Attack Madrid's best form of defence in Dortmund

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho has put his focus on a solid defence for his side's Champions League semi-final first leg clash at Dortmund on Wednesday night, but it'd be wrong to suggest Los Blancos will travel to Germany with a defensive approach.

Indeed, with a second leg to come at the Santiago Bernabeu, a goalless draw at the Westfalenstadion may well be deemed as a success for Madridistas, and a 1-1 outcome would be deemed even better with the away goal in Madrid's favour.

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Madrid is not a team that can play for such an outcome, however, despite the quality of players throughout the squad. Their counter-attack under Mourinho is now world-famous and it's Madrid's best weapon. Mourinho may have been coy about the approach his side will take against the Bundesliga club, but the only surprise would be if Los Blancos do not set up as we all expect.

"We have prepared how to attack them, but I can't say how that will be," Mourinho told the gathered press in Dortmund on Tuesday. "I'm looking for more concentration in defence, for us to be solid. If they score against us, they need to be fantastic goals, unstoppable, where there's nothing anyone can do."

That's not to suggest Madrid will be any more defence-minded than usual. More well-drilled in the back four, and the cover for the back four, perhaps, but Los Blancos' best form of defence is their attack and in players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil, they will be well-equipped to do just that.

Angel di Maria will be crucial, too. Mourinho made the not-so-unusual step of naming his starting eleven in the pre-match press conference. Diego Lopez; Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Raphael Varane, Fabio Coentrao; Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesuz Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain. The only doubt? Di Maria.

The Argentine's son was born on Tuesday but was born prematurely, meaning the winger is 50-50 over whether he will feature on Wednesday night. Mourinho will certainly be hoping he does, because it's just the game he was made for: Lethal on the counter-attack, yet willing to help out at the back, too.

Sami Khedira will also be one of Madrid's key men. The German has been given licence to bolster Madrid's attacking plays at every possible opportunity pretty much since the turn of the year and the midfielder has looked a better player because of it. That box-to-box midfielder will be another crucial cog in a game such as this one.

Especially with Madrid stretched defensively. Three of Madrid's usual back four, in Varane, Ramos and Coentrao will be present, but the absence of Alvaro Arbeloa through suspension and Marcelo and Michael Essien through injury means it's not Madrid's first-choice back line.

Discipline will be key, especially with both Ramos playing out of position and Pepe back in the fold alongside Varane. Coentrao got caught out a couple of times at the same stage last year, and against German opposition, too. If Madrid manages to shut out their hosts for the first 90 minutes of the double-header, it could well prove to be the defensive performance of the season from Madrid -- but it will need the help of the attack as well.

The noises coming out of the Bernabeu insist Madrid has learned its lessons from Dortmund having the upper hand in the two group stage clashes. The Germans won 2-1 on home soil and drew 2-2 in the Spanish capital to end up progressing as group leaders, and firmly having the upper hand over Los Blancos.

Madrid are an improved side since then, however, as they have shown in previous rounds against Galatasaray and Manchester United, as well as successes against Barcelona thrown in there. They are a side fully focused on Europe after throwing the towel in on La Liga months ago. Physically, and mentally, they should be fresh.

Madrid should also benefit from facing Dortmund twice already this season. Jurgen Klopp and his men should as well, but the saying goes that you learn more from defeat, and Madrid will be hoping that rings true. The experience of already having played in front of Dortmund's famous support won't have done any harm, either.

One thing is for sure -- the finalists will not be decided in the first leg. Away goals and clean sheets are important, but they are not as crucial as perhaps they might have been a few years ago. This will be a close contest.

Whether or not Bayern Munich's 4-0 trouncing of Barcelona at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night has any impact on another Germany vs. Spain semi-final encounter remains to be seen. Probably not, but the Bundesliga is rising, and Los Blancos will be well aware.

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