result that would have dispelled what we learned last season: Borussia Dortmund wasn’t ready for Champions League. As German champions, they finished an embarrassing fourth in their group, not even earning a conciliatory ticket to Europa League. They were so poor, they were sent home.
To show they can be a factor in Champions League, they need to get a result against a team that matters, and although Manchester City also bowed out of last years’ tournament before the knockout rounds, their performance at the Santiago Bernabeu earned them some respect. They didn’t win – in fact, they gave up two leads – but they pushed an unquestioned titan to the limit on their home field. Combined with their Premier League title and a slew of players respected across the globe, Manchester City found an alternative route to their continental bonafides.
Could that work for Dortmund? Merely pushing Manchester City to the bring? It’s not likely. City doesn’t have Mourinho, Ronaldo and nine European titles. Dortmund’s going to have to beat City if they want Wednesday to shed water.
The key to doing so may rest with Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic – Borussia Dortmund’s talented center halves. Both 23 years old, their the pair almost anybody would pick if asked to start a new team with one duo. But they’re mistake-prone, and against a team with the depth and variety of attackers City will dress (Carlos Tévez, Sergio Agüero, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli), the pair may become a weakness. Whereas most opponents would’t be able to generate enough chances (and types of chances) to test the pair, for City, it may only be a matter of time.
That’s not to say City won’t have their own issues in defense. After a slow start to the season (scoring only six times in their first five games), BVB’s attack has caught fire, scoring 10 goals in their last three games. As encouraging, they’ve gotten those goals from seven different players (with none from Robert Lewandowski).
Of course, Dortmund will be facing a better defense than they’ve encounter in the Bundesliga. Vincent Kompany will win votes as the world’s best defender, while the main criticisms of Joleon Lescott are that he’s not Kompany. He’s still a world class defender that would start for most teams, half of a pair capable of silencing even the most powerful attack.
Ultimately, nobody’s expecting Dortmund to win on Wednesday. They’re just expected to show some hint they can play with the best. Fans want them to show their Bundesliga success can be translated into Champions League. Though a win in Manchester would unquestionably do that, it’s not necessary.
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Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)
Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Manchester City’s loss at the Santiago Bernabeu may become a minor turning point for both teams. For City, it established some continental legitimacy. For Madrid, it was a huge wakeup call.
Back then, Los Merengues were struggling through an identity crisis. Having already lost two matches in league, José Mourinho claimed he didn’t have a team. Cristiano Ronaldo was sad, making vague complaints about his situation at the club. El Real looked on the verge of shuffling the deck.
Then they came back against City. Twice. Fast forward two weeks, and Ronaldo’s posting hat tricks in 5-1 wins over Deportivo La Coruña. Crisis over, or crisis averted? Neither. It was just a phase.
Ajax would have liked that phase to continue. Instead, they get the same team that beat them 3-0 in Amsterdam last year’s group stage.
Actually, this time could be worse. Last year’s win came at the end of group stage, when a 5-0-0 Real Madrid had already clinched first in their group. Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t even make the trip. This year, only one match into the stage, Ajax will likely face Real’s full assault.
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