Berlin: Borussia Dortmund and their under-fire coach Lucien Favre hope to maintain the ‘feel-good’ factor from back-to-back wins as they chase Champions League revenge at home to Inter Milan on Tuesday.
A below-par performance saw Dortmund crash to a 2-0 defeat in Milan nearly a fortnight ago, sparking reports Jose Mourinho was waiting in the wings to replace Favre unless results improved, which the club subsequently denied.
The German media piled into Favre after forward Lautaro Martinez give Inter a first-half lead, then had a late penalty saved, before winger Antonio Candreva raced clear to seal Dortmund’s defeat at the San Siro.
Dortmund were short of ideas against a water-tight defence and only Roman Burki’s fine save from Martinez’s penalty attempt prevented a rout.
However, Dortmund have since improved.
A goalless draw at Schalke last weekend was backed-up by dumping Bundesliga leaders Borussia Moenchengladbach out of the German Cup in midweek before trouncing Wolfsburg 3-0 on Saturday in the league.
With one eye on Inter, Favre said it was “nice to see” his side has broken their habit of conceding late goals amidst nervous defending.
“In the end, there was almost an element of joy back in our game again,” enthused sports director Michael Zorc.
Now Favre needs a win over Antonio Conte’s Inter to get Dortmund’s Group F campaign back on track and maintain confidence with a crunch Bundesliga tie at Bayern Munich looming on Saturday.
Both Inter and Dortmund come into Tuesday’s tie level on four points from three games, each with a win, a defeat and draw.
Dortmund must repeat the rock-solid defending in their goalless draw at home to Barcelona in September to contain Inter’s attack and Saturday’s win over Wolfsburg suggests confidence is high.
“We played at a higher tempo, were better between the lines. The combinations worked better and we created a lot of goals,” insisted Favre.
For once, there were no whistles of displeasure from home fans, no awkward post-match questions and no frustrated out-bursts from players, as in previous weeks due to Dortmund’s habit of leaking late goals.
“The fun is back again”, stated midfielder Julian Weigl.
Saturday’s home win was also a timely confidence booster for goal-scorers Thorgan Hazard, who bagged his first goal since joining from Gladbach, and Mario Goetze, who converted a late penalty after starting most games this season on the bench.
“I could have scored two or three goals, my first goal at home is a good feeling for the head,” beamed Hazard.
However, the news is not all good for Favre.
Chief playmaker and Germany star Marco Reus, who also missed the away defeat in Milan, limped off in the first-half on Saturday and is doubtful with a knock to the foot.
Both clubs meet at Signal Iduna Park second in their respective league’s after Inter’s burly Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku scored twice in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Bologna to leave his side a point behind Juventus in Serie A.
Despite two wins inside a week, Dortmund must take three points at home to Inter to calm fears of a group stage exit.
“Now Favre has to win,” demanded Germany’s top-selling daily Bild, especially with group leaders Barcelona at home to bottom side Slavia Prague on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Liverpool take on Genk and Chelsea host last year’s surprise package Ajax.
Zenit v RB Leipzig, 9.55pm
Barcelona v Slavia Prague, 9.55pm
Liverpool v Genk, midnight
Napoli v Salzburg, midnight
Lyon v Benfica, midnight
Dortmund v Inter, midnight
Chelsea v Ajax, midnight
Valencia v Lille, midnight