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 want Dortmund to show their best side against Benfica,” Tuchel told reporters in the Portuguese capital on Monday.
“Of course we didn’t expect to lose against Darmstadt. After this disappointment, tomorrow (Tuesday) we’ll have to regain our confidence and believe we can get a good result in Lisbon.”
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.
However, the pair are fit to return against Benfica while Ousmane Dembele could also start after coming off the bench at the weekend. Mario Goetze is not part of the squad though after struggling for both form and fitness recently.
Tuchel predicted Tuesday’s clash in Lisbon would elicit a strong response from his players but brushed off any suggestions Dortmund were the favourites to progress.
“In the last 16 of the Champions League there is never a favourite,” he said.
“We will be playing against a complete side; one that is very quick and likes to attack and has a very strong Jonas-Mitroglou pairing that works well together.”
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 quarterfinals 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, could 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, but Benfica coach Rui Vitoria admitted on Monday he was unsure whether the striker would play.
“Jonas is in the squad but he’s at the limit and will have his difficulties trying to make the game. We will test him tomorrow and see where we are. If he recovers, he’s in; if not, someone else plays,” said Vitoria.
Defender Luisao, who turned 36 on the eve of the match, is poised to make his 500th appearance for Benfica on Tuesday.
“I’m proud to be the coach of a player like him. A player of his age who reaches 500 matches after 14 years at the same club, that doesn’t happen often in modern football.
“If we win it would a good present for him, but also for the club. If he scores a goal, that would be the cherry on top of the cake.”
The second leg in Germany is scheduled for March 8.