Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. UEFA Champions League semifinals . It'll be a fantastic pair of games, and predicting the winner's very difficult right now. Both sides are superb, and anyone expecting an easy semifinal should simply refer back to the group stages to see just how tricky this tie will be for Jose Mourinho and company.
But there's something stranger going on here than merely having an eminently watchable Champions League semifinal, which is weird enough on its own. In BVB-Real we have the oddest of clashes: A pair of teams facing off against what are essentially themselves.
Both Dortmund and Madrid play in a 4-2-3-1 which is designed to be able to hit teams on the break if they so choose or control matches using their horrendously skillful midfield if given the opportunity. Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp have produced completely balanced, dynamic sides who are able to win games no matter who their opponent -- and they done it in exactly the same way.
Adventurous fullbacks, intelligent midfielders who can drive from deep or pass as appropriate, a completely unmanageable third band and a skillful centre forward who serves as a reference point for the whole attack. If one literally swapped the two squads, you'd see very little change.
But it's not just the fact that they play like each other. It's that they're slowly metamophosing into one another off the field as well. Consider the fact that both BVB and Real are defending champions in leagues where they've been utterly embarrassed this season -- Barcelona and Bayern Munich, denizens of the other semifinal, are winning/have won their titles at a canter.
Even Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp are becoming the same person. There wasn't much to separate them to begin with save for the Portuguese's dress sense. Klopp, 45, had previously distinguished himself by dressing like a man who considers the local skip an acceptable clothing store, while Mourinho's style always leaned towards the effortlessly elegant.
No longer. The Special One has been slumming it of late, ditching the suits and slowly transitioning into someone who looks like he got dressed by killing a tramp on the way to training and divesting the corpse of its clothes. Would anyone be seriously surprised if he turned up on the touchline at the Westfalenstadion in a baseball cap?
While Real Madrid's manager has been taking steps to metamorphose into Dortmund's, the opposite process has been going on with the two club's left wingers. While Kevin Großkreutz was there, life was less interesting. Now Marco Reus owns the position, and he could accurately be described as a poor man's Cristiano Ronaldo. Even leaving the Ronaldo-esque playing style out of the equation, all one has to do is look at their hair to see that they're basically the same person. QED.
You could do this with basically all of their players -- even Roman Weidenfeller and Iker Casillas are alike in that I have nothing interesting to say about them. Ilkay Gundogan? Say hello to Xabi Alonso. Sami Khedira? Meet Sven Bender. Give Mesut Ozil a cure for his horribly misshapen head and you might end up with Mario Goetze.
Madrid and Dortmund aren't merely two great teams playing against each other in the late stages of the Champions League. They're the same team from two different leagues. That they've been drawn together so often in the tournament? Destiny.