When the final whistle blew last Thursday at the end of Borussia Dortmund’s first match against Rangers FC in the Europa League, it seemed that the club’s Europa League ambitions were in tatters. The final score was 4-2 to the visitors. The numbers on the scoreboard were nothing but the final confirmation of a gutless and uninspired performance from Die Schwarzgelben. The only saving grace was that, for all the club’s failures in the first half, there was still a way out. If BVB managed to score twice or thrice at the Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow and overturn the deficit, the disastrous result at the Westfalenstadion could be forgotten.
That brings us to today. If there is ever going to be a match where Borussia Dortmund desperately needs to live up to its reputation for high-octane offense, it’s this one. The task is simple: BVB wil have to overturn a two-goal aggregate deficit in ninety minutes, and then either find a third goal in normal time, win the game in extra time, or if it eventually comes to it, win on penalties.
Luckily, if there’s one thing this squad is capable of doing, it’s scoring goals. The players proved as much only a few days ago, when BVB found the back of the net six times against Borussia Mönchengladbach, despite taking the field without top goalscorer Erling Haaland. Dortmund’s offensive explosion was lead by the captain himself: Marco Reus. He was very disappointing against Rangers in the first leg of this tie, but he rebounded in a massive way on Sunday with two goals and three assists. Hopefully he can repeat his performance tomorrow, when the stakes will be much, much higher.
The game plan
No matter what happens, Dortmund need to score first, and score early. The quicker BVB can reduce the aggregate deficit to one goal, or even to draw the tie level, the less desperate they will have to play, and therefore the more defensively solid they will be. 90 minutes is a lot of time to score two goals, but 90 can quickly shrink to 45, then to 30, and then to 10. Not only does the squad need to score twice, but they also need to keep the ball out of their own net to prevent the deficit from widening any further.
In other words: narrow the deficit to one before the half, equalize by the sixtieth minute, and then let the cards fall as they may.
BVB will be without Manuel Akanji and Erling Haaland, so Marco Rose will not be able to field his ideal lineup. However, the setup that he used against Gladbach could be a template for success:
Obviously, he can’t use the *exact* same squad, because both Gio Reyna and Dan-Axel Zagadou were injured in Sunday’s match, but he can field a lineup with the same philosophy. The back three of Emre Can, Pongracic, and Hummels performed reasonably well for the ~65 minutes it was on the pitch on Sunday. It allowed BVB’s full backs to push higher and play with less defensive responsibility, and diminished the defensive burden on Dahoud and Bellingham.
Marco Reus would be the best candidate to lead the line. He was brilliant against Gladbach, and should be motivated to lead the squad by example. Alongside him, I could see either Thorgan Hazard or Youssoufa Moukoko playing opposite Donyell Malen on the wing.
This could be the last meaningful football match that BVB play this season, so I kind of feel obligated to be optimistic. I’ll just predict a 4-1 win after extra time.