Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid, Wednesday, 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports 2
AFTER watching an exquisitely executed and well-timed “falling leaf” of a free-kick from Mesut Ozil bounce in off the post in the 88th minute of their second encounter with Borussia Dortmund in the group stages of the Champions League this season, a goal that rescued his Real Madrid team from the brink of defeat at home, coach Jose Mourinho made a prediction. “If they go through,” he said, “they are candidates to win the tournament.”
Dortmund had been unlucky to draw 2-2 at the Bernabeu. The consensus was they'd deserved to go back to back against Real.
And it was now abundantly clear, if any further proof were necessary, their 2-1 victory at the Westfalenstadion a fortnight earlier had been no fluke. Dortmund had taken four points off Real and would unexpectedly win this season's Group of Death in the Champions League. Coach Jurgen Klopp and his team were hailed across Europe.
The question is: Can they repeat the feat when it really matters in the knockout stages? A glance at the exchange reveals the market isn't as confident as you might expect after those performances in the winter.
Real are slight favourites to win at the Westfalenstadion. They're trading at 2.62 to Dortmund's 2.88 and the nine-time winners are even shorter to qualify too at 1.49 whereas the German pretenders can be backed at 3.0.
Why is that then? Well, just like in 1998 when these sides last met in the Champions League semi-finals, Real are out of the title race in La Liga and this is their sole focus.
They went through then, albeit after a farcical first leg, which was delayed for 75 minutes when a goal collapsed before kick-off at the Bernabeu, an incident that led Dortmund, who lost 2-0 on the night, to protest and ask they be awarded a 3-0 win by default.
UEFA refused and Real, after drawing 0-0 in Germany, went through to the Final where they beat Juventus to win the competition.
Will history repeat itself? Real can be backed to lift the trophy for a historic 10th time at 3.3. Mourinho, you suspect, will also be under no illusion as to the significance of how the outcome of this tie will define his legacy at the club.
But wait a minute: Aren't Dortmund in more or less the same situation as Real? The success or failure of their season rests on this tie too. The Bundesliga has gone. So too has the German Cup. It all comes down to this.
Klopp also knows how to beat them. In an interview with El Pais before Real Madrid played Manchester United in the round of 16 he revealed his game plan.
He said: “We knew where they send their passes, how they look for Cristiano. Our plan was to take Xabi Alonso out of the game. Because if Alonso is allowed to play how he wants it's impossible to defend against Madrid. And Gotze covered him. We knew if our wide players, Piszczek and Schmelzer move a lot, the advantage was ours on Cristiano's side of the pitch. If you block Xabi you oblige Pepe to always keep the ball.”
One expects, though, Mourinho will have prepared a series of counter measures. He's no fool. After playing two games against Dortmund you anticipate he will have figured them out.
Remember, Mourinho's Inter side drew and lost to Barcelona in the group stages before surprisingly knocking them in the semi-finals back in 2010. They'd clearly learned from their earlier experiences against them and that was to their advantage.
Having said that, Dortmund have won all of their Champions League home games this season, while Real have claimed victory on the road just twice – first away to Ajax then at Manchester United when, as Mourinho said “the best team lost.” One nil down, they turned things around to win 2-1 only after Nani's sending-off.
With that in mind, why not back Dortmund to win at 2.88.
Back Dortmund to win @ 2.88