Jude Bellingham’s class, Sebastien Haller’s inspiring return, Gio Reyna’s among a glittering array of attacking options and a sturdy defence – bundesliga.com outlines why Borussia Dortmund have what it takes to beat Chelsea when the two sides meet in the UEFA Champions League last 16.
1) Boosted Bellingham
Few on the planet will have failed to have noticed that Bellingham is someone who simply rises to every occasion thrust on him. The English midfielder’s figures back up the case that he ups his game on the biggest stage in club football. Bellingham has four goals to his name in 19 appearances in the Bundesliga this season, whereas he has managed four goals in five matches in the Champions League. He smashed a record for most goals in a Champions League campaign by an English teenager in the process. Only five players have outscored him in the competition so far.
Bellingham is also an extraordinary tackler – winning more duels than any other player in the Bundesliga this season. In a Champions League tie, it is more likely to be the case that he wins the ball in situations when opponents have pushed men forward, allowing him to make an immediate contribution to an attack – or find gaps in the opponents’ defence for his darting runs from midfield.
There is a good explanation for this trend, in addition to Bellingham’s sheer maturity and confidence. Champions League encounters tend to more often pit Dortmund against opponents playing at the same high level, which gives the 19-year-old a chance to better show his energetic all-round attributes.
2) All hail Haller
When Dortmund signed Haller last summer, they did so in the knowledge that when it comes to the Champions League, the Ivorian means goals, goals and more goals!
Haller smashed four for Ajax away at Sporting Lisbon in his first-ever appearance in the competition in September 2021. Things continued in the same vein that season, with 11 goals in eight matches over the course of Ajax’s campaign – including one in each of 4-0 and 3-1 wins against his current employers.
Only Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski, both of whom played more matches, overtook Haller in the 2021/22 Champions League goalscoring charts. In fact, if you look at the top 50 Champions League goalscorers of all time, Haller has a better goals-to-game ratio (1.38) than all of them. Only one – a certain Erling Haaland, who Haller was signed to replace at Dortmund – comes close (1.22 goals per game).
Haller already showed with five goals for Frankfurt back in their 2018/19 Europa League campaign how eager he is to light up a European night. He has been one of the stories of the season so far in the Bundesliga for a major personal success off the pitch – winning a battle against testicular cancer. That he is to feature again in the Champions League is remarkable enough, but after netting his first goal for Dortmund in their recent 5-1 win over Freiburg, he looks ready to resume his love affair with the competition.
3) Fired on by the fans
There must be few moments as spine-tingling in football than taking to the pitch at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, with over 80,000 fans roaring You’ll Never Walk Alone at the top of their lungs before getting behind their beloved Borussia.
The club can be proud of having the second-highest average attendance in Europe (behind only Barcelona), but it’s not just a case of getting bums on seats – not that BVB supporters have to sit anymore after UEFA once again allowed standing sections, meaning the Westfalenstadion can be at full capacity in Europe again. Dortmund fans are known for their passion – as shown in the formidable sight of the Yellow Wall – and their knowledge of when they need to be at their loudest to give their team an extra edge.
When Chelsea’s star-studded ensemble rolls into town, expect the supporters to go the extra mile to get behind their boys. Copenhagen, Sevilla and Manchester City have all failed to win at Signal Iduna Park in this season’s Champions League, and Dortmund are unbeaten there in all competitions since August.
Bellingham claimed after the 0-0 draw with Man City in October that some of the Premier League players seemed rattled by the sheer noise. Bellingham said: “I say to people it’s not just a football stadium or a set of fans, it’s like an ‘experience’ playing here. They’re that good, the fans on the Yellow Wall.”
4) Attacking riches
Reyna has made a great contribution with three goals off the substitutes’ bench so far in 2023, but the fact the American still isn’t certain of any game time is proof of the sheer quality of Dortmund’s squad. Coach Edin Terzic unsurprisingly said the substitutes’ bench in a 2-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen was the best the club had ever had.
Karim Adeyemi is another attacking option who has relished the return to the Bundesliga after the winter. The summer signing from Red Bull Salzburg waited a while to get on the scoresheet at his new club, but promptly hit two in two games during wins against Leverkusen and Freiburg – a match he broke the Bundesliga’s all-time speed record in – and he has claimed Rookie of the Month honours for January as a result.
Youthful energy is perhaps best complemented by the wisdom of experience, and Dortmund has a handy card in that regard too. Talismanic skipper Marco Reus returned to fitness in recent weeks and provided an assist on his first start of 2023 against Freiburg. Another part of the equation is the battle to spearhead the attack between the healthy again Haller, teenage prodigy Youssoufa Moukoko and dependable Anthony Modeste. Dortmund quite simply has a staggering collection of firepower.
5) Striving for spots at the back
It’s not just in an attack that Dortmund has an embarrassment of riches their finding across the pitch that healthy competition for spaces in a squad can drive players to new heights. And that appears to have been a major factor behind a resurgence in Dortmund’s defensive fortunes recently.
In Niklas Süle, Nico Schlotterbeck and Mats Hummels, there is a triumvirate of German international centre-backs in Black and Yellow vying for two spots in Edin Terzic’s side. Schlotterbeck and Hummels were selected for Dortmund’s first match after the winter break, a 4-3 win against Augsburg, but since then Süle and Schlotterbeck have anchored the backline – with the side conceding just two goals in the four league matches since and winning all six of their competitive fixtures in 2023.
Even if he can’t convince his coach to give him a starting berth, the vast knowledge and experience of Hummels, who has 77 previous Champions League appearances, provides a superb alternative should some extra defensive steel be required to keep out the Premier League side.
Settling upon a successful defensive formula could give Dortmund a major advantage against a Chelsea side who have scored just one goal in their last three matches and where squad stability is an as yet unattainable dream for Graham Potter. His team have also won only one of their eight matches this calendar year, while it’s just two in 12 since the end of the group stage in November.