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Dortmund - Monaco Champions League Preview: Which young stars will shine brightest in the present?

Bayern Muenchen v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images Fuer MAN

When the quarterfinal fixtures came out for the Champions League many people labeled the AS Monaco vs. Borussia Dortmund as a battle between future European stars. But, that sells both teams well short though of how they’re performing right now. Monaco is at the top of Ligue 1 and BVB topped their group over Real Madrid. Oh, and both teams are in the last 8 of the Champions League.

What really makes this tie really interesting is not only the young stars but also two teams that are experienced campaigners with contrasting styles of play. Dortmund are no longer the crazy, run a marathon every game, counterattacking side they were under Klopp. Instead, Thomas Tuchel has brought a possession focused calmness to the Signal Iduna Park. In fact even against top tier sides, the Black and Yellows have averaged 57% possession in European competition. Monaco on the other hand possess the ball just 49% of the time in Europe. As Manchester City saw though, with fiendishly fast players like Kylian Mbappe and Thomas Lemar combining with a reborn Falcao in the middle, Monaco doesn’t need much time on the ball to score many goals.

Digging further into this tie, there are quite a few storylines and matchups that will decide who moves into the semifinals.

Which young stars will deliver consistently?

We’ve already said that both teams are filled with young talent and of course that comes with inconsistency. After all these are players closer to puberty than their athletic prime. Monaco has for the most part been able to fill in enough veterans to deliver consistently excellent performances that as mentioned earlier see them top of Ligue 1. The larger concern lies with the Borussen. Steady veterans like Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, and Mario Gotze were supposed to slowly bring along the new generation but injuries have seen Dembele and Pulisic feature nearly every week. Whether we see a Dembele that is pragmatic with his passing and doesn’t overtly play hero ball could go a long way in deciding this tie. At the very least, in a two game tie, even if there isn’t consistency, the young stars will need enough flashes to deliver results.

Can Dortmund’s Defense Hold Up?

It wasn’t too long ago when this question would’ve been more prudent written the other way, but in football things change quickly. Entire teams are rebuilt in the course of a few years. It was just a couple years ago that Monaco’s defense led the continent in goals allowed and Dortmund tore into Zenit with 5 goals in the away leg. This year it’s Monaco with a whopping 85 goals in Ligue 1 and 6 goals against City in the last round. Dortmund on the other hand come in with serious defensive question marks. The primary center back pairing of Marc Bartra and Sokratis Papasthapoulos has been inconsistent with the Spaniard often letting the team down. To be fair it’s a partnership that’s improved over the course of the season but one that still could be put to the sword by Monaco’s high flying attack. At the two fullback positions BVB have stayed with two veterans in Lukasz Pisczcek and Marcel Schmelzer. The Polish right back has been for years been considered one of the best in the world at his position but this year has really started to show his age. The runs down the right are no longer as marauding and his defending has been suspect at times. Schmelzer has for the most part been his consistent though unspectacular self. Getting cut apart over and over by a 33 year old Arjen Robben returning from injury isn’t a confidence inspiring sight though. If Bernardo Silva is able to replicate some of that, Dortmund could be in for a disappointing tie.

Will Dortmund find midfield consistency?

Hummels and to a lesser degree Mkhitaryan grabbed most of the headlines about Dortmund’s summer exodus, but this season it’s looked like the man they miss most is Ilkay Gundogan. Last year the German international combined brilliantly in a double pivot with the metronomic Julian Weigl. This opened up the flanks for the likes of Reus and Mikhi while allowing Kagawa to do what he does best as a pure number 10. Without signing a box to box midfielder or really having one in house, the Black and Yellow’s midfield has floundered at times. The midfield spot next to Weigl has been a revolving door of Castro, Gurreiro, Bender, and Durm among other even. Tuchel has also gone with a 5 man midfield at times to add stability especially in big games. If BVB can find a way to construct their midfield to recycle possession and support their attackers, the Germans could find themselves in the semifinals

Closing thoughts

On the whole I think drawing Monaco was about as good as Dortmund fans could have hoped for. Sure, Leicester probably would’ve been the easiest to advance over but the team from the principality were definitively the second weakest team. At the very least we avoided legitimate heavy weights like Barcelona, Juventus, Real, or Bayern. This sets up to be an interesting tie between two exciting young sides with somewhat contrasting sides. The experts and the bookies put this clash at about a toss-up and that sounds pretty fair. And despite my somewhat pessimistic preview I think that this tie does set up nicely for Dortmund especially with Monaco destroyer Bakayoko suspended for the first leg. Here’s to hoping we’re back in the semifinals! HEJA BVB!