Juventus must be at their best in order to beat wounded, dangerous Dortmund
Alas, the trending hashtag #PrayForMonaco on Twitter hasn't yielded the desired result. Juventus will be facing Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League round of 16. They may not be the worst opponent to face but things could have certainly turned out better for the Italian Champions.
However, a difficult challenge may be a blessing in disguise for the Old Lady. There is nothing that helps build momentum than achieving victory against impressive opponents and Borussia Dortmund certainly are that -- at least in Europe. While they may be suffering domestically, failing to win matches by playing their usual style of swashbuckling football, they at least understand the demands of Europe and play with confidence and intelligence.
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In fairness, their Champions League group was not the hardest despite the illusion. Anderlecht have little experience and even less quality regardless of their heart and soul, while this may well be the worst Galatasaray we have seen in years, a side so void of defensive ability and leadership skills it belies belief. Arsenal were certainly the toughest challengers in the group but their defensive weakness and constant injuries have robbed them of the ability to play with the consistency required at this stage.
As such Dortmund have enjoyed their European experience, happily demonstrating their pace and experience to accumulate points. Sadly for them, the same cannot be said of their domestic form -- many have pointed to injuries as being the key reason. While Jurgen Klopp's men have hardly been the luckiest, consistently losing their key men to Bayern Munich or injuries, but it simply cannot be their sole reason of failure.
Jurgen Klopp may be one of the best coaches in the modern era but his high-intensity brand of football requires exemplary levels of fitness and complete dedication to the cause. There's only so much a man can do to inspire his squad year after year as after a while, the exhaustion takes over, both mentally and physically. With a squad that is incessantly nursing aches and pains, Klopp is finding it hard for his team to manage a positive domestic run.
While he adores the counter-attacking direct style of play that has annoyed Bayern Munich and achieved some glorious wins in recent years, their opponents in the league have grown accustomed to this particular style of play and are more adept at neutralising it -- some teams force Dortmund to keep possession until mistakes are made.
Despite this, Die Schwarzgelben still create plenty of chances and score often. In fact only Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen have produced more shots on goal in the Bundesliga thus far this season. Dortmund's problem is their inefficiency in front of goal; they've managed just nine from open play. They're also converting fewer set pieces; last season they grabbed 24 goals via that route and in this department, the loss of Robert Lewandowski is keenly felt. Not only was he a striker capable of all types of goals but tactically he helped occupy defenders.
It hardly helps that Marco Reus is also barely available these days. With transfer rumours swirling around and injuries he simply cant recover from, his impact has been sorely missed. Not only did he score goals, create opportunities and shoot but he was also the top assist maker in the league last season.
While Italy are proud of Ciro Immobile, he has so far failed to live up to expectations at Dortmund. He requires certain players around him to excel and isn't yet up to the standard required for a footballing giant. His movements are great, his determination visible but his feet don't move fast enough nor is he the most technical of players. He is a man who prefers to work without the pressure so when little is expected from him, he knows how to perform but ask him to make the difference and he stammers.
Yes despite the injuries, the worrying performances of goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller and Klopp's growing disillusion, this is still a well organised and opportunistic side. They are a match for any team simply because they boast creativity, quality and most importantly, pace -- one quality that tends to hurt Italian sides. Playing against them will require even more maturity and intelligence than against Atletico.
Juventus must study Real Madrid's performance against them last season to better understand how they can achieve a victory. For one thing, Dortmund's central defenders are error-prone when overwhelmed and singled out. If Allegri can ask Fernando Llorente and another to busy the centre-backs, the gaps are their to be exposed.
Secondly, they draw out fouls in good areas so it's important to not be reckless or give away the ball in the central areas. One Andrea Pirlo misplaced pass and the Bianconeri will have to be prepared for the onslaught. Considering Juve's new formation tends to leave their centre-backs exposed to one-on-one situations, the team must be compact and flexible to ensure defensive stability.
Most in Italy feel this will be a balanced game and the result difficult to predict as both sides boast incredible talent. Dortmund may be struggling at the moment but come February, things could have drastically changed, especially after the winter break and with a renewed vigour to achieve something in Europe considering their dismal domestic form.
This is the most prestigious competition in Europe so if Juve want to be the best then they have to beat the best. Until then, it's time to return to winning ways in Serie A.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.