Malaga manager Manuel Pellegrini is likely to select his first choice side since Julio Baptista’s return from injury, with the Brazilan occupying a central advanced midfield role, with Isco moving to a left-sided position.
For Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp has introduced Nuri Sahin to the side and pushed Ilkay Gundogan into a more advanced position in recent weeks, but the on loan Turkish midfielder is cup-tied in Europe, suggesting Gundogan will return to a deeper role and Kevin Groβkreutz will complete the attacking trio behind Robert Lewandowski. Mats Hummels continues to miss out as he recovers from injury, so Felipe Santana will carry on partnering Neven Subotic in defence.
Malaga continue to be a surprise package in both La Liga and Europe, whereas Dortmund are now accepted as one of the continent’s elite sides, and have assumed the pressure and expectation that this brings.
Tactical Comparison: 4-2-3-1 vs 4-2-3-1
4-2-3-1 match-ups negate the benefits of the system – both team have two deep midfielders to occupy the space the opposing playmakers wish to create from. Therefore it is often creative movement and brave (or foolish) positioning that decides such contests.
Dortmund are matched against a similar style for the second round in succession. Against Shakhtar Donetsk Klopp’s side prospered with their aggressive pressing, attacking full backs and quick transitions. These features of their play will benefit them again. They specifically have two main advantages. Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek are far more accomplished going forward from full back than their opposite numbers, and will add greater variety to Dortmund’s attacking play than Vitorino Antunes and Jesus Gamez. In attack Lewandowski offers a mobile but physical target, capable of holding the ball up and bringing teammates into play, whereas if Javier Saviola starts ahead of Roque Santa Cruz for Malaga he will offer pace and finishing ability, but little link-up play. In a single striker system a quality target man can add far more to the team than just a goal threat, and in Lewandowski Dortmund have one of Europe’s best.
Tactical Adjustments: Playmakers on the Left, Wingers on the Right
The reintroduction of Baptista means that both sides set their attacking band of three in a similar way. Joaquin and Kevin Groβkreutz provide genuine width on the right, while Isco and Marco Reus are playmakers that drift infield from the left. Isco was a real success in the central role before Baptista’s return to the side, but will continue to offer a creative option out wide, whereas Reus made his name as a central attacker at Borussia Monchengladbach.
There is a nice balance to this arrangement. Teams often interpret a 4-2-3-1 shape as either a means to play with three narrow playmakers (Chelsea) or two genuine wingers (Manchester United), but both Pellegrini and Klopp clearly strive for a bit of both. Yet both sets of attackers will need support from their full backs who equally will look to move into space ahead of them. Both Antunes and Schmelzer will be tasked with providing natural width for their respective teams on the left flank, whereas Gamez and Piszczek should find space to run into during transitions.
Individual Analysis: Julio Baptista
Baptista’s return to the side coincided with Malaga’s qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Pellegrini’s decision to field him centrally at the expense of the impressive Isco probably raised a few eyebrows, but the manager might have considered the qualities Baptista can bring to the central role.
With Isco behind Saviola Malaga were a pure 4-2-3-1 , with a clear distinction between the attacking band and defensive band in midfield. The playmaker is a willing runner but ultimately positions himself to take advantage of space available to him. Baptista lacks Isco’s creativity or appreciation of space, but adds physicality and versatility to the side. He is also accustomed to playing in a deeper midfield role, and his powerful running can often turn Malaga into a 4-2-1-3 shape, giving them an extra man in midfield. Conversely the Brazilian can also move forward alongside Saviola and form a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 shape should Pellegrini want to attack more directly. Isco may be a better player but his form has not suffered from his displacement, and the extra dimension offered by Baptista makes him a useful addition.
Against Dortmund Baptista may be need to track the runs of Gundogan, who has become accustomed to play further forward and looks to connect the defensive and attacking parts of the side.
Malaga are unbeaten at home in the Champions League this season, winning every game to nil, with the exception of a 2-2 draw with Anderlecht when qualification from the group stage was assured and key players were rested. Yet wins over a stuttering AC Milan side – still experimenting with a 3-4-3 shape – a Zenit St Petersburg squad embroiled in the Axel Witsel/Hulk fiasco and a Porto team that spent 41 minutes down to ten men are long way away from victory over the reigning Bundesliga Champions. Dortmund begin the tie as favourites and rightly so. They were excellent in emerging from a group with Real Madrid and Manchester City, and similarly impressive in defeating Shakhtar in the last 16.