In a group with three stand out teams, one squad will always get a relative “week off,” though that doesn’t guarantee points. On Tuesday, Juventus squandered their break in Copenhagen, dropping points against Nordsjaelland. Today, Manchester City will try to avoid the same end on their trip to Amsterdam.
Meanwhile in Germany, Real Madrid has a chance to put Group D under their thumb. A win over Dortmund will not only see them sweep their first three games, it will also give last year’s semifinalists at least a four-point lead on the rest of the group. If Manchester City slip, the lead could be five.
Borussia Dortmund (Germany) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)
Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
We all know what to expect from Real Madrid: The steadiness of Iker Casillas in goal; The potency of Cristiano Ronaldo in attack; The steal that head coach José Mourinho injects into each of this players. Los Merengues are as good as any team in the world.
Borussia Dortmund, on the other hand, is less of a certainty. Consider their last two big games. Three weeks ago, BVB went to the Etihad Stadium and had a break through against Manchester City, giving their best European under Jurgen Klopp. This weekend, however, Dortmund lost at home to Schalke, not only dropping a derbybut also losing more ground on Bayern Munich.
This is the point where we’d usually discuss which BVB is most likely to show up, but there’s no telling how they’ll respond against Real Madrid until Wednesday night’s kickoff. Can Robert Lewandowki, Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Jakub Błaszczykowski succeed against a Real Madrid defense that has contained some of the world’s the best attacks. Can Lukasz Piszczek hold off Ronaldo while Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic play mistake-free soccer against Karim Benzema? Who knows?
As successful as Borussia Dortmund have been over the last two years, we’re not close to answering these are questions. On Wednesday, we start gathering information.
From Borussia Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp:
“They were tactically disciplined, quick, showed anticipation, pressed and counterattacked while playing football of a high technical standard. That left quite an impression.”
From Real Madrid head coach José Mourinho:
” We know how dynamic they are, how gifted and how quick they play, but they do have little weaknesses which we plan to exploit.”
Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Manchester City (England)
Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Ajax is the fourth of three in a group of death that’s not, but with Manchester City visiting the Amersterdam ArenA, the Dutch champions presented with one of their few chances to have an impact on the group. Ajax aren’t strong enough to do damage away from home, and last round they were reminded Real Madrid can still have their way in the Netherlands. But hosting Manchester City? Or Borussia Dortmund? With those teams still maturing into European powers, points might be there for the taking.
This all assumes Ajax can actually play well, something that hasn’t been a given in recent weeks. Back-to-back Eredivisie draws have Frank de Boer’s team five points off FC Twente’s pace. Though they’ve yet to lose in league, Ajax has only won four of nine matches. It’s hardly the type of record that portends an ability to compete with England’s champions.
Manchester City, for all the critiques that can be made about their performance in Champions League, has actually been somewhat consistent in the eight group stage games they played over the last two tournaments. They’re able to compete with the teams that are threats to get out of the group (Bayern and Napoli last year, Real Madrid and Dortmund this year) but take care of business against the weakest link. City picked up six points from Villarreal last year, outscoring the Yellow Submarine 6-1.
In theory, the results indicate of a level of play right below that of a tournament contender. While that’s a very high standard, it’s below Manchester City’s aspirations. It’s also consistent with a rather comfortable victory today.
If Ajax is the Villarreal of this year’s toughest group, Manchester City probably won’t have a problem.
From Ajax head coach Frank de Boer:
If we want to survive in Europe we need a result from this match and that’s our goal … Our team is learning so let’s hope they are quick students.
From Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini
“” We don’t have experience as a club but all our players have experience in the Champions League. Maybe as a club we need to get experience in the Champions League, but we have players with that experience.”