Borussia Dortmund will be looking to the firepower of Erling Haaland as they bid to cement top spot in UEFA Champions League Group F at home to Lazio on Wednesday.
bundesliga.com looks at five reasons why BVB can edge further ahead of their Italian counterparts and book their place in the knockout rounds…
1) Immobile good, Haaland better
Lazio striker Ciro Immobile put old friendships on ice for 90 minutes on Matchday 1 of this season’s European campaign, tormenting his former side with a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win in Rome.
The 30-year-old remains in fine form, and has found the net in each of his subsequent five games in all competitions, scoring six times in total. He hit a brace in Lazio’s last Champions League assignment, a 3-1 win over Zenit St. Petersburg that kept Simeone Inzaghi’s side just a point behind Dortmund going into this tie.
As impressive as that is, there are not many forwards that can match Haaland’s numbers. The Norway international has 33 goals in just 32 outings in all competitions for Dortmund, is the leading scorer in Europe this season with six goals in four games, and he he has hit the target in every Champions League fixture in 2020/21, registering braces in his last two.
Watch: Goal-hungry Haaland smashing records
Haaland may have fired a blank in the shock 2-1 defeat to Cologne at the weekend, just the fourth game out of 13 that he has not scored this season, but before then he had 12 goals in seven, including four against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 8.
And having somehow missed from close range in the closing seconds against the Billy Goats on Saturday, you’d be brave to bet against the Dortmund forward taking out his frustration on Lazio.
2) Sancho loving it in Europe
Jadon Sancho may be having a relatively quiet season by his standards in the Bundesliga – he’s yet to score and has just two assists in seven appearances – but he is thriving on the continent.
The 20-year-old registered his first Champions League goal of 2020/21 on Matchday 2, coolly stroking home from the penalty spot to pave the way for a 2-0 success at home to Zenit St. Petersburg.
Watch: The tactical evolution of Sancho's game
He was rested for BVB’s next European assignment, a 3-0 triumph away to Brugge, but sent out a statement performance at home to the Belgian side last week. Sancho laid on the opening goal for Haaland with a trademark threaded pass into his path, and effectively killed the game off on the stroke of half-time with a postage-stamp free-kick into the top corner from the edge of the D.
Oh, and did we mention that four of his five Champions League goals have come on Dortmund soil?
3) Best young supporting cast in the world
Haaland and Sancho are relative veterans in the BVB squad at 20, the headline acts at the worst kept secret in world football: that Dortmund is a home to the best young talent on the planet.
Jude Bellingham could have gone to any number of major European clubs over the summer but the 17-year-old only had one destination in mind – the Signal Iduna Park. Now a full senior England international, the central midfielder has made seven Bundesliga outings and a further four in the Champions League, starting twice.
Watch: Dortmund - the new home of the next generation
And should Haaland or Sancho have an off day further forward, there are plenty more teenagers to step forward. Gio Reyna has a goal and four assists in the Bundesliga this term and has started BVB’s three most recent European fixtures (all of which they have won). Having turned 18 in mid-November, he recently agreed a long-term contract extension at the club.
And then there’s Youssoufa Moukoko. Record-breaker extraordinaire at youth level, the forward became the youngest Bundesliga player in history when he made his debut just a day after turning 16 on November 21, while he also featured against Cologne at the weekend. A new record beckons as the Champions League’s freshest-faced player should he take to the pitch against Lazio.
4) Out for revenge – and able to get it
Making up for the loss to Cologne is not the only motivating factor head coach Lucien Favre can remind his players of ahead of kick-off: Dortmund also want some payback for their defeat in Rome in October.
They were slow out of the blocks back then, uncharacteristically sloppy in defence to allow Lazio to take a 2-0 lead inside 23 minutes. Chasing the game in the second half, they were caught out on the break and could ultimately have no complaints about the result. Victory on Wednesday would certainly help erase those unwelcome memories.
Not only that, but having recovered in the meantime with three straight Champions League games to go top of their section, three more points would guarantee Dortmund a place in the knockout stages as group winners.
5) Rock solid at the back
The foundation for any win starts at the back, and with three consecutive clean sheets in the Champions League, Dortmund clearly know what they are doing.
A calf injury to Thomas Meunier will force Favre into a reshuffle – the Belgian has started every game this term either at right-back or right wing-back – but in Felix Passlack and Lukasz Piszczek they have versatile replacements ready to step in.
All of which means Favre has options at the back and although he has set his team up with a four-man rearguard recently, with Raphael Guerreiro operating on the left, he could revert to three at the back and push the latter forward if needed.