Dortmund's fragile defence will be exposed by Madrid's potent attack
Yes, Borussia Dortmund are top of the Bundesliga after six matchdays with a goal difference of 19-1, and yes, Saturday's 6-1 win against Borussia Monchengladbach was an impressive display of power; but in the Champions League on Tuesday, they will lose against Real Madrid on home soil for the first time.
It's a prediction that is easy to make and on second look hardly controversial because the Black and Yellows can't defend -- at least not against a team like Real Madrid.
Peter Bosz has installed a 4-3-3 system at Dortmund that is designed to press their opponents far up the field. He demands his players to regain possession within four seconds once it's lost.
"He tells us to already be close to our opponents when we still have the ball so we can prevent counter-attacks when we lose the ball by not awarding them any space," goalkeeper Roman Burki explained after Dortmund's 3-0 win in Hamburg. "Oftentimes we win the ball back after four seconds because it's our aim for our opponents to have as little possession possible and to be unable to do anything dangerous with it."
As a result of that playing style, the Ruhr side enjoy the highest possession in the Bundesliga, averaging 71.2 percent. They also allowed the fewest shots (43) after six matchdays, with only 15 finding the target.
And 3.77 expected goals against Dortmund's defence suggest that they are poised to concede 0.62 goals per match, according to that statistic, and explains to some extent why their defence was beaten once in six games. Thus it would be harsh to say that Bosz's defence isn't working, but another factor of BVB's outstanding defensive record has been the inability of opponents to take advantage of their very obvious vulnerability to counter-attacks.
"We also could have scored five goals today," a disgruntled Dieter Hecking said at the post-match news conference after his Foals suffered a tennis-score defeat. The 53-year-old Gladbach coach was right.
Dortmund did allow the visitors several great counter-attacking chances on Saturday and the guests had only themselves to blame for not taking the lead and steering the match in a different direction.
Thorgan Hazard, Lars Stindl and Raffael found themselves in acres of space multiple times in the first half, beating central defenders Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Omer Toprak on pace, and often outnumbering BVB's yellow shirts in front of Burki. Be it a Julian Weigl giveaway in midfield, a simple ball over the top by a Gladbach full-back or a blatant backpass by Lukasz Piszczek into the feet of Raffael, there were far too many lapses that invited the guests to carve Dortmund's defence open like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Gladbach failed to make the most of it, steering most of their shots right at Burki. However, it was glaring evidence that Dortmund still allow far too many high-quality chances, something high-quality opposition will take advantage of as Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane excellently displayed in BVB's infamous 3-1 loss at Wembley, where they ran into a knife.
"Real Madrid would have punished that in a different manner, you have to be blunt about this," sporting director Michael Zorc said on Saturday about Gladbach's missed chances. And Real Madrid will punish that on Tuesday night, there are no two ways about it.
Los Blancos are yet to win a competitive match in Dortmund but Bosz's high defensive line will be a neat invitation for Zidine Zidane's team to exploit Dortmund's lack of pace at the back. Tuesday's guests are in need of positive headlines after a handful of bad results in La Liga sees them seven points behind league leaders Barcelona and have little reason to take this Champions League group lightly with Tottenham looking to be a potent side this time around.
After losing at Wembley, the Black and Yellows are already under pressure and need to grab at least a point on Tuesday in order to keep their chances of advancing from Group H intact.
"We're in a good form and full of confidence," Mario Gotze said at Monday's prematch news conference, after his side put three league wins together within seven days against Cologne, Hamburg and Gladbach, scoring a whopping 14 goals in the process.
BVB's attacking department is in superb form, and it almost doesn't matter who Bosz picks in his starting lineup against the Spanish giants. Any of Maximilian Philipp, Christian Pulisic, Andriy Yarmolenko and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will definitely find ways to hurt Madrid on Tuesday. But in games where both teams boast strong attacks, it is usually the defence that determines the winners.
Asked whether pressing high up the field against Real will work, the Dortmund coach said: "It's possible. But we have to do it well, otherwise it'll look bad."
Thus far, his team has shown too many frailties to suggest that it would be possible. Especially right-back Piszczek had too many bad giveaways in recent matches to instill confidence that he will keep his side shut against Cristiano Ronaldo.
Even without the injured Karim Benzema, Real Madrid should find plenty of opportunities against Dortmund on Tuesday. Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Ronaldo simply have too much pace and quality up front. And Zidane has shown in last year's 2-2 draw in Dortmund that he is willing to let his team sit back and wait for counter-attacks.
As for Bosz, he has the chance to prove this writer wrong and show that BVB are indeed capable of avoiding running into the knife again, as they did over large stages against Tottenham, but recent events suggest that this will be a high-scoring match with Madrid coming out on top. For neutrals, this should be the one to watch.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.