By Jonathan Wilson
After the shambles of Saturday, when Borussia Dortmund lost the Ruhr derby to Schalke 04 largely because of a disastrous experiment with a back three that was abandoned after 29 minutes, came a performance of great tactical acuity that helped bring about a 2-1 victory over an extremely disappointing Real Madrid.
Injury robbed Dortmund of Mario Gotze, Marcel Schmelzer, Ilkay Gundogan and Jakob Blaszczykowski on Saturday and, without their regular left-back and right-winger, Jurgen Klopp seemingly decided to change shape rather than deploy reserves in those positions. The move had a certain logic but it served only to sow confusion, handing the initiative to Schalke. Schmelzer and Gotze returned on Wednesday, with Gundogan able to take his place in the bench, but Klopp,, while sticking with his familiar formation, again opted to change his usual approach. This time, he was very much vindicated.
His side is noted for their pressing game, for pushing high up the pitch and imposing themselves on their opponents. On Wednesday, though, their approach in the first half was more measured. There was pressing, but it wasn't constant, rather occasional, coordinated pockets and, on a rain-soaked surface, that was enough to make Real look oddly uneasy in possession at times. As Jose Mourinho's perpetual scowl suggested, there was a sloppiness to Real, particularly before half-time, something that seemed only partly attributable to the pitch and Dortmund's diligence and tenacity. Certainly Pepe wasn't under any great pressure when, after 36 minutes, his weak pass was intercepted by Sebastian Kehl, whose first-time ball released Robert Lewandowski to score.
Although Cristiano Ronaldo, making a first-time lobbed finish from Mesut Ozil's long pass look absurdly easy, levelled two minutes later, for the most part Dortmund defended well. Their shape is a basic 4-2-3-1, as Manchester City's was in the opening group game, but they could hardly have played it more differently. Where City were prepared to leave Samir Nasri and, especially, David Silva upfield, which meant both that Real's full-backs could get forward unchallenged and that Ronaldo was often left one-on-one against Pablo Zabaleta, in the first half at least Dortmund made sure their two wide attacking players, Kevin Grosskreutz and Marco Reus, helped protect their full-backs so their shape often appeared more of a 4-4-1-1 than 4-2-3-1.
That essentially allowed Real possession - and at half-time they had had 56% of the ball - while denying them space to use it. Only very occasionally did Ronaldo get a run on Lukasz Piszczek. The goal, when a simple long ball caught Dortmund out - and Roman Weidenfeller, the Dortmund goalkeeper, came far too far off his line - was one example, the only other was when a smart turn from Angel Di Maria briefly unsettled Dortmund. His pass was good but Ronaldo sliced wide.
Whether the plan was always to attack harder in the second half, or whether Dortmund simply realised Real were vulnerable is difficult to say. Once Sami Khedira had gone off after 19 minutes with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, though, to be replaced by Luka Modric, Real lost some of their dynamism and ball-wining capacity and, in the second half, Dortmund took advantage. Suddenly this was the Dortmund of the draw at Manchester City or of last season, the yellow and black shirts pouring forward in relentless waves. Grosskreutz and Reus worked tirelessly, looking to get crosses in while also making sure neither Ronaldo nor Di Maria could ever isolate their full-back.
So on top were Dortmund that their full-backs were able to advance - and once the opposing right-back starts to get forward, Real Madrid are always in trouble. Ronaldo simply doesn't track back and that means that if Real's opponents start to dominate possession, if their right-back starts to advance, they will always be able to create an overlap on their right, the Real left.
Sure enough, it was from that flank that the winner arrived. Raphael Varane probably should have dealt with it but when he didn't, Iker Casillas punched weakly and the ball fell for Schmelzer on the edge of the box to send an angled, bouncing shot into the bottom corner. That was far from the only chance Dortmund created down that side: the foul for which Xabi Alonso was booked stemmed from Gotze finding space on that flank. That's the great flaw in Ronaldo: he can win games almost single-handed but once Real Madrid come under pressure he can be a liability. That's why Sir Alex Ferguson so often fielded him a centre-forward in European competition; few centre-backs advance with the ball so his reluctance to track is less of an issue in the middle.
But this was about more than Ronaldo's lack of defensive capacity; this was about Real Madrid collective not playing well, about a sloppiness in possession and a lack of decisiveness at the back. And it was also about Dortmund playing extremely intelligently, first thwarting Real and then, having sensed weakness, exploiting it ruthlessly.