Borussia Dortmund came into the game knowing that no side in the Champions League era had qualified to the next round after losing the first leg by three goals to nil. Yet the manager in the away dugout, Carlo Ancelotti, had been on the receiving end of a couple of memorable comebacks whilst being three goals up in the past – as reigning champions in 2003/04, Milan led after the first leg at the San Siro 4-1 against Deportivo de La Coruña but inexplicably lost the return leg 4-0 at the Riazor. And of course the now (in)famous 2005 final in Istanbul where Liverpool came back from three down to eventually win on penalties.
But if Dortmund had any hope of the past repeating itself, then they didn’t show much belief in it early on. They were lacklustre as Real set the rhythm by moving the ball around the midfield and generally looking well in control. The fans didn’t look like they believed in a comeback either; the atmosphere in the Signal Iduna Park was uncharacteristically solemn.
Football, though, is a game of moments. On 16 minutes the first big moment of the match came. Fabio Coentrao was free on the left flank, his subsequent cross was blocked by the right arm Lukasz Piszcek. Replays showed that it was an extremely harsh decision on the home side.
With no Cristiano Ronaldo, who was suffering from a knee injury, Ángel di María stepped up to take the spot kick. It was all looking grim for Dortmund, a goal now would require they score five goals. But di María slipped as he took his shot and Weidenfeller parried the ball away. Perhaps the Argentine international was undone by the slick surface after torrential rain had poured down prior to kick off, perhaps it was the Yellow Wall facing down on di María that put him off; either way, Dortmund were still in it. Still needing “only” three goals.
The penalty miss seem to stir the home fans and Dortmund looked more assured now. Their sudden increase in aggression and pressing clearly caught Madrid off guard, and Klopp’s side were looking more like the team who had won many admirers across Europe now.
The first goal came on 24 minutes, as Piszcek sent a long diagonal ball which looked straight forward for Pepe to deal with. But the Portugese international inexplicably headed it back to Casillas in goal, when he could have chested the ball down and played from the back, with few Dortmund players close enough to immediately put pressure on him. Reus cheekily snuck in behind and kept his composure to beat Casillas before passing it through Sergio Ramos’ legs.
The second goal for Klopp’s side came just 12 minutes later. Ramos played the ball to Asier Illaramendi and the midfielder’s lay off was intercepted by Reus, who ran at the defense before playing a prefect pass to Lewandowski to strike at goal, but the Pole was denied by a combination of Casillas’ finger tips and the post.
Reus was quick to follow up though and Dortmund were in a great position of doing what seemed before kick off as unimaginable. It was a classic Dortmund goal. They set up a pressing trap by surrounding Ilaramendi with four players around him, rushing him into the pass that was pounced on by Reus.The home side continued to attack until the half time whistle but Madrid – barely – hung on.
It was clear to Ancellotti that something needed to change. He took off Illaramendi, who’d had a game to forget, for Isco. The former Malaga player had suffered defeat at this stage last season in the most agonizing fashion. With Isco being brought on, di María was pushed back into midfield alongside Modric with Alonso slightly deeper.
Isco was given freedom to roam, and Bale now had the chance to play in his favoured right wing position. The substitution worked to an extent, and with Alonso going deeper in between the two center-backs to receive the ball, there was more space for Modric to bring the ball out after bypassing Dortmund’s initial press from the forwards.
It didn’t completely neutralize the home side but it at least gave Madrid a bit more control in the game. It’s also worth noting that the sheer amount of running Dortmund had done in the first half would eventually take its toll on the home team and that worked in Madrid’s favor.
Isco had suffered cruel defeat here, but it was another player whose team were bundled out of the competition at the Signal Iduna Park last season, that really had an impact on this match. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was in the Shakhtar Donetsk starting eleven in last season’s second leg of the round of 16, which the Ukrainians lost 3-0.
Last night he again started, with Aubameyang’s wasteful performance in Spain seeing him drop to the bench with the return of Lewandowski. The Armenian, however, missed a few good chances of his own last night, which was a black mark on what was a fine performance.
In the first half, Lewandowski’s battling qualities saw him get the better of Carvajal and prod the ball to Reus. Reus’ quick feet evaded Pepe’s tackle and fed the ball to Mkhitaryan, but the Armenian spurned a glorious chance by directing his shot inches wide.
5 minutes past the hour mark, some brilliant link up play from Lewandowski saw him release Reus to run at the Madrid defense. The German had an easier option out left but kept his composure to release Mkhitaryan, who’d made an intelligent diagonal run across the defenders. Sadly, where Reus was composed and assured Mkhitaryan was not. He rounded the ‘keeper but he failed to wrap his foot around the ball enough and it struck the post.
Three minutes later, Lewandowski and Reus combined with some terrific interplay once more, and once more Mkhitaryan couldn’t find the finish. He at least kept it on target this time but it was straight at Casillas.
Then another chance for Dortmund, as Piszcek’s knock down was met first time by Grosskreutz; yet again, Casillas came to the rescue. It was an onslaught by the home side, as they constantly forced the Madrid back-line deep into their own penalty area. But it couldn’t go on forever and by the 80th minute things started to die down for the home side, the inevitable drop after running themselves to the ground. Dortmund could no longer force their opposition back and the game ended with Real looking the more threatening.
Before the match, Klopp spoke about the enormity of the task at hand, his hope was only for his team to go out there and give a good account of themselves. That they certainly did but it could have even been so much more. The work done by Klopp at the club has seen them become not only one of Europe’s best sides, but also one of the most entertaining, particularly with the limited financial means of the club when compared to their competitors at home and on the continent.
The innovation of Klopp and his ability to work within the financial means is quite extraordinary; Eric Durm was a striker for Mainz’s second team but performed admirably against the most expensive player in the world, Manuel Friedrich was picked up for free in November of last year, but alongside Hummels ensured Dortmund stopped Madrid from scoring, albeit sans Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the absence of starters Bender, Gundogan and Kehl in midfield, Klopp gave opportunities to youngsters Milos Jojic and Oliver Kirch to shine against the most decorated side in Europe. The inexperienced duo duly dominated the midfield area. Dortmund may have finished the season trophy-less and lost Lewandowski – and possibly Reus too – but their future remains vividly bright, just like the football they play.