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Borussia Dortmund learns lessons to beat Atletico Madrid and reach first Champions League semi-final in eleven years



Borussia Dortmund learns lessons to beat Atletico Madrid and reach first Champions League semi-final in eleven years

Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park may not have been the site of the biggest upset on Tuesday, but the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals have produced nothing but drama so far, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that Borussia Dortmund were able to provide a spectacle of their own . It came in the form of a back-and-forth 4-2 victory over Atletico Madrid, giving them a 5-4 lead that sends them to their first Champions League semi-final since their run to the final in the 2012-13 season .

It was a statement-making performance in which Dortmund appeared to learn the lessons from last week’s 2-1 defeat in Madrid, as their defense crumbled early and often against Atleti’s press. But on Tuesday the German team was ahead, leading the possession battle and already had six shots after half an hour. At halftime the hosts had ten shots on the board, five of which were on target and most importantly a 3-2 lead on aggregate thanks to goals from Julian Brandt and Ian Maatsen.

However, chaos was the theme of the Champions League quarter-finals and so Atleti made the aggregate score 3-3 in the 49th minute through a Mats Hummels own goal and then took a 4-3 lead with Angel Correa’s shot in the 64th minute. Needing the goals, Diego Simeone’s team essentially used their aggregate deficit as an opportunity to return to the open transitional play that Dortmund created a week earlier and quickly reaped the rewards. They had a slim lead in possession and seven shots when Correa’s strike found the back of the net, while Dortmund had three shots but none on target.

However, with a 4-3 lead, Atleti returned to an approach that did not suit them at all: an approach in which they did everything they could to defend the lead. They managed not to make a single shot for the rest of the match, but conceded seven shots, four on target and ultimately two goals. Be that as it may, Atleti’s inability to defend was to Dortmund’s advantage and Niclas Fullkrug and Marcel Sabtizer scored to give their side a 5–4 aggregate lead just 10 minutes after Correa’s strike.

Although half of the semi-finalists are yet to be determined, Dortmund will undoubtedly be the underdogs in the final four. To reach the final at London’s Wembley Stadium – the venue of their previous final appearance – they will first have to overcome Paris Saint-Germain, at their own pace after taking care of Barcelona. This will mark a repeat of their group stage encounters and although Dortmund topped Group F, PSG beat Dortmund 2-0 at home and then drew 1-1 in Germany on a day when neither side needed more than a point to move forward.

However, Tuesday’s thrilling performance could provide some clues to Dortmund’s potential for success in the semi-finals. Sabitzer stood out with one goal and two assists and could potentially take advantage of PSG’s porous backline; they have conceded thirteen goals so far, the most among the quarter-finalists. This draw shows that defense is also Dortmund’s weakness, and they certainly won’t have the advantage of playing against a team like the attack-averse Atleti they met on Tuesday. However, the highlight of the quarter-final victory could be enough to transform the 2023/2024 season from an average season to a memorable one for Dortmund fans.

The same cannot be said for Atleti, who have had their moments in the Champions League this season but never felt like a real contender for a particularly deep run. The fantastic seasons of Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata have not made up for the overall dullness of the team this season, and the quarter-final collapse reinforces the idea that Atleti are stuck in a pattern. There is no doubt that Atleti are good enough to play in the Champions League and a quarter-final appearance seems appropriate for their level. That said, their inability to work with a leader shows real room for improvement, not just in terms of personnel, but perhaps in their overall tactical strategy.