x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Bundesliga teams moving forward with quality and quantity

Germany's Bundesliga could potentially send three clubs to the Champions League quarter-finals while Dortmund has many challenges waiting at home before they can punch their ticket for Wembley Stadium, writes Ian Hawkey.

Mario Goetze, right, and his Dortmund teammates got past Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday. Martin Meissner / AP Photo
Mario Goetze, right, and his Dortmund teammates got past Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday. Martin Meissner / AP Photo

After the final whistle of Borussia Dortmund's victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 16 of the Uefa European Champions League on Tuesday, the losing coach, Mircea Lucescu, shook the hand of his opposite number, Jurgen Klopp, and made a prediction. "You," said Lucescu, "will go to Wembley."

It was not a throwaway compliment. Lucescu does not generally deal in those. But he had seen his Shakhtar dismantled so effectively by Dortmund he felt confident in suggesting no team left in the tournament ought to alarm them.

It may be that Dortmund's most formidable obstacle between now and the Wembley Stadium final in May comes from within the Bundesliga.

If Bayern Munich and Schalke hold on to their first-leg advantages next week, Germany will have three clubs in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. That would be a higher representation than England or Italy, and very possibly more than Spain.

So the Bundesliga is entitled to feel pleased with itself, even if Klopp would privately acknowledge that the energetic, dynamic Dortmund he has built over the past three years, the one seen at its brilliant best against Shakhtar, has yet to convince it can dominate on more than two fronts at a time.

Dortmund won the domestic league and cup double last season, but flopped in Europe. Their prospects of winning a third successive Bundesliga title this year disappeared several months ago.

By late November they were already ceasing to choke on the fumes of the Bayern juggernaut at the top of the table but, rather, losing sight of their tail lights. The gap between Bayern, at the top of the table, and Dortmund, second, is 17 points, with 10 fixtures left.

In that context, local bragging rights have a premium. Today's short journey to Gelsenkirchen is a competition which matters most for many fans, for all the lure of trips to Madrid, or Manchester – places where Klopp's team have distinguished themselves in the 2012/13 Champions League.

Schalke, who hinted they might emerge as Bayern's strongest challengers until a collapse in form led to the replacement of coach Huub Stevens by Jens Keller, trail their Ruhr rivals by 10 points and four places in the table.

They may have one eye on Galatsaray's imminent visit, but at the same time a sensitive ear attuned to some of the noises coming out of Dortmund in the past few days: not only the flattering tributes paid by Lucescu, but Klopp's own verdict on the midweek show. "We cannot always change the world with the way we play," he said, "but some days we manage it."

Schalke's supporters would be very pleased indeed to bring Klopp's men down to earth.

Bundesliga Fixtures

Saturday

Mainz v Leverkusen 6.30pm

Schalke v Dortmund 6.30pm

Bayern v F Dusseldorf 6.30pm

Freiburg v Wolfsburg 6.30pm

M'gladbach v Bremen 9.30pm

Sunday

Hannover v Frankfurt 6.30pm

Stuttgart v Hamburg 8.30pm

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