Andy Brassell on European football: Dortmund look mean and lean ahead of Paris
With the Champions League round of 16 second legs on the way, Andy Brassell wonders if Dortmund can complete a surprise, and if Tottenham have something to work with...
Dortmund show their sterner side ahead of Paris
For two weekends in a row, Borussia Dortmund have put in out-of-character performances - and produced unusual results. After inching to a one-goal win over Freiburg ten days ago at an expectant Westfalen, they won 2-1 at direct competitors Borussia Mönchengladbach in Saturday night's big game.
Some amongst the Dortmund faithful muttered of underwhelming performances. Other onlookers were simply rubbing their eyes at Lucien Favre's team applying themselves defensively. Granted, they had a few close escapes in both games but by and large defended with far greater competence than we've been used to.
The addition of Emre Can - perhaps their outstanding performer in the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain - in midfield has made an enormous difference, improving the performances of Mats Hummels by giving him extra security and limiting the need for him to venture too far into midfield with the ball. This already allowed BVB to defend deeper than we expect them to in that first game and though they are only protecting a slender lead, they look better equipped to do so than we might have expected a month or two ago.
Back PSG and Dortmund to draw at4.40
Is Nagelsmann going too Guardiola?
We have already become used to dropping Julian Nagelsmann's name in the same conversations that we have about Pep Guardiola. It's premature to an extent of course, with the 32-year-old German having a long way to go but his tactical insight, his comfort in adapting and the incredible influence he has in improving players are all undeniable.
Nagelsmann pulled another Pep-shaped rabbit from the hat on Saturday, wrong-footing us all with the employment of Leipzig's best player of recent weeks, Christopher Nkunku, at right wing-back. It recalled the Catalan master in a different way to the usual. Was this Nagelsmann overthinking things? It certainly rendered Nkunku less effective and Wolfsburg's excellent defensive effort meant that Leipzig dropped points for the second straight week, ceding more ground in the Bundesliga title race to the Bayern Munich juggernaut.
Leipzig's next task is to close out their tie with Tottenham on home turf, having gleaned an excellent result in north London. With Spurs currently at a low ebb and needing to force the issue in eastern Germany, it should be all set up for Nagelsmann's men to pick them off on the break, which is what they remain best at. Yet if their brilliant coach overcomplicates things again, José Mourinho and his greater experience could have a window to recreate the magic of last year's semi-final second leg at Ajax.
Back the draw between Leipzig and Tottenham at 4.60
Empty Mestalla is Valencia blow
The first match between Atalanta and Valencia was a dizzying spectacle, a 4-1 win for the Serie A high-fliers in which both sides must have felt they could have got more from. Seeing the Atalanta inquest on the pitch led by Pierluigi Gollini, directly after the final whistle, was extraordinary given that they'd just achieved one of the best results in the club's history, but indicative of how out-of-control the whole evening had been.
Valencia's away goal should have (and maybe even still does) give them the slenderest of lifelines in the tie. It was all set up for a huge night at Mestalla, a stadium that has become a byword for demanding fans but can actually be an inspiring cauldron for its team in high-spec European games.
Nobody across the continent is going to relish playing behind closed doors but given the situation, this is tough on Valencia. The stands that saw them through to successive Champions League finals at the beginning of the century and his since seen deep runs in both European competitions will be empty, and that is damaging to Albert Celades' side. With Atalanta's versatile attack so difficult to contain at the best of times and one away goal likely to kill the tie, it looks bleak for Los Che.