If Tottenham Hotspur appear to be repeating last season – third in the Premier League, out of both domestic cups and into the Champions League knockout round – Borussia Dortmund have undergone a much more dramatic regeneration.
BVB travel to Wembley on Wednesday night to face Spurs in the Champions League for the second year running. However, Tottenham fans hoping for another breathless 3-1 victory over the Germans may well have another thing coming.
Lucien Favre’s side have been this year’s continental treat; leaders of the Bundesliga, five points clear of Bayern Munich having lost just once this season.
Rejuvenated under the veteran Swiss coach, Dortmund have, for the most part, been a breath a fresh air and, most pertinently from Tottenham’s perspective, a much stronger unit than the one which shipped three goals on their last trip to London.
And yet, despite wowing Germany with an exhilarating brand of attacking football, they remain strangely similar in some ways, their fondness for the odd foray into self-destruction evident during Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Hoffenheim in which they frittered away a 3-0 lead to hand fresh hope to Bayern in the title race.
Here, we look at how Dortmund have changed but also how Spurs can unnerve their opponents and take a lead into the return leg at Signal Iduna Park in three weeks’ time.
The key difference for Dortmund will be the presence of a man born less than an hour away from Tottenham’s temporary home. Jadon Sancho joined the Germans from Manchester City in August 2017 but was not in the squad for either group stage meeting last season.
However, the 18-year-old is set to assume centre stage this week, fresh from adding yet another goal to his impressive portfolio in what has been a remarkable sophomore year in Germany.
Having been eased in last season, first by Peter Bosz and then by his successor Peter Stöger, with just seven Bundesliga starts, the England international has firmly established himself as one of Favre’s favourites, flourishing as one-time Dortmund wunderkind Christian Pulisic – due to join Chelsea for £58million in the summer – has had to make do with a place on the bench.
Sancho has sparkled in Favre’s aggressive, attacking system, which alternates between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1, with seven goals and nine assists. He’s been a livewire, too; he has completed 64 take-ons in the Bundesliga this term, 18 more than anyone else.
But he is just one of several changes to Dortmund’s attack from last year. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Andriy Yarmolenko, both of whom started at Wembley last season, are living in London now, for Arsenal and West Ham respectively.
Aubameyang, who netted four times for Dortmund against Spurs stretching back to their Europa League meetings in 2016, has been replaced shrewdly at the head of attack.
Michy Batshuayi scored nine times in 14 appearances on loan from Chelsea during the second half of the 2017/18 campaign and, after the Belgian moved onto Valencia, Paco Alcácer, a former Los Che favourite, has been a revelation.
The Spaniard, deemed surplus to requirements at Barcelona, has been reborn for The Yellow Wall, with the best goals per 90 ratio (1.67) in Europe’s top five leagues. Alcácer stunned Germany with his goals off the bench earlier in the season and, while he has occupied his fair share of space on the back pages over the last few months, it would be negligent to overlook the fine work of those further back.
Axel Witsel has been an outstanding addition to the side after joining from Tianjin Quanjian in the summer while Abdou Diallo and Manuel Akanji have formed a solid partnership in defence, with Achraf Hakimi, the 20-year-old Real Madrid loanee, also enhancing his reputation as one of the brightest prospects in his position.
Dortmund defending gives Spurs hope
Yet, even without Dele Alli and Harry Kane, the latter of whom starred against the Germans with three goals in two games last season, Mauricio Pochettino’s men can certainly deepen Dortmund’s Wembley woes.
Firstly, they will have been buoyed by news that talisman Marco Reus is likely to miss out through injury. The 29-year-old, whose career has been blighted by fitness setbacks, also missed both group encounters in 2017/18 and his absence will serve as a major blow to Favre’s men.
And Dortmund have recently demonstrated that they have not fully rid themselves of the defensive frailties that caused them to ship 47 goals in the Bundesliga last year.
After exiting the DFB Pokal last week to Werder Bremen on penalties after a 3-3 draw in which Dortmund twice let a lead slip, they squandered a seemingly unassailable three-goal cushion to drop two points against Hoffenheim on Saturday.
What won’t have eluded Pochettino was the nature of Hoffenheim’s goals, all three of which came from crosses into the box. With Kane out and Fernando Llorente likely to lead the attack, Spurs will feel that, with Christian Eriksen‘s powers of playmaking coupled with the Spaniard’s aerial prowess, they can hurt a Dortmund back-line which has kept just one clean sheet in their last ten games.
This is a different Dortmund side to the one Spurs have faced in previous years.
But, while they have reached the summit of German football, they are far from infallible.
Considering the quality on display in both sides, we could be in for another Champions League thriller at Wembley.