Borussia Dortmund facing off Barcelona at Signal Iduna Park already promises to be one of the most engaging encounters in this year’s Champions League. Both have a distinct philosophy and supreme talent at their disposal. Also, in recent years, both have a penchant for being unpredictable on big occasions. We saw it most prominently with Barcelona in their semi-final capitulation against Liverpool. Los Cules’ were leading 3-0 from the first leg following another Messi miracle. But he, Suarez, Coutinho and the rest, were humbled by a resplendent attacking display from Jurgen Klopp’s team.
This was the second year in a row that Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona have been the victims of a staggering comeback. In the 2017/18 campaign, it was Roma who were the beneficiaries of Barca’s apparent lack of backbone as they overturned a 4-1 first-leg defeat to win 3-0 at Stadio Olimpico.
It is, then, very surprising that Valverde is still in a job; even though he has won La Liga in successive seasons, the Catalan club’s expectations are so high that this alone simply isn’t good enough. The aim for them this season has to be to win the Champions League; they will focus on the league, of course, but given the option, one suspects that their preference will be Europe’s top competition.
With the impressive signings they have made over the summer, they have a team which is one of the best in Europe. Whether they can gel together or not remains to be seen, but the talent they have recruited is phenomenal. Antoine Griezmann finally came to Camp Nou after years and years of pursuit, and Frenkie De Jong, one of Ajax’s stars from the Amsterdam club’s breathtaking Champions League performance last term, was added too.
They failed to add Neymar despite trying very hard to do so, however, and this pursuit may have the negative knock-on effect of damaging squad morale, not least because the Barcelona hierarchy were prepared to offload up to five players in return for the Brazilian’s services. One of the positive consequences from the failed deal, however, is the emergence of Ansu Fati – the 16-year old is in electric form this season; he’s scored twice and assisted once. This almost certainly wouldn’t have happened had Neymar been present to take Fati’s favoured left-wing position.
Borussia Dortmund are a club that is seemingly in a perpetual state of transition given that they have a very tight wage structure and, as a result, have to offload star players regularly in order to operate in line with this. However, they almost always replace outgoing players brilliantly. For instance, this summer they lost Abdou Diallo to PSG but replaced him with Mats Hummels, the defender who is returning for his second spell with Dortmund.
They have done to hold on to certain players, too. Jadon Sancho was simply sensational last season and Borussia boss Lucien Favre has managed to retain his services despite intense Premier League interest.
Both teams are in a stronger position than they were last season and, for this reason, their clash is sure to be one to remember. Barca’s tiki-taka style and Dortmund’s gegenpressing, counterattacking brand are worlds apart. But, on the pitch, they will make for a fantastic game.