In a Champions League contest between Germany and Spain you would normally expect the Spanish clubs to come out on top.
At first glance it looks that way with this week’s triple-header. At second glance the contest is not quite so clear cut.
Barcelona must be strong favourites to beat Borussia Monchengladbach. While Andre Schubert has steadied the ship since Gladbach went down 4-0 in Manchester two weeks ago, Barcelona have too much firepower for their fragile defence, even without the injured Leo Messi.
Having overcome their early-season hiccup by swallowing Celtic in one gulp, Barcelona have since scored five in both their last two away games.
They had an extra man at the end of their game against Gijon on Saturday, when they scored three in the final 10 minutes, but their main attackers are clearly in form. Not just the strikers, but also those behind them such as Arda Turan and Sergi Roberto creating the openings.
Barcelona are not unstoppable, as Atletico Madrid proved in their 1-1 draw last week, and Atletico’s game against Bayern — a repeat of last season’s semi-final — is also likely to be tight.
Both sides are coming off hard-fought wins. Bayern continued their 100% start to the season with a 1-0 win in Hamburg, but they left it late, the goal coming three minutes from the end. Atletico had more time to spare in their 1-0 win, but Deportivo La Coruna were down to 10 men for the whole of the second half.
Diego Simeone had rotated his squad for the visit of one of La Liga’s weaker sides — Deportivo have only won two leagues games since January — but this was not the straightforward warm-up he would have wanted, especially as Atletico lost two players to injury during the first half.
However, it is tonight’s match in Dortmund that should be the one to watch.
After a shock defeat to a late goal against Leipzig, Dortmund have been producing some great flowing football at pace, reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp’s old team but if anything slicker and quicker under the direction of Thomas Tuchel.
They put six goals past a weak Legia Warsaw side two weeks ago and since then have scored another 14 in three games.
This is a side packed with flair and potential goalscorers, including some familiar names — Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle, Pierre Aubameyang — and some up-and-coming talent such as Raphael Guerreiro and the 19-year-old Ousmane Dembele, signed after a sensational first season with Rennes.
Dembele was being courted by most of the top sides in Europe and there was some surprise when he chose Dortmund, but he has fitted in remarkably quickly, partly, he says, because of an instant understanding with Aubameyang.
Real Madrid will present this exciting side with their first real challenge of the season and one definite point of interest will be how Dembele compares to Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been going through the worst start to a season of his entire time at the club.
Having led Portugal to that long-awaited trophy in the summer — even if he was injured in the final — Ronaldo must have been looking forward to a season as champion for both club and country.
Instead, he has scored just once in his opening six league games and looks badly out of sorts.
He hit a new low on Saturday when Zinedine Zidane decided to take him off with 20 minutes left of the game in Las Palmas, five minutes after Karim Benzema had put Madrid 2-1 ahead. Ronaldo’s reaction was to stalk off the pitch uttering a series of expletives that were easy to lip-read on camera, after which he sat out the remainder of the game in disgruntled isolation.
To make matters worse Las Palmas then equalised.
It was the second consecutive game in which Madrid have dropped points, and although they are top of the league — and unbeaten — the team has been less than convincing. They came close to losing to Sporting in their opening group stage match — when Ronaldo did help save the game. Zidane will be hoping that Saturday’s little spat helps to revive him tonight.
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