Málaga could be considered lucky to have survived today at the Rosaleda if they didn’t know what they had in Willy Caballero. Along with Atlético Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, the Argentine veteran has been among the best goalkeepers in Spain this season, so when he saved two one-on-ones in the first half against Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze, Málaga may have been more relieved than thankful. Good players make good plays.
That thankful feeling could apply to the entirety of today’s 0-0 in Spain, with Borussia Dortmund finishing their road leg with a valuable draw. Win at home next Tuesday (as they’re always favored to do) and BVB returns to their first semifinal in 15 years, though if they give up a goal, Dortmund will be subjected to the precarious nature of the away goals rule. A score draw next week in Germany, and Borussia Dortmund crashes out.
That’s why Manuel Pellegrini won’t be too upset with today’s result. From a certain angle the draw could be seen as BVB breaking serve, but Pellegrini said before the match that he felt this tie would be settled in Dortmund. He was as concerned with keeping a clean sheet tonight as he was winning the match (perhaps him just being pragmatic with his goals). Undoubtedly, he was preparing his team for this eventuality, meaning today’s result is less of a setback than a point on in a journey. If Málaga can take their typical opportunism to the Westfalenstadion and find the first goal, Pellegrini’s longview approach will have paid off.
But there are things the Spaniards need to address over the next week. They dealt poorly with Dortmund’s high pressure, meaning they need to develop another way to move the ball through the middle third if they’re going to create a goal on Tuesday. At the other end, Málaga’s highest players in defense weren’t able to reciprocate BVB’s intensity, giving the Germans too much time to work while often drawing one of Málaga’s sitters too far (and too aimlessly) into midfield.
Thankfully for Pellegrini, these are issues of tactics, not personnel. For all the advantages Dortmund had on Wednesday, Málaga was still able to pose a number of threats on Roman Weidenfeller’s goal. It’s not difficult to see a couple of tweaks keeping them close enough to take next week’s leg with a set piece or a BVB mistake. They’re certainly in the same league as Dortmund.
But the small gap between Dortmund and Málaga was still crystal clear. As we knew coming into today’s match, BVB is the probably the better side. They’ve got the better players, their system allows them to be more dangerous, and thanks to a tough Champions League group, they’ve already been tested. They’ll rightfully be clear favorites to advance nest week.
Unfortunately for them, their inability to beat Caballero means Pellegrini still has a chance to steal this tie. He may not have BVB right where he wants them, but he has them right where he can beat them.