Ahead of tonight's UEFA Champions League quarter-final between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, Sport360°'s Hugo Mirabel Hardy provides an in-depth preview complete with team news, key battles and his prediction for the Bernabeu clash.
The last time these two sides faced each other was at the semi-final stage of the competition 11 months ago in what proved one of the ties of the tournament. Dortmund famously eliminated their illustrious Spanish opponents on that occasion thanks in no small part to a quadruple from Robert Lewandowski in the first leg.
However, Dortmund head into this fixture without two of their heroes from last year. Mario Gotze has left for fierce rivals Bayern Munich in a German record deal, while Lewandowski, who will soon join Gotze in Bavaria, is suspended for the first leg.
Lewandowski's absence is just one of many key players missing for Dortmund and head coach Jurgen Klopp admits his side have an almighty task in overcoming a Real Madrid side much-improved from last year.
“Given our budget and the injuries we’ve got, there’s no doubt we’re the underdogs," he stated. "Real have also added some class players in (Gareth) Bale and Isco.
“It has been a difficult season since the start. We have faced extraordinary challenges and an unprecedented injury crisis. I, at least, have never seen anything like it.”
Real Madrid’s attacking force will look to exploit a make-shift Dortmund defence missing Neven Subotic and Marcel Schmelzer.
Midfielder Erik Durm is expected to fill in for Schmelzer and will be tasked with subduing the world's most expensive player in Bale. The €100m man has struck up an impressive understanding with Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, and will look to utilise his pace and power to carve out chances against a part-time full-back.
Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, insists last year's result between the two sides will have little bearing on this season's tie.
“What happened in the past isn’t so important," the Real Madrid coach said. "The future is what matters and it’s true Dortmund are missing a very important player in Lewandowski.
“But they defend well and break very dangerously. We’re going to play an attacking game but balance will be important so we can take care with their counter-attacks.”
Dortmund will have an almost completely different team to the one that eliminated Real Madrid last season; only four of the players who started in last year’s fixture are expected to take their place in the starting XI.
Marcel Schmelzer and Neven Subotic are both big losses to the back-line, while midfield pair Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender have also been ruled out. Jakub Blaszczykowski will miss the tie with a knee injury and Lewandowski sits out the first leg with suspension.
Real Madrid can expect to name close to their first-team apart from the exception of left-back Marcelo. The Brazilian misses out with a thigh injury and will be replaced by Fabio Coentrao. Aside from that, only long-term absentees Sami Khedira and Jese Rodriguez will be unavailable for selection.
Real Madrid (4-3-3)
Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Alonso, Modric, Di Maria; Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale
Weidenfeller; Durm, Hummels, Piszczek, Sokratis; Kehl, Sahin; Mkhitaryan, Grobkreutz, Reus; Aubameyang
Crisitano Ronaldo vs. Lukas Piszczek
Piszczek is tasked with arguably the hardest job in football right now; containing a red-hot Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar is the leading scorer in the Champions League this season with 13 and will again lead Real from the front tonight.
In last season’s fixture, Piszczek managed to keep Ronaldo quiet and he will almost certainly need to do the same again if Dortmund have any hopes of progessing to the semi-finals. This could be an interesting battle as both players possess impressive strength and blistering pace.
Marco Reus vs. Dani Carvajal
Another intrgiuing battle could take place down the opposite flank as Carvajal looks to nullify Dortmund's biggest threat in Reus. The Germany international is always a danger with his pace and trickery, and Carvajal may need to curb his attacking instincts to stub out Reus' threat.
If Carvajal can successfully stop Reus while supporting Bale in attack, the young Spaniard may have a key role to play tonight and in the return fixture.
Angel Di Maria vs. Sebastian Kehl
Di Maria has enjoyed a magnificent season since moving into a more central role and alongside Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso will look to provide Real with creativity and guile in the centre of the park.
Kehl, on the other hand, is a different kind of player, with combativeness, defensive solidarity, and positional awareness his strengths. He will need to be at his most alert to handle a Di Maria revelling in his new position.
Real Madrid: W L L W W
Dortmund: W D W L L
Last five games
Real Madrid 5-0 Rayo Vallecano (H)
Real Madrid 1-2 Sevilla FC (A)
Real Madrid 3-4 FC Barcelona (H)
Real Madrid 3-1 Schalke 04 (H)
Real Madrid 1-0 Malaga FC (A)
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Stuttgart (A)
Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Schalke 04 (H)
Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Hannover 96 (A)
Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Zenit St. Petersburg (H)
Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Borussia M’gladbach (H)
This could be a close game if Dortmund are able to keep both Bale and Ronaldo quiet for long periods. On the other hand, Real Madrid have a very strong squad and their impressive firepower could prove too much for a depleted Dortmund side to handle. Real Madrid 3-1 Borussia Dortmund