Not even Jose Mourinho could deny the scale of the task, the amount on the line.
“It is the most important game for Madrid in the last 10 years,” the Portuguese insisted in a notably serious pre-match press conference. He did, however, attempt to downplay virtually every other element of tonight’s Champions League second-leg.
Because, with Real Madrid attempting to become only the second team in the modern Champions League to overturn a three-goal deficit as they trail Borussia Dortmund 4-1, the local media has understandably been filled with hyperactive pieces about the club’s most astounding European comebacks: the 5-1 win over Derby County in 1975-76 to make it 6-5; the 6-1 win over Anderlecht in the Uefa Cup nine years later that cancelled out a first-leg 4-0.
For Mourinho, though, this is all just unhelpful noise as he attempts to focus on the game that may well define his entire spell at the club. Should he fail to deliver the trophy that has ultimately provided Real with their identity, his time in charge could well be classed a relative failure.
“I am not very concerned about listening or feeling or trying to pull out sensations. I am more concerned with my analysis of last week’s game, and tomorrow’s game, and trying to explain exactly what I thought. That has been my principal concern.
“We will go out to play, and try and get in front. If we are 1-0 up, we need two goals to draw. We must go minute by minute, goal by goal, until the last minute of the game.”
If much of that sounds methodical, and takes some of the magic out of what must be one of the most epic comebacks in European history, it is exactly the calculating approach that has made Mourinho such a genuinely special coach and provided him with such an incredible span of victories.
It would be even more immense and appropriate, of course, if the Real manager’s route to a record-equalling third personal Champions League title involved a recovery of such proportions. What’s more, there’s the simple reality that, if any coach is equipped to rouse a team, Mourinho is.
There is, however, one big problem with all of this beyond the daunting amount of goals Real have to pull back and the atrociously flat nature of their first-leg performance: if Mourinho is a special coach, we are looking at the very real possibility that Dortmund are a special team.
They have already defied a number of modern football truisms to get this far. Most notably, there is their age. At an average of just over 23, Dortmund have recalled sides from the Busby Babes to Ajax of the mid-90s. Consequently, there is also their comparative inexperience. As their national rivals at Bayern Munich know all too well and Philippe Lahm has even commented on, “the history of the Champions League shows a team have to make the quarter-finals, the semis many times before they can win it.”
Yet, despite the fact this particular team are in only their second campaign — and just a year after they were eliminated so early — they are already on the brink of the final.
Jurgen Klopp acknowledged the uniqueness of that in a light-hearted press conference that had a markedly different mood to Mourinho’s.
“We know we are not a normal semi-finalist and will behave accordingly. It is great to reach the semi-final already and we will act accordingly.
“Something historic will happen. If we get to the final it will be historic. If we get knocked out, that will be historic too.”
The key question, amidst all of this, is whether any of it will actually weigh on a team as young as Dortmund; whether they will potentially buckle in the event of an early Real goal.
When this was eventually put to Klopp, though, it was the one moment when his mood went from jokey to one as serious as Mourinho’s — and in an instant as quick as one of his team’s counter-attacks.
“No,” he says, demanding a follow-up. “Real Madrid can pose us trouble, we know that. But we also have great potential, attacking potential. We proved that in the first leg.”
Whether they will need it in the second remains to be seen. What most marks Dortmund apart, though, is their distinct style of play. They are built to joyously break. Madrid, meanwhile, must go for it and Mourinho promises a surprise.
“In football, everything is possible,” both managers eventually said.
Both have certainly proved that.
Real Madrid (probable): Lopez; Ramos, Varane, Pepe, Coentrao; Khedira, Alonso; Ozil, Modric, Ronaldo; Benzema
Borussia Dortmund (probable): Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Hummels, Subotic, Schmelzer; Bender, Gundogan; Blaszczykowski, Goetze, Reus; Lewandowski.
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