Borussia Dortmund head to Milan with a place in the UEFA Champions League last 16 in their sights. - © IMAGO/VITALII KLIUIEV
Borussia Dortmund head to Milan with a place in the UEFA Champions League last 16 in their sights. - © IMAGO/VITALII KLIUIEV

Five reasons Borussia Dortmund will beat AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League


With Niclas Füllkrug finding goalscoring form, Julian Brandt still on song, and their recent continental performances beyond reproach, looks at how Borussia Dortmund can take a big step towards the UEFA Champions League Last 16 by beating AC Milan in their Matchday 5 encounter.

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1) High-end Brandt

Julian Brandt has been in fine form for Dortmund at the start of the 2023/24 campaign, with four goals and five assists from his 12 Bundesliga games this term.

Able to operate in midfield or attack, Brandt has scored his league goals at a rate of one every four attempts, and averages nearly five tackles per top-flight outing, showing he can mix steel with the silk.

Watch: Julian Brandt on fire this season

Three of his goals have earned Dortmund seven points, proof of an ability to turn matches in his team's favour that the 27-year-old has developed over more than 300 Bundesliga appearances for Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and BVB combined.

"He's a child of the Bundesliga. It's extraordinary to have played so many games at that age," said Dortmund coach Edin Terzić after seeing Brandt net the only goal of the game against Werder Bremen on Matchday 8. "Week after week, he makes himself more and more important to us. Not only on the pitch, but also in the dressing room. His voice is becoming increasingly important."

 2) European Momentum

Dortmund's Bundesliga form may have been up and down in recent weeks, with Saturday's stirring 4-2 comeback triumph over Borussia Mönchengladbach ending a three game winless run, but they are on a roll in the Champions League.

Following their opening game loss to Paris Saint-Germain, Dortmund have kept three successive clean sheets, and scored three times without reply in back-to-back wins against Newcastle United to move to the top of Group F.

Wins over Newcastle have put Dortmund in charge of Champions League Group F. - IMAGO/Crystal Pix

"Seven points from four games is very good," said former Dortmund Champions League winner Matthias Sammer. "It's by far the toughest group in this season's Champions League. Beating Newcastle twice is very difficult and they've done that."

 If you're a history buff, Sammer was the Dortmund coach when BVB became only the second team to defeat Milan in the Champions League thanks to a Jan Koller goal at San Siro in March 2003. And if you're still curious: Hertha Berlin in 1999 are other Bundesliga victors vs. the rossoneri.

 3) 'D' is for Defence

When you have Nico Schlotterbeck, Niklas Süle and Mats Hummels available, perhaps it should not be a surprise that opponents find it tough to score against you.

They have struggled to keep domestic rivals at bay - their 19 goals against is the highest tally in the top five - but in continental competition, they are watertight. With just two goals conceded across four games, Dortmund have the joint-best defence in this season’s groups, along with Inter Milan and Barcelona.

Goalkeeper Gregor Kobel is also a major part of that. "Kobel is the best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga," said former Germany and Bayern Munich midfielder Mario Basler recently.

Watch: The best of Gregor Kobel

Kobel, who became the first Dortmund goalkeeper in 10 years to stop a Bundesliga penalty in the defeat to Matchday 11 defeat to VfB Stuttgart, was superb in the goalless draw at home to Milan, coming out on top in a number of one-on-one duels.

"The players in front of you are also super cool," the Switzerland international replied when told he looked calm and showed patience in the face of the Italian team's forwards. "If you give them space too soon or choose a side, they see it."

 4) Putting Pulisic in his place?

Former Dortmund man Christian Pulisic has been talismanic for Milan this season. In the six games in which he has either scored or assisted, Milan are unbeaten, and have won all but one of those matches.

 The USMNT star joined Milan from Chelsea this summer, having left the Signal Iduna Park for Stamford Bridge in 2019 with 19 goals, 26 assists, 127 games and a DFB Cup winner's medal under his belt.

But Pulisic is just coming back from a thigh injury that has kept him out since early November, and Terzić should know how to put the brakes on the American: he was assistant coach at BVB for Pulisic's final two years in a yellow-and-black shirt.

Terzic (l.) was assistant to head coach Lucien Favre (r.) between 2018-2020, and helped oversee Christian Pulisic's (2nd l.) development at the club. -

Pulisic isn't the only former Bundesliga threat in the Milan ranks. Luka Jovic scored 40 goals in 93 competitive appearances in a combined two-and-a-half seasons at Eintracht Frankfurt, including 17 goals in 32 Bundesliga games in a bountiful 2018/19 campaign.

The Serbia international forward has not hit the same heights since. Hopefully, facing familiar opposition will not see him refind his best form.

5) The F word

Füllkrug has taken a little time to get into the goalscoring swing of things since his summer move from Bremen, but the man who struck a joint-Bundesliga high 16 times last season is starting to show signs he's finding his goalscoring form.

His strike against Gladbach was his fourth league goal in his last seven top-flight outings, while the 30-year-old forward maintained his sensational start to his international career with a 10th goal in just 12 senior appearances for Germany during the November break. Only Bayern's Serge Gnabry has reached double figures for goals in fewer Germany appearances (11) than Füllkrug in the last 45 years.

Watch: Niclas Füllkrug scored one and made another against Gladbach

"'Fülle' is already very good. He does things like a true goalscorer," said Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann after seeing Füllkrug find the net and set up another goal in the 3-1 win over the USA in October that kicked off the former Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich boss' tenure with the national team.

He also scored his first Champions League goal in the 2-0 home win over Newcastle in Dortmund's last home game, even starting the counter-attack that led to his strike with a header inside his own penalty area to sum up his and his teammates' industrious, self-sacrificing attitude.

"With a lot of very hard work, we have put ourselves in a great position in the group. We have everything in our own hands," said Füllkrug, whose team are a point ahead of PSG in the section and two clear of Milan, before revealing the secret to continued success. "Show humility every day, work, work, and do your homework."