Andy Brassell on European Football: Dortmund seek to jump through top four window

Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels (left) and Emre Can
Mats Hummels and Emre Can hope to find more to celebrate in the season's closing weeks

In a week where the European game's future is under the microscope, some of those outside the Super League bubble are still shooting for the stars, writes Andy Brassell...

"Making it back into the Champions League is still not Dortmund's their hands but the smallest window of opportunity is opening."

Dortmund hope to seize top four opportunity

Borussia Dortmund took to the field for Sunday's game with Werder Bremen dressed in a retro strip, modelled on the one worn by Ottmar Hitzfeld's 1997 Champions League winners, even down to the neon shoulder flecks and the blocky numbering. Their comfortable 4-1 win, not perfect in terms of performance but reminiscent in patches of a time when BVB were more dominant, offered hope of stepping back in the direction of those dizzy heights.

Victory for Edin Terzić's side, coupled with Eintracht Frankfurt's 4-0 reverse at Borussia Mönchengladbach, closed the gap between Dortmund and the top four to four points. Making it back into the Champions League is still not in their hands (and their hold has frequently looked shaky this season, so who knows what's next from Die Schwarzgelben?) but the smallest window of opportunity is opening.

Eintracht's defeat was noteworthy because it was their first match since it was announced that coach Adi Hütter would be joining - you guessed it - Mönchengladbach from next season, and one would forgive those of an Eintracht persuasion for nerves. The future is uncertain with Hütter and sporting director Fredi Bobic off at the season's end, and they let a Champions League place in the season's closing weeks two years ago. Dortmund can't drop any more points but will feel better about facing Union on Wednesday after Erling Haaland ended his recent goal drought against Werder.

Can Sevilla spring a surprise?

Having looked at the turn of the year as if Atlético Madrid were on a procession to the title, La Liga has suddenly turned into one of the most invigorating races in Europe. Diego Simeone's team are still on top, just, despite battles with injury, COVID and good old inconsistency but it's Barcelona's near-miraculous upturn in form in 2021 and Real Madrid's uncanny ability to grind out results that have really made it a competition.

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Yet the revivals of the big two have overshadowed a real dark horse charging up on the outside. Sevilla have won five of the last six (and if you're looking for miracles, they drew the other at Valladolid thanks to a last-gasp equaliser by their goalkeeper Bono) and are flying from their last three results in particular. After edging out Atlético, Julen Lopetegui's men won a seven-goal thriller at Celta and then returned victorious from a trip to Real Sociedad at the weekend.

Most of their early season shortcomings that marked Sevilla as good-but-not-great have faded. They couldn't beat the big boys - now Atleti can testify they have the big match mentality. They apparently didn't have a centre-forward who could score the goals to mount a title push, yet now Youssef En-Nesyri is on 16 in La Liga alone. The men from Nervión go to out-of-form midtablers Levante this week. Six points from the summit with Real Madrid still to play, don't rule them out.

Opportunity knocks for Gattuso - but it won't be easy

There's no question, in this column's book, over what Serie A's fixture of the week is. Napoli welcome Lazio to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in the latest instalment of an exacting week, having taken a point from runaway leaders Inter in Sunday night's big match.

It has been a quite extraordinary season for Napoli, though not quite in the way they hoped. Gennaro Gattuso has spent much of the campaign looking over his shoulder as speculation over his position has simmered, but has ultimately led the team into a position where they could snatch a Champions League place. It was something that looked wholly unlikely given their flaky form in early 2021.

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After a recent uptick in form, the Partenopei are just two points behind fourth-placed Juventus (with the edge on head-to-head), though this will not necessarily be their week to steal. Juve have a straightforward-looking game against doomed Parma on Wednesday, meaning Napoli need to beat Lazio on Thursday to hang on in there. It won't be easy, with Simone Inzaghi's team having won five straight and on their own late charge towards the Champions League spots. If Napoli can't nip in, maybe Lazio can.

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