Mats Hummels believes a place in the Europa League quarter-finals would feel much sweeter for Borussia Dortmund given the quality of last-16 opponents Tottenham, who they meet on Thursday.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side dispatched Fiorentina 4-1 in the last 32 after a 3-0 second-leg win at White Hart Lane – a result that underlined the huge strides they have made this season.
Spurs have only lost once in eight European games in 2015-16 and have sustained an unlikely title challenge in the Premier League, though they have suffered a setback due to a defeat to West Ham and draw with 10-man Arsenal in their last two matches.
Dortmund, who held Bayern Munich to a 0-0 Bundesliga draw at the weekend and beat Porto in the last round, would be forgiven for ruing their luck at having drawn Spurs in the last 16, but Hummels insists they would rather test their mettle against a strong side as they look to win the tournament for the first time in their history.
“I’m not someone who always hopes to get the softest opponents and scrape through somehow. I want the best from the first match,” he said, as quoted by Bild.
“If we can move Tottenham out of our way, it will feel very different than if we beat a team we’re expected to get two easy wins against.”
Spurs, who were knocked out at this stage by Benfica two seasons ago, have lost five of their last nine visits to face German opposition and were left deflated when they surrendered the lead to Arsene Wenger’s side in Saturday’s crucial league encounter.
Defender Toby Alderweireld conceded afterwards the result was a blow, but called on his team-mates to sustain their level of performance when they visit Signal Iduna Park for the first time in UEFA competition.
“To be honest, it feels like a loss,” he said. “Now we have to take it into the next game and get back to winning ways.
“We will now focus on Dortmund, a massive game for us. Every game from now until the end is like a cup final and we have to give everything, like we always do.
“We can all be happy with how we played against Arsenal, the energy levels we put in and now we have to show it again on Thursday.”
Spurs are without Jan Vertonghen and Clinton Njie, who are still working on regaining fitness following knee injuries, but boast an otherwise strong squad to take to Germany.
Dele Alli is suspended, meaning 20-year-old midfielder Harry Winks – who signed a new contract on Tuesday – could be given the chance for his third appearance in the tournament this season, though he will likely only make the bench.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos (groin) is Thomas Tuchel’s only real injury concern as he aims to extend Dortmund’s superb home record this season, in which they have lost just once, when PAOK defeated them 1-0 in the final match of the group stages.
Key Opta Stats:
– Borussia Dortmund have lost just one of their last eight matches at home to English sides in European competition, that defeat coming against Arsenal.
– The last time Dortmund faced an English side in the knockout phases of a European competition, they went on to win the tournament (against Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final in 1996-97).
– Only Aritz Aduriz (7) has scored more Europa League goals this season than Erik Lamela (6).
– Henrikh Mkhitaryan has created more chances in the Europa League than any other Dortmund player this season (20).