Borussia Dortmund vs Paris Saint-Germain
At a time when one story is dominating the football agenda – that of financial fair play and possible sanctions from European competition – the return of the Champions League is timely.
This tie, more than most of the last 16 fixtures, perfectly highlights the difference between the haves and the have-nots, yet also illustrates just how much pressure can be imposed upon those with major backers.
Here is one side which continues to punch above their weight domestically and in Europe; the other is underachieving on the wider stage and has also been widely linked with breaching fair play regulations themselves.
Based on their respective resources then, this should be an away banker. But as Champions League 2020 highlights from last season show, there are no givens in this competition – even when the odds are stacked in your favour.
Domestically, it’s a scenario known as deja vu for both these clubs.
Dortmund are faring well in the Bundesliga and even moved up to second for a time over the weekend after a convincing home win in which new signing Erling Braut Haaland scored again.
Yet are they going to end Bayern Munich’s domination of the title race this season?
Of course, they are not, according to this SBOTOP observer. (RB Leipzig are in contention too).
On the other side of the coin, the Ligue 1 race is all but over for another season.
A huge lead in the table and one which highlights their newfound wealth – the amount of money which allowed them to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in one summer and do so in a manner which overcame regulations.
Although he has not lived up to that mantra, at 25 Neymar was the presumptive next-best player in the world to his then-teammate Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
That PSG also then went out and signed Mbappe for the second-highest transfer fee ever, $203m, was mouth-watering.
At the time, Mbappe was just 19 and could claim the same number of Ligue 1 starts as years spent on this earth. If the move for Neymar was a massive exclamation point written in the sky for everyone to see, the Mbappe transfer was a bolt of lightning shot out of that same cloud.
Since the Qataris took over the club back in 2011, PSG have really only had one goal. Starting in 2012, they’ve won every Ligue 1 title except for that in the year before Neymar and Mbappe arrived. Domestic trophies have become a fait accompli.
As club chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi told The New York Times in 2016, “Our aim is to make the club an institution respected around the world. If we are going to make that happen, we have to win the Champions League.”
That they have failed to do so is as big an underachievement as Manchester City’s failure to land Europe’s top prize since they were bought by mega-rich owners in 2008.
One suspects this year, they are more determined than ever after back-to-back last 16 exits to an understrength Manchester United and to Real Madrid which hurt Parisians like hell in what was the French side’s eighth successive Champions League campaign.
As if to emphasise the point, both star men were rested in PSG’s kamikaze draw with Amiens in Ligue 1 on Saturday.
This tie also represents a reunion with former employers for PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, who spent two years with Dortmund from 2015 to 2017, winning the German Cup in his second season.
PSG have the best defensive record in this season’s competition having conceded only twice, both goals against Madrid in the group stages.
They will face a Dortmund side who did well to emerge from a group which comprised Barcelona and Serie A leaders Inter Milan.
This is their 14th Champions League campaign; they were winners in 1997, and runners-up in 2013 – a record PSG have never got close to.
Yet, despite winning two of their three home games at the Signal Iduna Park in the group stages, Dortmund have won only five of their last 13 European home matches (drawn three, lost five).
The onus will be very much on their front men to take a lead to the French capital ahead of the second leg on March 11.
Die Schwarzgelben will be without the injured Marco Reus, but in Jadon Sancho – the only player in double figures for both goals and assists in one of Europe’s top five leagues per UEFA coefficient this season – and the hugely impressive Haaland, who netted his eighth goal in just five appearances in Friday’s 4-0 defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt, the Bundesliga title-chasers have their own potent weapons.
They will need them against the side I consider the favourites to win this year’s competition.
The only meetings between these two clubs came in this competition in the 2010/11 group stages. Both ended all square.
An 87th-minute goal from PSG substitute Clément Chantôme cancelled out Nuri Şahin’s penalty opener for Dortmund five minutes into the second half on Matchday 3. The game at the Parc des Princes two weeks later finished goalless.
Dortmund’s record in two-legged knockout ties against French clubs is won three, lost two. They won the first three and then lost the last two – most recently against Monaco in the 2017 Champions League quarter-finals (2-3 home, 1-3 away).
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