Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League last 16 first leg was never going to be a game for the ages. Both teams were missing some of their best and most important players, meaning that Mauricio Pochettino and Lucien Favre had to give some reserves a chance on the biggest stage, while still keeping an eye on their respective leagues.
Spurs are on the edge of a title race in the Premier League, while Dortmund are on course to end Bayern Munich’s dominance in the Bundesliga and win their first title since 2012. Favre’s team are already out of the German Cup, meaning the Champions League is the only distraction from their main objective. After Wednesday night’s result at Wembley, it looks as if that distraction won’t be around for much longer.
The squad depth of both sides became evident as Spurs romped to a 3-0 win, leaving Dortmund with little or no chance in the second leg. They did put four goals past Atletico Madrid in the group stage earlier this season, but that was with a full-strength side, a luxury they no longer have. Even if they did progress, reaching the last eight or last four in Europe at the expense of the Bundesliga title would be eventually seen as failure.
Dortmund will need to call on all their squad for the German title race, but some of the fringe members failed to show they were up to the task when selected at Wembley. Christian Pulisic (£4.45) will leave the Westfalenstadion in the summer, but a trawl of Twitter during or after this match shows that a lot of BVB fans would like to see him join Chelsea even sooner.
The USMNT superstar has failed to live up to the hype this season in the Bundesliga, perhaps declining even further from an uninspiring season in 2017-18. Alongside Ousmane Dembele (£10.04) two seasons ago, he became the next big thing, but rather than progress, he has stagnated despite turning 20 in September. There is always the chance that he will kick on another level at Stamford Bridge, but Favre is unlikely to give him many more opportunities this season in Germany as once again he showed the same failings in his game that have long-been evident: poor decision-making, holding onto the ball too long, negating his defensive duties, and slowing down counter-attacks.
That malaise rubbed off on England wonder-kid Jadon Sancho (£12.65), who started brightly against Spurs but disappeared from the game in the second half as they found a way to deal with his attacking threat. Mario Gotze (£1.29) does everything that is asked of him, but was also anonymous in a false nine role, showing the need for a fit Paco Alcacer (£2.79) if Dortmund are to win the league title.
When the lineups were announced, BVB fans were excited to see Favre pick Mahmoud Dahoud (£1.24) in the Marco Reus (£2.86) role – nominally a number 10, but dropping back where needed to bring the ball out of midfield and support Axel Witsel (£2.35) and Thomas Delaney (£0.82) when not in possession. The 23-year-old has similar abilities to Reus (albeit nowhere near the same level), but looked like someone who had forgotten his lines rather than his understudy. He was busy, but offered nothing in attack and is not the type of game-changer needed to win trophies.
As well as Reus and Alcacer, Julian Weigl (£1.43) and Lukasz Piszczek (£1.28) missed the trip to London, and while neither are guaranteed starters when everyone is fit, would have offered better options for Favre than the team that took to the pitch at Wembley. Weigl has impressed despite being made to play at centre-back due to the long-term absence of Manuel Akanji (£2.68), while Piszczek is the type of experienced character needed on and off the pitch for big games.
Dortmund still lead the Bundesliga by five points, but Favre needs his preferred players to be fit for the run-in as Wednesday proved that the backups are just not up to scratch.