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How underdogs Borussia Dortmund reached the Champions League final while finishing fifth in Bundesliga

Written by on May 27, 2024

Happy Memorial Day! After several teams won some new silverware over the weekend, the European season is winding down and all eyes are quickly turning to the finale — Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley Stadium. I’m Pardeep Cattry to kick things off ahead of a big week with a look at the latest.

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⚽ The Forward Line

🏆 Happy Champions League final week

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Final preparations are officially underway for Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, which will see Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid hit the pitch at London’s Wembley Stadium to be crowned champions of Europe. This marks the eighth time Wembley will host the showcase, but it is not just familiar territory for the Champions League trophy — it was also the site of Dortmund’s last appearance in the final back in 2013, when they lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich.

They were the underdogs 11 years ago, and will be again on Saturday, but the differences between the two finalists feel much more magnified this time around. Bayern may have won the Bundesliga that year, but they had to snap a two year title-winning streak from Dortmund, then managed by Jurgen Klopp, to do so. This season, Dortmund finished fifth in the Bundesliga and are up against a Real Madrid team that cruised to victory in La Liga and have outpowered just about every team standing in their way in Europe.

Dortmund are fully chasing a redemption arc after their last disappointment at Wembley, though, and have spent the entire Champions League season making the case that they have what it takes. Topping a group with Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Newcastle United was the first sign of their true mettle, while the ability to recover from a first leg deficit in their quarterfinal win over Atletico Madrid and their tactical superiority in the semifinals over PSG solidified it. Dortmund have quietly demonstrated an impressive ability to compete at Europe’s top levels this summer, and will travel to London with a handful of players who are ready to do damage.

The team’s attack has been its strength during this run to the final, almost resembling Real Madrid’s ability to overcome their defensive shortcomings by outscoring the opponent. Marcel Sabitzer has been key with five assists, leading the Champions League in that category, while Julian Brandt ranks in the top five for chances created with 24 while also posting 11 assists in the Bundesliga this season. The addition of Jadon Sancho, who joined in the winter on loan from Manchester United, has also helped quite a bit — he completed 12 take-ons in Dortmund’s 1-0 victory over PSG in the first leg of the semifinals, becoming the first Englishman to do so in a Champions League match.

That’s good news against a Real Madrid that averages 1.22 goals against per game in Champions League play this season, but the German side will need to be at their best to take advantage of the opponent’s somewhat porous defense. Dortmund rank midtable for goals per game (1.42), expected goals per game (1.27) and shots per game (13.17) in the Champions League this season, but as their improbable run proves, there’s no reason to count them out just yet.

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🔗  Midfield Link Play

🔴🔵 Barcelona win back-to-back UWCL titles

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While the countdown continues on the men’s final, Barcelona won their second UEFA Women’s Champions League final on Saturday in Bilbao, beating Lyon 2-0 in a match that feels like a turning point in the women’s game in Europe.

Barcelona out-possessed Lyon but both sides had their chances, with each taking 14 shots over the course of the 90 minutes. The back-to-back champions proved to be more clinical, though, taking five shots on goal to Lyon’s two and eventually scoring the game’s only goals. Aitana Bonmati added to her credentials as the world’s best player by scoring the opening goal in the 63rd minute, while Alexia Putellas sealed the deal in the fifth minute of stoppage time, a nice reward after a season of struggles after undergoing knee surgery in December.

The Champions League victory allowed Barcelona to complete the quadruple after winning the domestic league, cup and Super Cup and also served as a fitting send-off to manager Jonatan Giraldez, who will now head to the NWSL to join the third-place Washington Spirit. The final also marked the first time Barcelona beat Lyon, who were the gold standard of the women’s game in Europe with eight Champions League titles. Lucy Bronze, who was part of Barcelona’s back-to-back triumph and won three other Champions League titles with Lyon, was arguably the perfect person to reflect on the changing of the tide.

  • Bronze: “We knew we needed to be a club that made history. It’s not easy, it’s hard to win it once, but to do it back to back, Lyon showed how difficult it is. This team’s finally done that. We go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe.”

Though the Barcelona side includes top-tier talent from outside of Spain like England’s Bronze and Keira Walsh and Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen, the core of the group is made up of local talent that has quickly risen to the top of the women’s game. Bonmati and Putellas were part of the Spain team that won last year’s Women’s World Cup and are no doubt the favorites to win the gold medal at this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris. Spain and Barcelona’s reign of dominance go hand-in-hand and are showing no signs of slowing down.

🔗  Top Stories

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 United win FA Cup: Manchester United’s youth led the way in their FA Cup win over Manchester City, providing the hint of a silver lining in a turbulent season. Questions still linger over Erik ten Hag’s future, though, after news broke the day before the final that United have already decided to fire him.

❓ City’s season at a glance: Manchester City may have won their fourth successive Premier League title this season, but after lifting just one trophy this campaign, it’s worth asking: Was their season even a success?

🇩🇪 Leverkusen do the double: Bayer Leverkusen beat Kaiserslautern 1-0 in the DFB Pokal final, going undefeated in their domestic season to win the double. Granit Xhaka scored the game’s lone goal to cap off a season in which he exceeded expectations.

🔴 Southampton promoted: Southampton beat Leeds United 1-0 in the Championship promotion playoff final on Sunday, returning to the Premier League after one season in the second division.

🔮 Mbappe’s future: After winning the French Cup with Paris Saint-Germain, Kylian MBappe said he will announce his new clubs “in a few days.”

🔴🟠 Roma miss out: Roma lost 2-1 to Empoli on the final day of the Serie A season, missing out on a spot in next season’s Champions League in the process.

💰 Real Madrid’s riches: Real Madrid took top spot on Forbes’ list of the most valuable soccer clubs in the world, overtaking Manchester United for the honor.

🇺🇸🇮🇹 USMNT players in Italy: Here’s a look back at how several USMNT players performed in Serie A this season, which was full of success for Christian Pulisic and less than idea for Yunus Musah.

💰  The Back Line

💵 Best bets

  • UEFA Champions League final: Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid, Saturday, 3 p.m.
    💰 THE PICK: Sebastien Haller to score (+300)
    — A feature of Dortmund’s attack this season is the goalscoring responsibilities have been split up amongst the group, with no one scoring more than three goals so far in the Champions League season. That doesn’t mean several players have not delivered in important moments and that includes Sebastien Haller, whose lone goal in Europe this season so far came in Dortmund’s 2-1 loss at Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the quarterfinals. It provided the foundation for their 4-2 comeback at home in the second leg and means he enters the final with the best odds of any Dortmund player to score at Wembley.

📺 What’s on CBS Sports Golazo Network

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☀ Morning Footy (Weekdays 8-10 a.m.): Hosts Susannah Collins, Charlie Davies, Nico Cantor and Alexis Guerreros help fans get their day started on the network’s flagship morning show with highlights, interviews and the biggest soccer storylines. Morning Footy is also available in podcast form, so you’ll never have to miss an episode.

📦 Box 2 Box (Weekday afternoons): The news-driven show quickly recaps all the latest headlines from around the world with panelists previewing the top matchups of the day. Catch Box 2 Box on CBS Sports Golazo Network on the CBS Sports app, PlutoTV and Paramount+. 

3⃣ Attacking Third (Monday, Thursday): The leading women’s soccer podcast and social brand is now a live studio show. The NWSL season is back and our coverage of the women’s game is stronger than ever. Our analysts will be breaking down the USWNT, NWSL and European domestic season all year long.

👟 Kickin’ It (Tuesdays): CBS Sports Golazo Network’s unfiltered interview show releases Tuesday. Hosted by Kate Abdo, Clint Dempsey, Mo Edu and Charlie Davies, the group chat candidly with the biggest names from the Beautiful Game and share their stories from on and off the pitch. 

⚽ Call it What You Want (Monday night): A weekly podcast where Jimmy Conrad, Charlie Davies and friends cover all things USMNT and the state of the beautiful game in the United States.

🥅 Scoreline (Daily): Scoreline is the newest place for fans to catch up on all the biggest news and results impacting global football, match highlights from the top soccer competitions and all the can’t-miss goals from the day’s action, starting Thursday and airing seven days a week.

📺 How to watch: CBS Sports Golazo Network is a free 24/7 channel exclusively dedicated to offering unparalleled coverage of all the top soccer competitions worldwide. You can stream for free on the CBS Sports appPluto TV and Paramount+.

The post How underdogs Borussia Dortmund reached the Champions League final while finishing fifth in Bundesliga first appeared on CBS Sports.


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