Champions League Preview: Borussia Dortmund v Monaco
“We have an incredible atmosphere here,” warned Dortmund midfielder Raphaël Guerreiro in yesterday’s press conference ahead of a visit from Monaco in the Champions’ League quarterfinal. “There will be a lot of pressure, and they will be surprised.” While it is true that the Westfalenstadion is one of Europe’s most intimidating places to play, the match will more than likely hinge on how each team is able to execute its plan of attack, despite being depleted by injury. With key players out on both sides, whether Leonardo Jardim and his Dortmund counterpart, Thomas Tuchel, play in their customary hell-for-leather style or adopt a more conservative approach, tactically or personnel-wise, should decide this tie. The smart money is on neither coach standing down, instead hewing to the same attacking philosophies that have pushed them to top their groups and subsequently advance to this stage of the competition.
Given Dortmund have less issues of depth than Monaco, the issues that they have to tackle are primarily tactical. Tuchel has played most of the season with either a 3-4-2-1 or a 4-1-4-1, and he should continue to play one of those, with André Schürrle and Mario Götze’s absences meaning that there is no natural partner for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. While the two German internationals and right back Erik Durm remain unavailable, Marco Reus looks to be an option from the bench, pending a late fitness test. Shinji Kagawa and Julian Weigl should likewise be ready from the off, despite not having featured against Bayern Munich at the weekend.
Weigl’s neat passing at the base of midfield means his presence is imperative for the 4-1-4-1 to be effective, and with his being ready, Dortmund should opt for that formation, seeing how Monaco terrorized Manchester City’s defense. City didn’t play a proper three-man defense, but with the holding midfielder dropping between the centre backs and the fullbacks pushing into midfield, there was often space on the flanks, something of which Tuchel will be wary.
Settling on a tactical system means that the burden is then on Tuchel to decide the personnel. The defense and Weigl is settled at this point, with Erik Durm absent through injury, and in attack, Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembélé, Christian Pulisic and Raphaël Guerreiro look set to start alongside one of Kagawa or Gonzalo Castro. Castro is certainly a more prosaic option in central midfield, but Tuchel could feel that adding extra protection for Weigl might be a priority given the youngster’s fitness. More likely, though, Kagawa will partner Guerreiro centrally, with Dembélé and Pulisic on the wings and Aubamayeng up top; by affecting an attack-minded approach at home, Dortmund can thus squarely put the onus on Monaco to get a result in the reverse fixture.
Monaco also face tough decisions, although it would be a massive surprise to see Jardim deviate from his preferred 4-4-2. In defense, Djibril Sidibé was already a doubt through appendicitis, but Almamy Touré, depsite a middling match against Angers at the weekend, offers a capable alternative at right back. On the opposite flank, however, things are more problematic, though as Benjamin Mendy struggled in training yesterday, reportedly “unable to accelerate.” The former Marseille man has been hugely influential in Europe, and the alternatives, Jorge or Andrea Raggi, hardly inspire confidence, particularly going forward. If Mendy is unfit, Raggi and his experience have an edge over the January arrival, but both will also struggle against Dortmund’s wide players.
Jardim’s other decision comes up top, in deciding what combination of strikers best suits the occasion. Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappé offer the best contrast in style, as well as better finishing than Valere Germain, but Germain’s ability to drop into midfield when needed could make him a more attractive proposition, not only adding numbers centrally but also affording Joao Moutinho more of a chance to influence the attack. Moutinho, in for the suspended Tiemoué Bakayoko offers less of a physical presence than the former Rennes man, but with Dortmund only playing with one central midfielder, that is less of a concern.
In the pre-match press conference, Fabinho was expansive yet optimistic about his new partner, saying, “Without Bakayoko, I have a more defensive role; Moutinho will get forward more than me. But we’re used to playing with each other.” Familiarity will be key, then, as Moutinho, despite his gifts in attack, simply must contribute more than he did in Monaco’s last big match, the Coupe de la Ligue Final, where the Portuguese underwhelmed as a replacement for the suspended Fabinho.
To wit, both sides can be quietly confident in the quality of their attackers, but similarly wary about a mistake from their defenses. Monaco were lucky to beat Angers on Saturday, and while Bayern are certainly a sterner test than Le SCO, Dortmund looked equally wobbly last mid-week; better finishing from Hamburg could have seen HSV record an unlikely result. Dortmund probably just shade this encounter, given Monaco’s busy recent schedule and Guerreiro’s ballyhooed atmosphere, but much like it had been against Manchester City, the attacking prowess of both sides means the tie is unlikely to be decided until late next Wednesday.
Borussia Dortmund (4-1-4-1): Roman Bürki; Lukasz Pisczcek, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Marc Bartra, Marcel Schmelzer; Julian Weigl; Christian Pulisic, Shinji Kagawa, Raphaël Guerreiro, Ousmane Dembélé; Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng
AS Monaco (4-4-2): Danijel Subasic; Almamy Touré, Kamil Glik, Jemerson, Benjamin Mendy (or Andrea Raggi); Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar; Kylian Mbappé, Radamel Falcao
Predicted Score: Borussia Dortmund 4-2 AS Monaco