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UEFA Champions League Final Preview: Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid

Real Madrid is on the hunt for their 15th UEFA Champions League title, but Borussia Dortmund aims to capture their second, which wouldn’t come as a major surprise.

If the pre-match hype is to be believed, then the 14-time champions Real Madrid might as well be crowned the kings of the Champions League already. However, the reality is different as the 1997 winners, Borussia Dortmund, are far from mere underdogs.

Real Madrid, having clinched their 33rd LaLiga title this season, reached their 70th European final with an unbeaten record in the competition—an unprecedented achievement for them. Similarly, Dortmund is in exceptional form, with only one defeat in their last 11 European matches, trailing only Madrid in the competition this season.

Dortmund’s Journey Through the Group of Death

Drawn in a challenging group with Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, and Newcastle United, Borussia Dortmund showcased resilience. Despite a 1-0 opening defeat in Paris, they topped the group, securing three wins and two defeats, finishing three points clear of PSG and Milan.

In the Round of 16, Dortmund easily overcame PSV Eindhoven. The quarterfinals saw them facing another Madrid club, Atletico, who led 1-0 after the first leg in Spain. A 4-2 victory at Signal Iduna Park propelled Dortmund into the semifinals, where they met PSG once again. Despite being underdogs, Dortmund secured 1-0 wins in both legs, ending PSG’s European campaign.

Real Madrid’s Road to the Final

Real Madrid, winners of the Champions League two seasons ago, dominated their group, achieving a perfect score of 18 points and relegating Italian champions Napoli to second place, while Sporting Braga and Union Berlin were eliminated. The knockout stages presented tougher challenges. Leipzig, Manchester City, and Bayern Munich pushed Madrid to the brink, with the latter two requiring penalties and a dramatic last-minute turnaround to advance.

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The Tactical Battle: Ancelotti vs. Terzic

For Dortmund, defeating the latest crop of Galacticos is not just a monumental task but also a chance to outwit one of the competition’s greatest managers. Carlo Ancelotti has a stellar record, having won six out of his seven appearances in Champions League finals. The 64-year-old Italian has secured four titles as a coach and two as a player, but he remains wary of the challenge ahead.

“It’s the same as it was the first time,” Ancelotti stated. “First there is the joy of being here, then the concerns and fear will come. The cold sweat will arrive Saturday afternoon; it’s normal, I’m already prepared for it. [But] this team gives me a lot of confidence. I see them focused on the match; they are in Champions [League] mode.”

Ancelotti, who guided Madrid to Champions League glory in 2014 and 2022, has a wealth of experience. In contrast, Edin Terzic, at 41, is at the other end of his managerial career. A fan in the stands during Dortmund’s 2013 European triumph, Terzic has worked his way up and now faces the biggest challenge of his career.

“We have our own story,” Terzic remarked, reflecting on Dortmund’s journey. “We have faced ups and downs over the years. We are a team built to compete every year, but now we are here, facing teams built to win the Champions League.”

Assessing Dortmund’s Challenge to Real Madrid

Outside Germany, Borussia Dortmund is often seen as a middling club. However, they are the closest challengers to German powerhouse Bayern Munich. Last season, they narrowly missed the Bundesliga title, drawing 2-2 with Mainz and allowing Bayern to leap ahead on the final day.

This season, their league campaign was less impressive, with Bayer Leverkusen clinching the title by 17 points ahead of Stuttgart, while last season’s top two, Bayern and Dortmund, finished third and fifth, respectively.

Historically, only Nurnburg, with nine titles, surpasses Dortmund’s eight in challenging Munich’s 33 Bundesliga titles. Dortmund last won the Bundesliga in the 2011-12 season, completing back-to-back titles for the second time. They were runners-up in four of the five seasons before this campaign’s decline.

Financially, Bayern’s value is more than double Dortmund’s $465 million, placing them fourth on Germany’s financial list. Despite being based in Germany’s seventh-largest city, Dortmund boasts the country’s second-largest fan membership. Conversely, Real Madrid’s financial value exceeds a billion dollars, placing them atop the global football-rich list.

Player Insights and Team Dynamics

Borussia Dortmund defender Nico Schlotterbeck looks forward to the clash with Real Madrid. “For me, they’re the biggest club in the world. I’ve always wanted to play against Real,” Schlotterbeck said. “But we shouldn’t be afraid; we shouldn’t be in awe. It has to be a completely normal game for us. We were often the underdogs in the Champions League this season, and that has suited us quite well.”

Schlotterbeck, 24, forms a formidable defensive partnership with 35-year-old Mats Hummels, who was pivotal in the semifinals against PSG. Hummels, part of the 2013 Dortmund team that reached the Champions League final only to be defeated by Bayern Munich at Wembley, provides experience and leadership.

This season, Dortmund has kept clean sheets in six of their last 11 Champions League games. However, Real Madrid has only lost one of their last 20 UEFA competition matches against German teams, winning 13.

Reflecting on last season’s heartbreak, Schlotterbeck added, “Last season we had something to lose against Mainz, now we have something to win. We have to seize this opportunity.”

Team News and Predicted Line-ups

Real Madrid welcomes the return of Thibaut Courtois in goal, having played only four times this season and not featured in the Champions League. Andriy Lunin, his stand-in, missed the flight to London due to flu but is expected to join the squad. David Alaba is out due to injury, and Eder Militao is racing to regain fitness after a long layoff.

Borussia Dortmund’s only doubt is Sebastien Haller, who is struggling with an ankle problem. Julien Duranville and Ramy Bensebaini are definitely out.

Predicted Line-ups:

Borussia Dortmund: Kobel; Ryerson, Hummels, Schlotterbeck, Maatsen; Can, Sabitzer; Adeyemi, Brandt, Sancho; Fullkrug

Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Nacho, Rudiger, Mendy; Valverde, Kroos, Camavinga; Bellingham, Rodrygo, Vinicius Junior

This UEFA Champions League final promises an intense clash of titans, with Real Madrid seeking to extend their legacy and Borussia Dortmund aiming to etch their name in history once more.

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