Sebastian Kehl

Champions League Preview: Málaga’s one advantage over Borussia Dortmund

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Manuel Pellegrini has been here before: Seven years ago, when the current Málaga boss was leading another tournament debutant to a surprise Champions League run. Back in 2006 the debutant was Villarreal, with the Yellow Submarine tasked with derailing a characteristically talented Internazionale in the quarterfinal round. Turning around a 2-1 first leg loss at the San Siro, Villarreal used Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s looping 56th minute free kick and a clean sheet upset the Nerazzurri, launching the upstart Valencians into an improbable Champions League semifinal.

Squint until you can’t see the details, and Pellegrini’s current team looks awfully similar. This is Málaga’s club first appearance in Champions League, and like that Villarreal team, a star playmaker is at the center of its success: Juan Roman Riquelme back then; 20-year-old Isco now. With the likes of Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal and Solamon Rondón having departed over the last year, Málaga’s resembles the solid but superstar-light club team that eventually lost to Arsenal. And just as this Málaga team has Isco heading the underrated contributions of Willy Caballero, Jeremy Toulálán, and Weligton, Villarreal had only Riquelme and Diego Forlán to claim as star attractions.

But whether he’s had them or not, Pellegrini’s never needed those star attractions to have success. At Villarreal, Real Madrid, Málaga or his various stops in South America before jumping to Europe, Pellegrini’s teams have always been built on the same principles. Strong in possession but conservative with their chances, the Chilean’s teams have typically waited for opportunities present themselves. When they do, his sides act directly and with confidence. In that way, most of Pellegrini’s tactics are worked out on the training ground, his methods eschewing constant tweaks and adjustments in favor of a consistency that’s regularly produced competitive sides.

(MORE, from Tuesday: PSG-Barça inconclusive | Bayern illustrates the gap to Juventus.)

It’s why Pellegrini has won titles in three different leagues with four different clubs. It’s why his teams have always competed near the top of La Liga, even when his Villarreal and Málaga teams have been outgunned by their competition. It’s why former Chile international produced a then-club record 96-point season during his only campaign with Real Madrid.

It’s also why people may be taking his current team for granted in their quarterfinal with Borussia Dortmund, a tie that kicks of Wednesday in Spain. And given the three-year buildup that’s gone into this Dortmund team, it’s understandable. BVB has one of the most talented teams in Europe, and after two straight titles in Germany, there is a sense that the team’s Champions League time is now. Unless their opponent has the name value of Real, Barcelona, or Bayern, Dortmund is going to be favored to go through.

But that’s where Pellegrini’s experience matters, the Málaga coach having previous defied the odds. In 2006, his Yellow Submarine went up against a team with Adriano, Luis Figo, Esteban Cambiasso, Juan Sebastian Veron, Javier Zanetti, Marco Materazzi, Walter Samuel, and Julio Cruz. And he managed to move past them.

source: Getty ImagesSo Dortmund have Robert Lewandowski (right), who has scored 12 goals in his last 12 appearances. They have Mario Gotze and Marco Reus behind him, Ilkay Gundogan in midfield, with Neven Subotic and Lukasz Piszczek in defense. At almost every position, they have players who would best their Málaga counterparts.

But none of that guarantees Dortmund will go through. Between two teams with little Champions League experience in their squads, Málaga has one thing that BVB lacks: Someone who has been here before.

(MORE, Highlights: PSG-Barcelona | Bayern-Juventus.)

Notes

  • Borussia Dortmund will be without Mats Hummels, the central defender having yet to recover from his ankle injury. Felipe Santana will start along side Subotic.
  • Jakub Blaszczykowski could already return, the winger having been held out of Saturday’s game at Stuttgart after picking up an injury while with Poland.
  • Marcel Schmelzer and Sebastian Kehl should also be available despite knocks. Each with in the team on Saturday.
  • After Juventus lost on Tuesday, Dortmund are the only team without a loss in the year’s Champions League. Málaga have only lost once: Last round at Porto.
  • On Saturday, Pellegrini started Julio Baptista alone up top at Rayo Vallecano, hinting Roque Santa Cruz could get the call on Wednesday.
  • With only 28 goals allowed, Málaga have the second-best defensive record in Spain. In five matches at home in this year’s Champions League, Pellegrini’s side has kept four clean sheets.

(MORE: Gala looks for breakthrough at Real Madrid.)

Possible lineups

Málaga (4-4-2): Willy Caballero; Antunes, Weligton, Martín Demichelis, Jesús Gamez; Isco, Iturra, Jeremey Toulálán; Javier Saviola, Roque Santa Cruz.

Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Roman Weidenfeller; Marcel Schmelzer, Felipe Santan, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek; Ilkay Gudongan, Sebastian Kehl; Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Jakub Blaszczykowski; Robert Lewandowski.

Hamburg show Borussia Dortmund have work to do before Champions League

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Borussia Dortmund’s 4-1 loss Saturday to Hamburg was the defending German champions’ worst home defeat since 2008, a shocking outcome for a team that was supposed to be gearing up for Champions League. If their mid-week opponents (Shakhtar Donetsk) happened to be watching, they’d take nothing but encouragement from a poor defensive performance from team that never recovered from a controversial sending off.

That incident happened in the 31st minute with Hamburg already up 2-1. Robert Lewandowski showed up Hamburg defender Hieko Westermann for a 17th minute opener only to see beautiful goals from Artjoms Rudnevs (a team effort) and Son Heung-Min (his own work) give the visitors the lead. Five minutes later, a late challenge that saw Lewandowski go foot-to-foot with on Hamburg midfielder Per Skjelbred earned the Polish international straight red, a punishment that arrived after Hamburg captain Rafael van der Vaart appeared to escalate the situation by hastily confronting Lewandowski before appealing for red after Sebastian Kehl shoved him to the ground.

Hamburg never took advantage of Dortmund’s shock, though. By the 59th minute, they were also reduced to 10 after defender Jeffrey Bruma saw straight red. The dismissal seemed to awaken Hamburg, who took advantage of uncharacteristically bad Dortmund defending to craft Rudnevs and Son’s second goals.

The doubles completed a banner day for Hamburg, one that moves them into fifth place in the Bundesliga. For team that started the season near the drop (after a 2011-12 campaign spent battling relegation), completing a double over the defending champions could prove a solidifying event. If there was any doubt  Hamburg would slip back into mediocrity, today’s result should placate it.

And the way they won should bring some deserved attention to one of the league’s best attacking tandems. In a time where the 4-2-3-1 formation has become a default, you don’t often see two forwards leading an attack. Yet thanks to the re-acquisition of van der Vaart, Rudnevs and Son having established themselves as a rare duel threat, Son’s ability to play wide complementing his Latvian partner. After today’s haul, the duo’s combined for 19 league goals.

Dortmund must now answer the question teams face whenever they’re handed an aberrational result: How much do you chalk up to a bad day, and how much hints at something that’s breaking down? Given defender Neven Subotic and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan were handed days off (Gundogan did come in late), head coach Jurgen Kloppp has reason to believe this is a one-off.

The disturbing part will be how Hamburg scored their goals: Long passes down the flanks and behind the fullbacks extending a defense that couldn’t adjust. Given how Shakhtar plays, it’s not difficult to see the Ukrainian champions using the same approach. With Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Ilsinho wide, Shakhtar can get behind Lukasz Pizszcek and Sven Bender. Fullbacks Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat have the experience and ability to find them, while striker Luiz Adriano and attacking midfielder Henrikh Wkhitaryan can mimic HSV’s goal scorers.

One-off or not, Hamburg exposed something in Dortmund that can taken advantage of. Klopp will have to solve the problem before re-starting BVB’s Champions League campaign.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdZPWGSg6Ec]

Jose Mourinho calls Germany’s Borussia Dortmund contenders to take Champions League

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Is Borussia Dortmund ready to take the next step, to join the likes of Real Madrid, Milan and Manchester United as true Champions League contenders?

Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho believes so.

Or it could just be that Mourinho is making nice before their team’s UEFA Champions League clash today at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. (The match is on Fox Soccer Plus at 2:30 p.m. ET, or on delay on Fox Soccer Channel at 5 p.m.)

What Mourinho said:

I’m worried about the whole Borussia Dortmund team. It is no coincidence that they have won the last two league titles in Germany or that they are top of the most difficult group in this season’s Champions League. They are a very strong team with very physical, quick players. If they reach the next round they will be candidates to win the trophy.”

By the way, Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl has been fitted with a mask after breaking his nose in a weekend draw with Stuttgart; he remains questionable for today’s contest, however.