Lisbon (AFP) – Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel hopes the return of the Champions League will provide the jolt his inconsistent side need ahead of Tuesday’s visit to Benfica in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
The Germans tormented opposing defences and finished above European champions Real Madrid in Group F after setting a new group-stage goals record, but they have failed to reproduce their best form domestically.
Dortmund, who won their lone Champions League title in 1997, fell an alarming 15 points behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich following Saturday’s shock 2-1 loss at bottom side Darmstadt.
“I never got the feeling we really got going,” Tuchel said after Dortmund saw their nine-match unbeaten run snapped, albeit a series that included just three victories.
“We were simply a long way below our limit and we have to admit they (Darmstadt) deserved to win.”
Dortmund fielded three teenagers at Darmstadt, with 18-year-old Dzenis Burnic making his German league debut in the absence of injured defensive duo Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek.
But Tuchel predicted Tuesday’s clash in Lisbon would elicit a strong response from his players, with Ousmane Dembele, Andre Schuerrle and Shinji Kagawa all in contention to return to the starting line-up after coming off the bench at the weekend.
“In all honesty, we come into our own when it’s a 50-50 game,” said Tuchel, his thoughts echoed by goalkeeper Roman Buerki.
“On Tuesday, we play against a different opponent with a different way of playing,” the Swiss international added.
– Jonas, Jimenez fit again –
Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou scored twice as Benfica eased past Arouca 3-0 on Friday to remain one point clear of Porto at the top of the Portuguese league.
Tuesday’s fixture at the Estadio da Luz will be the first meeting between Benfica and Dortmund since the first round of the 1963/64 European Cup, a tie the German club won 6-2 on aggregate.
Benfica, European champions in 1961 and 1962, advanced with the fewest points (eight) of any team to this season’s knockout phase and are looking to reach the quarter-finals for the third time in six years.
Dortmund’s record-breaking 21-goal haul in the group stage was founded largely on thumping 6-0 and 8-4 wins over Poland’s Legia Warsaw, while they triumphed 2-1 over Sporting in Lisbon in October.
Veteran Brazilian forward Jonas, who scored 32 times in Portugal last season, will make his first appearance in Europe this season after missing the group stage with an ankle injury.
The 32-year-old has netted eight goals in all competitions since his return from a four-month lay-off in mid-December.
Mexico international Raul Jimenez made his first appearance of the new year last weekend, coming off the bench against Arouca following injury, and warned of the challenge facing the hosts.
“It is going to be difficult as any Champions League match. We have to be at our best,” said Jimenez, while Peru international Andre Carrillo was confident Benfica’s home support would provide a considerable boost to Rui Vitoria’s side.
The second leg in Germany is scheduled for March 8.
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