PARIS: Borussia Dortmund have returned to winning ways just in time at the start of a gruelling three-week period with seven matches against top teams in all competitions.
Dortmund beat Bundesliga leaders Borussia Moenchengladbach 1-0 on Saturday to move within one point of the top again, ending a run of three successive 2-2 draws in the league.
But having to replace captain Marco Reus when facing Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday comes at the worst possible time for the club. The 30-year-old German international is sidelined due to heavy flu but might return this Saturday for action in the Bundesliga.
Dortmund’s diary currently seems to be packed with challenges. A delicate derby follows the clash with the Italian side against Schalke 04, Gladbach in the German Cup, the Bundesliga duels against VfL Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich, and the re-match against Inter.
“The next few weeks will be turbulent, we face many good teams in a short space of time. That will show the direction in which we are heading,” forward Julian Brandt said.
Also on Wednesday, defending champions Liverpool visit Genk in their first game since their perfect start to the Premier League was ended with a 1-1 draw at Manchester United, and Barcelona are away to Slavia Prague.
Inter host Dortmund knowing they can’t afford to fall further behind as three heavyweights are vying for two spots in Group ‘F’.
Antonio Conte’s team already trail Barcelona and Dortmund by three points and are only ahead of bottom-placed Slavia on goal difference on one point thanks to a draw with the Czechs last month.
“We have to give it our all and not have regrets at the end of the match,” Conte said. “We have to play to the limit of our abilities.”
Barca goes into their game at Slavia coming off five straight victories in all competitions, the latest a 3-0 rout of Eibar on Saturday that took the Catalan team top of the La Liga.
Barca’s much-hyped attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Surez and Antoine Griezmann is finally clicking and each of them scored against Eibar.
“At the end, the great players always find one another and can feel where the other one will make his run or a pass,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “They have worked and played well. And this is the reward.”
Genk are braced for a possible reaction from Liverpool, whose winning Premier League start ended at Old Trafford.
A tepid Liverpool considered themselves lucky to come away with a point after Adam Lallana scored a late equaliser to end their winning streak at 17 games and failing to match Man City’s record run of 18.
“It was always going to happen at some point,” Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp said. “Now we can stop talking about that and start a new series.”
But that it happened against a vulnerable United team that was sitting one point above the relegation zone before kickoff raised questions while forward Mohamed Salah’s absence led to a rejigged front line that was toothless.
Liverpool opened their Champions League defence in Group ‘E’ with a 2-0 loss at Napoli and struggled before prevailing 4-3 over Salzburg.
Salzburg have tallied nine goals so far but the Austrian club faces a difficult challenge against Napoli, who are one of five teams yet to concede in the competition.
In Group ‘H’, Ajax Amsterdam host in-form Chelsea who will hope to create more painful English memories for the Dutch club.
Tottenham Hotspur denied Ajax a place in last season’s final with a last-gasp goal, and Ajax have lost four of their last six home games against English teams.
Despite losing some of their best players in the offseason, Ajax have shown little ill-effect, going on to enjoy 3-0 wins over both Lille and Valencia.
Valencia got off to a perfect start with an away win against Chelsea, before facing a reality check when they lost their second game at home to Ajax. They now visit Lille, who are bottom of their group after defeats to both Chelsea and Ajax.
RB Leipzig welcome Zenit St Petersburg in Group ‘G’ after seemingly forgetting how to win at home, where their last victory was against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga on August 25.
Olympique Lyonnais managed to win 2-0 in Leipzig despite their own crisis at home. Lyon haven’t won in eight games in Ligue 1 and visit Benfica in the group’s other game.
Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2019