Tottenham v Dortmund: Two clubs with plenty in common face off in Uefa Champions League group opener
Premier League runners-up host the Bundesliga side at Wembley on Wednesday looking to end their dismal recent record at England's national stadium.
Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund find much to recognise in one other.
There’s their podium positions, the silver and bronze medals, for a start. Dortmund can give any club advice on how it feels to sustain, again and again, the best chase in a domestic title race, just as Spurs have done in the last two Premier League seasons.
Dortmund have been left panting in Bayern Munich’s backdraft more often than they care to remember in recent years.
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They both know how it is to deal with predators with bigger budgets than theirs. Bayern have made habit of snatching Dortmund’s best players; this summer, it was Barcelona who gnawed away at one of their stars, disruptively.
There was something in Barca’s long, expensive pursuit of Ousmane Dembele, young and quick, reminiscent of the way, four years ago, Real Madrid kept on at Spurs to buy Gareth Bale. Record-breaking deals were sealed in late August in both cases.
There are echoes in the way these clubs have developed their game, too. Dortmund have made the aggressive press their trademark; the Spurs of Mauricio Pochettino have something of the same style, and the meeting of the clubs at Wembley, the venue Tottenham temporarily have to call home, has a high-voltage potential that the stakes involved gives an extra charge.
A draw will seem treacherous to both clubs’ prospects because Group H is perhaps the toughest of all in the mini-league stage, with Real Madrid its top seeds.
Two seasons ago, as Spurs concentrated their efforts towards a vain catch-up with Leicester City in the Premier League, Dortmund walloped them 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa League.
If that was chastening, so was Tottenham’s European campaign last season, when they were valiantly pursuing Chelsea at the summit of the English top division. They finished third in the Champions League group stage, and whimpered out of the Europa League. Of four matches at Wembley in Europe, they won just one.
Pochettino has cut a slightly perplexed figure ahead of this campaign, confounded by the complex rules on the make-up of squads imposed by Uefa. The rule-makers of the Champions League, aiming to reward clubs who nurture young players - especially local ones - apply a limit to the number of imported footballers they can use in a season.
But Uefa’s definition of a homegrown footballer is such that Eric Dier, the England international who spent his formative years in Portugal, does not meet the criteria for ‘home-grown’.
Clubs are limited to naming 17 non-homegrown players in their 25-man squads, and in the juggle to make space – Dier is in, of course - Argentine winger Erik Lamela, who hopes to be back from long-term injury in November, has been excluded.
Pochettino called the situation “strange”, and it is an irony that Spurs, who provide more players to the England national side than any of the other four Premier League clubs in this season’s Champions League, seem stymied by the regulations.
Stranger still that Tottenham, who have five England regulars, including Dier, in their strongest XI, suffer such a hoodoo playing their football at the England national team’s home ground, Wembley.
They will miss a pair of their Englishmen on Wednesday, Dele Alli serving the first game of a three-match European suspension carrying over from last season and left-back Danny Rose still on his way back from ankle problem.
Ben Davies, of Wales, has been an able deputy for Rose and should expect to be kept busy this evening by Christian Pulisic, the American teenager for whom the departure of Dembele from Dortmund is an opportunity.
Even in the absence of injured forwards Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle, and the attacking left-back Rafa Guerreiro, Dortmund have zip in the counter-attack, through Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
They sit top of the Bundesliga, despite the frustrating 0-0 draw against Freiburg at the weekend and the impression made so far by Peter Bosz, who replaced Thomas Tuchel as manager in the summer, has been a positive one. Bosz guided Ajax to the final of last season’s Europa League, and the 53-year-old will be making his debut in the Champions League group phase.
He is in charge of players with a wealth of experience in the competition. A few, like the midfielder Nuri Sahin, will return to a Wembley where they have played a Champions League final, the narrow defeat to Bayern in 2013. Sahin is among those who has given Bosz his seal of approval.
“He’s easy to get on with,” Sahin said. “We enjoy ourselves with him. It’s important that we’ve made a good start to the season.”
Updated: September 12, 2017 03:05 PM