European football expert Graham Hunter (@bumpergraham) is predicting Real Madrid’s experience and composure will prove key in getting a positive result in tonight’s Champions League semi-final with Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
If it’s not to be a complete Bundesliga domination of this week’s Champions League semi finals then, ironically, Real Madrid might depend on a German to restore some La Liga pride.
Mesut Ozil has become a world class footballer under Jose Mourinho. He arrived in Spain as a young man of patent talent but the physical training at Madrid has not only completely altered his stamina (no longer is it a trademark that he’s subbed after 70 minutes) but given him significantly more top-body strength with which to hold off challenges and to buy himself space.
But, more than that, this game is a local derby against ‘the enemy’ for him. Born 35 minutes away from the Dortmund’s amazing Signal Iduna Park and originally a Schalke 04 youth talent, Ozil has always loved a tussle with the ScharzGelb (Black and Yellow).
How Ozil became the key man
Perhaps there’s something Pavlovian about the German midfielder’s response to facing Dortmund but having shone against them domestically for Schalke and Bremen, Özil was then probably the stand-out performer in the two Group D games between the sides earlier this season.
Away from home, admittedly in defeat, his was the clever lofted assist-pass which helped Cristiano Ronaldo score almost instantly after going behind to Robert Lewandowski’s opener.
In the return match it was the Real Madrid No 10 whose left-footed cross dropped perfectly for Pepe to head home the first equaliser and, again, it was Özil who squared the game in the last seconds thanks to a daring free kick which slid in at Roman Weidenfeller’s left hand post.
Again on the positive side for the reigning Spanish champions Ronaldo is on the most powerful, convincing and enjoyable form of his entire career. Beyond all the normal talent, power, height, free kicks, pace and heading ability there’s no missing the fact that since the Ballon D’Or went to Leo Messi in January the Portuguese has quietly got on with dominating Spanish football and putting himself in a position to rob Messi of the Champions League top scorer award for the first time in five seasons.
What’s more, he’s also a more complete team player than ever before. Previously there were uneven comparisons between Ronaldo and Messi in terms of goal assists but, again, CR7 has begun to close the gap and has been generous this season, in La Liga and the Champions League, in giving goals to Benzema, Higuain (who’ll start tonight) Ozil and Di Maria.
On that subject Mourinho will use Diego: Ramos, Pepe, Varane, Coentrao, Alonso, Khedira, Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo and Higuain tonight.
Pepe is the weak link
One man who’ll have to completely change his level of performance from the group games is Pepe. He gave away possession, allowed a shot to go right under his boot and was outjumped by Robert Lewandowski for three of the four goals in Group D which gave Jurgen Klopp’s team a win and a draw.
Important to Madrid in terms of height, power and pace Pepe is also a player who is notoriously capable of losing concentration and of losing his head. It will be a volatile atmosphere at Signal Iduna, Lewandowski says he’s fully fit and this is going to be a test for the Portugal international.
If he improves from his last two meetings with Dortmund and if Ozil and Ronaldo hit their marks then Madrid have the chance of taking a score draw back to Spain.
Dortmund merit respect for being quick, technical, smart, confident, well coached and terrifically well supported. However it’s possible that, tonight, experience and timing are slightly more in Madrid’s favour than a couple of months ago.
Malaga showed that Dortmund are vulnerable to the counter attack, Mario Gotze’s transfer to Bayern being announced can’t help and, perhaps, the gap between the sides which was evident late last year has narrowed a little.
VIDEO: Watch for Graham Hunter’s tips on Dortmund v Real Madrid