For Borussia Dortmund, progression into the quarter-finals of the Champions League looks unlikely. They trail 3-0 from their last 16 first leg against Tottenham and know that if their visitors find the net on Tuesday evening, they will need to score five.
Lucien Favre’s side, then, are very much the underdogs ahead of this one. Though they remain top of the Bundesliga, Dortmund’s recent form will not have inspired confidence.
Dortmund have won just one of their last seven in all competitions, falling to another defeat last weekend against lowly Augsburg. A gap at the top of the Bundesliga that was once nine points has now been clawed back by Bayern, who are below their rivals only on goal difference.
This slump in form has come at a difficult time for Dortmund. Their excellent start to the season, in which they established a significant lead at the top of the German top flight and topped their Champions League group ahead of Atletico Madrid, is in danger of counting for nothing.
Favre and his players will, of course, hope that they can salvage something from their second leg clash with Spurs. At what is certain to be a noisy and intimidating Westfalenstadion, Dortmund are capable of overturning a deficit that might seem insurmountable.
It remains to be seen whether joint-top scorer Marco Reus will be ready to return to action after another spell on the sidelines with injury. Dortmund will need big performances, though, from their other key players: Paco Alcacer and English youngster Jadon Sancho. The attacking duo have 23 goals between them this season.
And goals are very much Dortmund’s strong point. Even during this dip in form, they have continued to find the net freely. But clean sheets have been noticeable by their absence. Favre’s side have managed just two in their last ten games in all competitions.
It is imperative that they keep one on Tuesday night, and they may find some encouragement in Tottenham’s form since the two teams last met at Wembley.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have failed to win in their last three league games, falling to defeats against Burnley and Chelsea and just about managing a point in the north London derby against Arsenal.
It has not been convincing from Tottenham, who will no doubt be aware that their job is not yet done ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Germany. Spurs are yet to keep a clean sheet away from home in the Champions League this season and face a Dortmund side that put four past Atletico in the group stages.
Tottenham will likely feel confident, though, in their ability to score at least once. Harry Kane has immediately got back to scoring ways since his return from injury against Burnley. Son Heung-min, too, with an expected goals per 90 this season of 0.35, will pose a threat once again for a potentially vulnerable Dortmund defence.
This is a game in which the first goal will be crucial. If Tottenham get it, they are all but through to the last eight. If Dortmund score early, though, there may be an outside chance of a dramatic comeback.
Tuesday night’s other last 16 clash sees the current champions of Europe, Real Madrid, host Ajax. Los Blancos have a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Amsterdam and are expected to progress comfortably.
This, though, has been a strange season for Real Madrid. Since beating Ajax, Santiago Solari’s side have fallen to a shock home defeat against Girona in La Liga. They have also been beaten twice by Barcelona at the Bernabeu, once in the Copa del Rey quarter-final and once in the league.
These results have left Real Madrid way off the pace at the top of La Liga. The mood around the club, then, ahead of Tuesday night’s game against Ajax, is hardly one of unanimous positivity. But there is something about Los Blancos in Europe’s elite competition.
Real Madrid are searching for their fourth successive Champions League title, their fifth in six seasons. If they were to win it again this year, it would certainly be the most remarkable of them all.
First, though, they must overcome Ajax, who are not yet out of this tie. Erik ten Hag’s side will need to score at least twice at the Bernabeu, but that is not an impossibility given the way Real Madrid have defended against lesser opposition throughout the season. In fact, Solari’s side have conceded chances worth 1.36 expected goals per game in La Liga this season, higher than nine other teams in the division.
And on Tuesday, Real Madrid face off against an incredibly free scoring Ajax side. The Dutch team have hit 82 goals in just 23 league games this season, ten of which came in their last two games. They head into this one in confident mood, too, off the back of a 3-0 win over Feyenoord in the KNVB Cup.
Real Madrid will hope to exploit Ajax’s defensive deficiencies to put the game beyond their visitors. If they don’t, they might find they are punished at the other end of the pitch.
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