Dazzling Dortmund outclass Madrid

Posted by Miguel Delaney

Whether we're entering a new era of European football in the long term remains to be seen. What we have most certainly witnessed, though, is a truly wondrous semifinal performance.

Borussia Dortmund were simply sensational.

After Bayern Munich's 4-0 evisceration of Barcelona on Tuesday night, Dortmund's 4-1 win over Real Madrid will understandably be put in the context of a continental shift toward Germany. To a degree, though, the very dynamics of this game mark it out as something much more different and distinctive.

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While the game in Munich had overtones of the entire status quo changing, given the previous dominance of Barcelona and the way in which Bayern adopted and evolved their elements, the manner in which Dortmund defy many of the prevalent trends and truisms in European football makes them seem truly unique.

Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho may have forged his reputation as the Special One, but Jurgen Klopp's Dortmund side have the feel of a truly special team.

If Tuesday saw the modern equivalent of AC Milan's 5-0 win over Real Madrid at the same stage of the competition, Wednesday was the mirror of a frighteningly young Ajax's 5-2 win against Bayern Munich in 1995: an inexpensively assembled young side lavishly playing a style that can only be developed, not bought.

That very youth can sometimes be a disadvantage at such a daunting level, due to inexperience, but here it resulted in the ultimate positive: overwhelming energy and exuberance.

Two key factors made this game stand out. One was the freeing freshness of the performance; the other was the complete inability of a man like Mourinho to do anything about it. The Portuguese manager surely hasn't faced a beating in which he was that helpless since the 5-0 Clasico defeat in 2010. And the biggest compliment you can pay Dortmund is that we haven't seen anything that distinctive, at that level, since Barcelona in 2008-09.

However, when Mourinho ascended in 2003, he overturned European football to create a few new realities. Dortmund might well have done the same.

Die Schwarzgelben played at such a pace that it can only really be caught in snapshots.

One of those came in the 55th minute. As Robert Lewandowski dragged the ball across the Real box, the manner in which Pepe desperately tried to lunge at him but still couldn't get any closer made the exemplary moment of skill look all the more electric and elusive. In contrast to Pepe's desperation, the Pole was effortless as he turned himself into position to power the ball into the roof of the net.

Real Madrid stand dejected as Lewandowski celebrates another goal
GettyImagesReal Madrid stand dejected as Robert Lewandowski celebrates another goal

That not only represented a coming of age for the precocious Lewandowski but also illustrated just what a chastening reality check this was for Real Madrid.

In the run-up to this game, much of the buildup had revolved around whether Mourinho would learn from the lesson the Germans dished out in the group stage game between the two sides. If he did, Klopp rendered it irrelevant as he gave Real an array of new problems to figure out.

That was evident as early as the fifth minute. In that 2-1 win in October, the majority of Dortmund's most productive attacks came down Real's left. Here, the cross that produced Lewandowski's opening goal came from the right.

That also reflected the most important reality of the entire time. For all Real's reputation and experience, for all Cristiano Ronaldo's records, for all Mourinho's managerial mastery, Dortmund played this entire game on their terms. They set the tempo and the pace.

Most notably, from the very first minute, Real's attackers barely enjoyed an inch of space. As early as the first 20 minutes, Ronaldo was getting frustrated by a fundamental inability to move around. By the 66th minute, Real had been pushed and pulled around to the point that Xabi Alonso clumsily gave away the penalty from which Lewandowski scored his fourth goal of the game. Toward the end, the Spanish side barely had the energy to muster a chance of note.

The emphatic nature of that display and the fully deserved score line is all the more impressive when you consider what the Germans overcame in this game.

On the eve of the match, there was the destabilising news of the sale of Mario Goetze. At kickoff, there was the potential realisation that this was the group's first ever semifinal and Real's third. Just before halftime, there was the hectic minute in which a Dortmund penalty was denied and Ronaldo scored following an atrocious Mats Hummels error that might have eroded so many other sides.

Instead, Dortmund persevered. Well, they didn't just persevere; they purred.

It was as much proof as you can have of Klopp's statement that his team are "monsters of mentality." As a consequence, they've given Real a truly monstrous task.

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