The knockout stage of the Champions League is knocking on the door, with the first leg of the last 16 scheduled this week and the next. A host of mouth-watering fixtures awaits us, including Tottenham Hotspur's clash against Borussia Dortmund.
When the draws were out, Dortmund were cruising in the league and Spurs were not in the best of form. When Spurs looked like they were getting into the groove, they lost two of their best players Harry Kane and Dele Alli to injury. But the Londoners managed to win all four of their league games in the absence of Kane.
Dortmund – who were seen as favourites at first – started stuttering in the league, dropping four points in the last two games, purely because of defensive frailties. Lucien Favre’s men were also eliminated from the DFB-Pokal Cup by Werder Bremen after the visitors triumphed in the penalty shootout that followed a 3-3 draw.
In their last game, Dortmund conceded three goals in 13 minutes after the 75th minute and had to share points with Hoffenheim. What looked like a straightforward win resulted in a draw due to some shambolic defending at the back. Two of the goals that Dortmund conceded came from defensive errors that could have been avoided.
Manuel Akanji – who has been key in Dortmund’s defensive system – will miss the tie due to a hip injury. This again comes as a massive blow for Die Schwarzgelben who are now set to take on Tottenham on Thursday.
Their style of play renders them vulnerable to succumbing to teams that counter-press vigorously and the absence of a physical presence like Akanji could pose a challenge to Dan-Axel Zagadou and Abdou Diallo.
Of late, set-pieces have surfaced as Dortmund’s weaknesses. Again, the absence of the swiss defender comes as a massive blow as his physicality could have come as a much-needed boon against Spurs.
When Dortmund were two goals up against Hoffenheim and were subject to some aggressive pressing by the visitors, they visibly cracked. Generalising this as one of Dortmund’s weaknesses would be reactionary, but the German side could sure brush up on a thing or two about composure.
Recent results have magnified the cracks in Dortmund’s defence and the Spurs attack can be optimistic about their chances.
A moderated Spurs attack taking on a comfortably vincible Dortmund back-line could just provide us with one of the most interesting games of the round.