Champions League Preview : AS Monaco v Borussia Dortmund
After a first leg in which the focus was hardly on football, following a nerve-shattering attack on Dortmund’s team bus, Die Schwarzgelben make the trip to Monaco ready to overcome a 3-2 deficit from the first leg. Like the Ligue 1 leaders, they won at the weekend, but it was far from a stirring performance. Unlike Monaco, however, Dortmund did play a very strong line-up; of the players who had started at the Westfalenstadion last mid-week, eight were in the eleven against Frankfurt. Two more of that eleven came on to play 45 minutes, meaning fatigue could be an issue for Thomas Tuchel’s men, Monaco having rotated more comprehensively against Dijon.
Monaco do have a shorter squad than their opponents, which should see both teams be equally dead on their feet by this point in the season as they continue to fight on three fronts. More to the point, then, will be how Tuchel continues to address the tactical mess he offered up in the first half last week. Without Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibé, Monaco would offer less of a threat in wide areas, yet the Dortmund manager started the match with a three-man defense with Matthias Ginter and Marcel Schmelzer as wing-backs. The pair are capable defenders, but are far from menacing going forward, which gave Almamy Touré and Andrea Raggi, deputizing for the two France internationals, far too easy a time.
At the interval, he brought on Christian Pulisic and Nuri Sahin, shifting Raphaël Guerreiro to the left wing. This allowed Dortmund to chase the game with attacking players in the wide areas, while also adding a genuine box-to-box presence in midfield; none of Guerreiro, Julian Weigl or Shinji Kagawa are totally comfortable in that role, and the difference told, as Monaco were only able to get the odd counterattack away against the hosts. One of those did result in a goal, but seeking genuine width, Tuchel should keep with that 4-1-4-1, perhaps with Pulisic remaining an option off the bench and Guerreiro starting on the left.
Marco Reus is fit again, and there might be a temptation on the part of Tuchel to start the German international, but given his long injury lay-off that seems a risky proposition, especially if he is unable to last ninety minutes and potentially extra time. The rest of the team picks itself, with Marc Bartra still recovering from an arm injury suffered in the attack and Erik Durm only half-fit. Matthias Ginter should drop into central defense to partner Sokratis, with Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek playing at fullback and Julian Weigl the lone defensive midfielder behind Sahin and Kagawa.
For Monaco, things are more cut and dried, with one change enforced and one the result of a player’s return to fitness. Benjamin Mendy, who has been hugely impressive in the Champions’ League (cf. the wins over Spurs and Manchester City) comes in for Raggi at left back, and, with Fabinho suspended, Joao Moutinho keeps his place in midfield, partnering Tiemoué Bakayoko, himself returning from missing the first leg through suspension. Djibril Sidibé continues to recover from appendicitis, meaning the youngster Almamy Touré stays in at right back, and the strikers, wide midfielders and centre backs will be as you were, barring any late fitness issues.
The question surrounding Monaco, then, is not tactics and personnel, but how they will approach the match. Leonardo Jardim’s earliest Monaco sides were incredibly sound defensively, to the point of being negative, but this year’s model is much more attack-minded. In yesterday’s press conferences, both Jardim and Radamel Falcao were emphatic that would continue to be the case, the manager saying, “Our team are used to playing a certain way and we won’t change our DNA. Maybe we’ll need to score to go through.” Falcao was also resolute: “We know that tomorrow is a final, but we must respect our playing principles. It’s up to us to play like we have done since the beginning of the season.” Monaco have never given any false impressions in this regard, and we should expect another attack-minded affair, with the hosts slight favorites given their three away goals.
AS Monaco (4-4-2): Danijel Subasic; Almamy Touré, Kamil Glik, Jemerson, Benjamin Mendy; Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar; Radamel Falcao, Kylian Mbappé
Borussia Dortmund (4-1-4-1): Roman Bürki; Lukasz Piszczek, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Matthias Ginter, Marcel Schmelzer; Julian Weigl; Ousmane Dembélé, Shinji Kagawa, Nuri Sahin, Raphaël Guerreiro; Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng
Predicted Score: AS Monaco 2-2 Borussia Dortmund