UEFA Champions League final preview: Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid

Real Madrid is chasing a 15th Champions League crown but Borussia Dortmund’s second title would not be a great shock.

A giant replica of the Champions League trophy is seen near Tower Bridge, London
Borussia Dortmund were finalists the last time the Champions League final was hosted in London in 2013 [John Sibley/Reuters]

What: UEFA Champions League final
When: Saturday, June 1, 8pm local time (19:00 GMT)
Where: Wembley Stadium, London
Who: Borussia Dortmund (Germany) vs Real Madrid (Spain)

How to follow our coverage: We’ll have all the build-up from 4pm local time (15:00 GMT) on Al Jazeera Sport.

If the hype were to be believed then the 14-time winners Real Madrid may as well be crowned Champions League kings now.

The reality is that the 1997 winners, Borussia Dortmund, are far from dark horses.

Madrid, who lifted their 33rd LaLiga title this season, have reached the 70th European showpiece with an unbeaten record in the competition, something they have never done before.

Dortmund, similarly, are in fine form and second only to Madrid in the competition this season with only one defeat in their last 11 European matches.

Real Madrid with the La Liga trophy
Real Madrid won a record-extending 33rd LaLiga title this season [Susana Vera/Reuters]

Escaping the Group of Death with flying colours

Dortmund were drawn in a group with Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Newcastle United. The Germans recovered from a 1-0 opening defeat in Paris to top the group with flying colours, recording three wins and two defeats thereafter, and finishing three points clear of French and Italian giants, PSG and Milan.

PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands were swept aside in the round of 16 but another Madrid club awaited Dortmund in the quarterfinals where Atletico claimed a 1-0 lead after the first leg in Spain. A 4-2 win at Signal Iduna Park ushered the home side into the last four.

PSG would await Dortmund once again in the semifinals and, even after their display in the group, the French champions were the favourites one again but 1-0 wins in each leg saw the Parisians’ European dreams end yet again.

Madrid, who last lifted the Champions League trophy two seasons ago, stormed to the top of their group with a maximum 18 points beating Italian champions Napoli into second while Sporting Braga and Union Berlin were eliminated.

The knockout stages provided far sterner tests with Leipzig, Manchester City and Bayern Munich all pushing Madrid to the brink, the latter two requiring penalties and a last-minute turnaround respectively to progress.

For Dortmund, their task is not only to take down the latest crop of Galacticos on a relentless road to the final but also, arguably, the competition’s greatest manager. Carlo Ancelotti has won six of his seven appearances in Champions League finals.

The 64-year-old Italian has won a record four titles as a coach and two as a player but will not be taking this game, or the latest shot at extending his own record haul, lightly.

“It’s the same as it was the first time,” Ancelotti said. “First there is the joy of being here, then the concerns will come and the fear will come. The cold sweat will arrive Saturday afternoon, it’s normal, I’m already prepared for it.

“[But] this team gives me a lot of confidence, I see them focused on the match, they are in Champions [League] mode.”

Ancelotti guided Madrid to the Champions League trophy in 2014 and 2022 and having previously won the competition as a player and manager with AC Milan.

In the other dugout, Edin Terzic who, at 41 years of age, is at the other end of his managerial career. Indeed in 2013, when Dortmund won their only European crown, Terzic was a fan in the stands and only beginning to forge his way as a coach having never played professionally.

“We have our own story,” Terzic said of Dortmund’s challenge, much as his own, in facing proven European winners. “We have the story of ups and downs of the last years. We are a team that builds up to compete every year, but now we are there and we are facing teams that are built to win the Champions League.”

How great a challenge to Real Madrid are Borussia Dortmund?

Outside Germany, a lot of fans believe Dortmund is a middling club but in reality, they are the closest challengers to German powerhouse Bayern Munich.

Last season, they only needed to beat Mainz to claim the Bundesliga title. A 2-2 draw saw Bayern skip ahead to lift the trophy on the final day.

Their league campaign this season has been underwhelming with Bayer Leverkusen upsetting both Munich and Dortmund to claim the title by 17 points from Stuttgart while last season’s top two finished third and fifth respectively.

Only Nurnburg, whose last of their nine titles came in 1969, better Dortmund’s challenge of eight crowns to Munich’s 33 titles in Germany. Dortmund’s last Bundesliga came in 2011-12 when they completed back-to-back titles for the second time in their history. Indeed, Dortmund were runners-up in four of the five seasons prior to this campaign’s drop-off.

Financially Bayern’s value is more than double that of Dortmund ($465m), who have slipped to fourth on the German financial list. It’s not bad for a club whose city is the seventh largest in Germany – yet the club have the country’s second-largest fan membership.

Borussia Dortmund and their fans
Borussia Dortmund’s connection to their fans – who represent the second-largest club membership in Western Europe’s most populous nation, Germany – is world-renowned [Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters]

Madrid’s financial value, meantime, has risen to more than a billion dollars with the Spaniards at the top of the globe’s football-rich list.

“For me they’re the biggest club in the world, I’ve always wanted to play against Real,” Borussia Dortmund defender Nico Schlotterbeck said ahead of the final.

“But we shouldn’t be afraid, we shouldn’t be in awe.

“It has to be a completely normal game for us. We were often the underdogs in the Champions League this season, and that has suited us quite well.”

From 2013 heartbreak for Dortmund to Real hope against Madrid

Schlotterbeck, 24, is part of a formidable pairing in the centre of defence with 35-year-old Mats Hummels, who won the Player of the Match award in both legs of the semifinal against PSG. It is a solid foundation upon which Dortmund can build and free them to focus on their own game against Real.

“For us, it means getting into our game quickly, moving the ball quickly, and imposing our game on Real Madrid a bit,” Schlotterbeck said.

“If we can do that, then I’m optimistic that we can make it.”

Hummels was part of the 2013 side, along with the soon-to-depart club legend Marco Reus, that helped Dortmund to their last Champions League final only to be defeated by a last-minute Arjen Robben goal for Bayern Munich. A game that was also played at Wembley Stadium.

Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates at the end of the match
Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates beating Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final [John Sibley/Reuters]

This current run has seen Dortmund keep clean sheets in six of their last 11 Champions League games. Madrid, however, have only lost one of their last 20 UEFA competition matches against German teams, winning 13.

A strong season for the Germans ended last year with a heavy thump, a more difficult campaign this time around could be about to end with a high experienced only once before.

“Perhaps we thought too much about it [the league] back then. But we know what happens here in the city when we win a title and what it means to people,” Schlotterbeck added.

“Last season we had something to lose against Mainz, now we have something to win.

“We have to seize this opportunity.”

Team news

Real Madrid are boosted by the return of Thibaut Courtois in goal. The Belgium international has played only four times this season and has not featured in the Champions League.

His stand-in during that period, Andriy Lunin, missed the flight to London with flu but is expected to link up with the squad ahead of the game. David Alaba is absent through injury while fellow defender Eder Militao is struggling to prove his fitness after a long layoff.

Sebastien Haller is Dortmund’s only doubt as the Ivorian striker struggles to regain full fitness following an ankle problem. Julien Duranville and Ramy Bensebaini are both definitely out.

Predicted line-ups

Borussia Dortmund: Kobel, Ryerson, Hummels, Schlotterbeck, Maatsen, Can, Sabitzer, Adeyemi, Brandt, Sancho, Fullkrug

Real Madrid: Courtois, Carvajal, Nacho, Rudiger, Mendy, Valverde, Kroos, Camavinga, Bellingham, Rodrygo, Vinicius Junior

Source: Al Jazeera