[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] One of the most perplexing and tumultuous seasons in Real Madrid history is on the verge of ending with one of club soccer's greatest achievements, a 10th European Cup. On May 25 in London Cristiano Ronaldo and Madrid can finally slap a domino on the table Lionel Messi and Barcelona will never beat, first to La Decima. Borussia Dortmund's Westfalenstadion won't be able to contain Jose Mourinho's ego a year from now if that happens, but Jurgen Klopp's fantastic young team will have its say in the matter starting Wednesday night.
TV: Borussia Dortmund–Real Madrid (Wednesday 2:45pm ET, FX)
HOW SOON THEY FORGET: Borussia Dortmund’s ferocious, and fortunate, fightback over lightly regarded Malaga is said to have exposed BVB’s elite credentials, with losing to Madrid all but a formality. An odd conclusion considering Dortmund remains the only unbeaten squad in this year’s Champions League, while the only clubs Madrid hasn’t outperformed head-to-head all season have been Dortmund -- and Malaga.
Los Blancos lost 3-2 in Malaga, having yet to play the return, and only Mesut Ozul’s desperate 89th minute free kick in Spain kept Dortmund from taking all six points as it strolled unscathed through the group of death.
COACHING CHARISMA: Mourinho, at 50, has already planted his flag as one of the greatest coachest ever, while Klopp -- who had to state explicitly he’s not leaving Dortmund for Mourinho’s former job at Chelsea or his current one in Madrid -- also seems destined for stardom, at 45.
At first glance the ebullient 6-foot-3 German, who’s coached two teams since 2001, and the scowling 5-foot-9 Portuguese, who’s overseen six clubs since 2000, appear dissimilar. But their commonalities are far greater. Energetic, successful, eminently watchable and quotable, their most vital parallel may be the way they connect with their players.
“Mourinho and Klopp are very similar. I like how both pass their energy on to their teams. Everything at Dortmund bears Klopp’s signature ...” Madrid’s Xabi Alonso said.
ROTATING REARGUARD: Real Madrid’s opening game this year was a 1-1 tie at the Bernabeu with Valencia. Iker Casillas was in goal with Alvaro Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao across the back. Ramos and Coentrao are the only two likely to start in Germany.
Mourinho’s choice to stay with Diego Lopez after Casillas, the Spanish national team captain, returned from injury was said to be personal, but Lopez has shone. Michael Essien has played more than expected; Mourinho’s trust in his former Chelsea player on loan helped the Ghanaian find a home at right back. While the spectacular Raphael Varane, whose 20th birthday occurs between legs, has been penciled in for the next decade defendingSpain’s capital. Pepe still has a role in back, or late game hatchet man in midfield -- the one he was born for.
STYLES MAKE FIGHTS: Madrid is the best counterattacking team in the world but BVB isn’t far behind. Madrid lies deep and counters at light speed, with Dortmund its more of a high press, but its young stars also fond of quick possession passing, with Marco Reus, Mario Goetze, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Germany’s top scorer, Robert Lewandoski, seeking slightly lower percentage passes than Barcelona offering bigger payoffs. Dortmund really frustrated Madrid’s players in their group matches and an aggressive physical correction from the jump would be classic Mourinho.
Remaining scoring leaders: Ronaldo 11 goals, Messi 8, Lewandoski 6, and Thomas Muller 5.
THE SKINNY: Dortmund’s advantage over every other semifinalist was home field. All the venues are spectacular but Madrid, Barcelona and Munich have tame fans, an adjective that has never been associated with Dormund’s enviable lunatics. BVB’s won every UCL home game and this is the last time its boisterous crowd will have its say. Both of Madrid’s losses came on the road, including the one in Dortmund.
Madrid’s biggest advantage may in fact be that it was outplayed by Dortmund just last fall, which doesn’t make any sense, unless you follow Madrid, which is seemingly always in need of artificial motivation, a perceived slight, or genuine goliath in the other dressing room to awake from its afternoon siesta. Newly minted EPL champion Manchester United took one point in two games with Madrid, Barca had one win and three defeats in six games, those were all games Madrid feared losing, and that’s when it plays best. Mourinho’s players and their fans now know Dortmund is capable of running them off the field, and then going for ice cream.
Klopp’s kids seem to swarm toward bright lights undaunted, but Spain’s slumbering bear will arrive at Dortmund’s reverberating stadium fully aroused Wednesday, and six days later -- one of these teams is going to qualify for the Champions League final.