It’s not very often that a team has a chance to redeem itself so quickly after a calamitous defeat, but that’s the exact situation that Borussia Dortmund will find themselves in tomorrow, when they host AFC Ajax for the second time in the Champions League. It was only two weeks ago that Ajax absolutely steamrolled BVB 4-0 in Amsterdam, sending the black-and-yellows back to Germany with their tails between their legs. Dortmund have done well to right the ship in their other competitions since then, but will now need to step up to the plate and save some face. Both a trip to the Champions League knockout round and their pride are on the line.
The good news is that expectations for BVB aren’t very high tomorrow, those being namely:
- Don’t get humiliated.
- Secure any points you can.
Even a draw would put Dortmund in a good position to advance to the knockout round, assuming they’re able to take care of business against Sporting and Besiktas in the ensuing weeks. It’s also important that BVB demonstrate to the footballing world that the scoreline in Amsterdam does not reflect what this squad is actually capable of. Defeating Ajax would firmly put that defeat in the rearview mirror, and allow the squad to move forward with a clear conscience.
I wrote after the catastrophe in Amsterdam that in addition to BVB being generally outplayed, head coach Marco Rose was tactically outmatched. Dortmund were too narrow off the ball and gave Ajax too much free space to roam along either wing, and pressed very ineffectually. Over the last few weeks, Marco Rose has tinkered with a back three formation, a setup that might diminish the defensive burdens on either full back.
It’s worked the last few weeks, so I expect Rose to give this lineup a shot again.
The accuracy of this lineup rests on a number of factors. First and foremost is whether or not Donyell Malen has gotten over the stomach issues that kept him out of the match against Cologne. Even if he is ready to return, though, I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if he starts on the bench, both to give him a chance to recover, and also to reward Thorgan Hazard with a spot leading the line, which the Belgian has surely earned with his form over the past two weeks.
Marius Wolf has also demonstrated that he’s an acceptable stand-in for the injured Raphael Guerreiro, which is why I have him starting at left wing back. In midfield, Axel Witsel and Jude Bellingham are pretty much the only available options, with Mahmoud Dahoud and Emre Can injured. Julian Brandt will have to continue his run of improved form, and Marco Reus will need to put in a vintage captain’s performance if Dortmund are going to get anything out of tomorrow’s match.
I predict that Rose will adjust the squad and tactics enough to avoid another disaster on par with what we saw two weeks ago, but I’m still not holding out for a win. I’m predicting a 2-2 draw. Even that would be somewhat fortunate for BVB, given the quality of their opponents and the injuries plaguing the squad.