Dortmund played the Champions League final like favourites but lost in sadly predictable circumstances

It is a little simplistic but not entirely unreasonable to suggest that Real Madrid did not win this European Cup final. Borussia Dortmund lost it.

The club who threw away a Bundesliga title last season by stumbling to a 2-2 final day draw against a mid-table Mainz side with nothing to play for were undone by silly errors at Wembley, ruining the excellent work they’d done throughout the first hour.

Even the most ardent Madrid supporter would surely concede that Edin Terzic’s side were superior for the majority of this contest, particularly in the first half. In a surprisingly open game in which both sides were focused on trying to play their own game rather than stopping the opposition, Dortmund took control. This is a side who only finished fifth in their domestic league, and the usual approach for modest sides who find themselves in this situation — Liverpool (2005), Chelsea (2012) — is to play as underdogs. Dortmund played like favourites.

Terzic used a 4-3-3 rather than his usual 4-2-3-1, which worked effectively. Without the ball, Marcel Sabitzer pushed up and pressed Toni Kroos more effectively than Bayern Munich managed in the semi-final, preventing him from playing the ball forward into the attackers. That starved Real’s attackers of service, and Madrid offered little else.

Emre Can protected the defence well and watched Jude Bellingham’s drifts inside from Real’s left wing. Dortmund right-back Julian Ryerson played aggressively against Vinicius Junior — and while he was done by the Brazilian’s speed and trickery on a couple of occasions, the outstanding Mats Hummels repeatedly covered behind him, and put in two outstanding tackles.


With the ball, Dortmund created serious chances. The system meant that they played neat combinations between the winger and No 8 on either flank, with Sabitzer drifting to the right and interchanging with Jadon Sancho, and Julian Brandt moving left and taking it in turns with Karim Adeyemi to draw Real’s right-back Dani Carvajal up the pitch and then sprint in behind.

And sprinting in behind was clearly Dortmund’s main approach — as if they’d spent their whole week working on that simple concept.  In the first half, they created several good moments from that sort of approach play, most obviously when Adeyemi ran in behind, rounded Thibaut Courtois, but sent himself too wide and couldn’t finish. Then came Niclas Fullkrug’s run in behind, and a shot which hit the far post. Madrid, as always, were not pressing with great energy, and found their defensive line breached by Dortmund’s passing from deep.

Other managers would make dramatic changes at half-time. Carlo Ancelotti, of course, approached the situation very calmly. There were no substitutions and no major change of shape for the second half, although his assistant and son, Davide, was seen encouraging Rodrygo to stay wider on the right after he’d spent the first period trying to combine with Vinicius Jr down the left. Madrid grew into the game, without ever playing wonderfully.

Dortmund conceded two goals in sadly predictable circumstances. Coming into this game, five of their previous nine concessions had some in the aftermath of set pieces — granted, sometimes when they’d successfully cleared the first ball, and then conceded from the second phase. The first thing to avoid, then, is conceding cheap corners. But they did so here, on 73 minutes.

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Carvajal rises highest after Dortmund conceded an avoidable set piece (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

They’d had a warning, too. Go back 25 minutes earlier, and 5ft 8in (173cm) right-back Carvajal had snuck across the near post to nod a Kroos corner over the bar.

But Dortmund didn’t learn their lesson. Kroos took the same type of corner, Carvajal made the same type of run, and this time he flicked the ball home.

Terzic knew he had to make changes. Maybe he made overly drastic changes. Having already introduced Marco Reus for his final Dortmund appearance, he then brought on both Sebastien Haller and Donyell Malen, two further attackers, and emptied the midfield. He needed to gamble, but Dortmund’s structure went out of the window.

And then came the killer second — again, from a familiar failing. In a 2-1 defeat at Atletico Madrid in the quarter-final first leg, left-back Ian Maatsen drifted inside, played an under-hit square pass straight to Atleti midfielder Rodrigo De Paul, who had a simple finish. Mistakes like that, not just from Maatsen, have been alarmingly common for Dortmund this season. Here, Maatsen played a blind pass across his defence straight to Bellingham, who fed the ball onto Vinicius Jr to make it 2-0, and put the game to bed.

The instinctive reaction to the result is that it’s classic Real Madrid — playing badly and still winning the Champions League final, as always. In their European Cup final wins this century, they’ve probably played badly more often than they’ve played well. Sometimes you feel the opposition couldn’t have done much more and were denied by a couple of superhuman performances — Liverpool’s loss to Real two years ago, for example, was largely down to Courtois’ brilliance.

This year, Dortmund — who were probably the eighth-favourites for the competition with eight sides remaining — deserve great credit for battling through to this stage, and for their excellent performance on the night. But they were also their own worst enemies. They missed great chances. They twice allowed one of the smallest players on the pitch to get his head to corners. They presented the ball straight to Real’s danger man.

Dortmund supporters have become accustomed to the players in yellow and black falling short. This defeat, though, will particularly sting.


(Top photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

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