Reus form a boost as Stoger solidifies Dortmund ready for big spell

Reus form a boost as Stoger solidifies Dortmund ready for big spell
From ESPN - March 7, 2018

On Thursday night, Borussia Dortmund enter the round of 16 in the Europa League, hosting the first leg against Austrian league leaders FC Salzburg.

The Black and Yellows just squeezed past Serie A's Atalanta in the last round, relying on a late goalkeeper error in the return leg to score the necessary goal to go through, 4-3 aggregate. The match in Reggio Emilia, in which BVB looked thoroughly uninspiring, was only a fortnight ago, but in the fast moving world of football spirits quickly change.

Dortmund took a lot of heart from Saturday's 1-1 draw in Leipzig. It was a close fight between two competitors for the Champions League spots, in which Peter Stoger's side were on par with last season's Bundesliga runners-up if not better. On paper, it should be normal the Ruhr side have improved their chances against any league opponent that is not Bayern Munich given their financial power, which gives them a sizeable advantage over 16 other clubs.

However, in a season in which the Black and Yellows have struggled if not collapsed entirely against top teams, the benchmarks are different. After going behind 30 minutes into Saturday's match, Dortmund were not shaken but showed resilience and found a vital equaliser just eight minutes later, scored by Marco Reus.

Stoger, who has faced a lot of criticism for his team's lack of ideas, can take for credit reinstating mental toughness to a side that had lost several points in the past due to a lack of self-confidence. It was also the right response to a poor performance in the prior league match, which yielded in a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Augsburg.

It is now on the players to prove they do not only raise their game in the more prestigious games but also against opponents with a lesser pedigree. Salzburg, who have been relegated to a farm team for Leipzig within the cosmos of drink manufacturer Red Bull, would fall into the latter category.

Salzburg have lost pivotal players Konrad Leimer, Naby Keita, Dayot Upamecano, Bernardo, Stefan Ilsanker and Peter Gulacsi among others to Leipzig since 2015 and enter Thursday's match as great underdogs, despite sitting on a comfortable 10-point lead in the Austrian Bundesliga.

Stoger affirmed at Wendesday's prematch news conference that having played Leipzig on Saturday was a helpful preparation.

"Obviously, Leipzig and Salzburg have a similar philosophy," he told reporters, adding: "They try to press high, play on the transition and have a similar focus on winning loose balls. However, it's completely the same style."

Nevertheless, Stoger expects a game similar to the one in Leipzig, promising stadium-goers an entertaining match that will see two attacking-minded teams. If the prediction holds true, the Black and Yellows should comfortably earn the spoils as their front four impressively demonstrated that they cut like a hot knife through butter when opposing teams offer space.


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