Borussia Dortmund could be without three key attackers in Wednesday evening’s DFB-Pokal second-round match with Union Berlin.
Both Ousmane Dembele and Christian Pulisic have fallen ill, Thomas Tuchel announced in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang picked up a few knocks and bruises in Saturday’s disappointing 3-3 draw at FC Ingolstadt.
If all three cannot play against the 2. Bundesliga side, Dortmund’s front line, once thought to be the deepest position group on the squad, would basically pick itself. Emre Mor served the first match of his two-game ban on the weekend and will be fresh and eager to prove himself before missing his first Revierderby against Schalke 04 on Saturday. Adrian Ramos returned to the starting XI after missing a few weeks with a muscle injury and will have to lead the line in the cup.
With Pulisic and Dembele presumably joining Marco Reus, Raphael Guerreiro and Andre Schürrle on the list of unavailables – Reus is “weeks, at least” away from making the squad, per Tuchel – the Black and Yellows have only Mor left as a somewhat natural winger. It remains to be seen whether Gonzalo Castro will move to the flank or Dortmund change their system a bit.
It might not be a bad idea to play three at the back, allowing Felix Passlack and Lukasz Piszczek to play as wing-backs, providing width with Mor and Castro, Mario Götze or Shinji Kagawa playing off Ramos in an attacking trident.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos will return to the lineup, potentially allowing for a strong back-three with Marc Bartra and Matthias Ginter, while left-back Marcel Schmelzer is still absent. Nuri Sahin will also return to the squad but has yet to feature in a single game this season.
Given their recent struggles in the Bundesliga, where Dortmund have not won in over a month – granted, there was an international break limiting the number of matches – Tuchel may refrain from rotating his squad too much. Usually, fans could expect to see Sahin, Mikel Merino or Sebastian Rode from the first whistle.
Not only do Dortmund need to pick up some momentum ahead of crucial matches against Schalke, Sporting CP and Hamburger SV, however, Union are also a dangerous opponent.
The Eastern Berliners have won six of their last seven matches, moving up to second in the table. Coached by former Schalke boss Jens Keller, “Iron Union” bring a team on a good run of form that Tuchel called a close-knit, harmonic group.
In Colin Quaner and Steven Skrzybski, they have to of the in-form strikers of the division, they have scored seven and five goals apiece. Quaner has also added an impressive five assists in only seven matches.
Behind them, Damir Kreilach is one of the more talented midfielders in the 2. Bundesliga, with the Croat hitting four goals already, including a brace in the 3-1 away win at Erzgebirge Aue on the weekend.
Union are still the underdogs, but, fueled by up to 12,000 fans making their way to the Westfalenstadion on Wednesday evening, they will believe in their chance, especially in light of Dortmund’s personnel woes.
Tuchel said his side wanted to “crash the party” and that the current injury situation will not serve as an excuse. Dortmund have a reputation to defend, seeing as the Ruhr side have not lost to a team other than Bayern Munich or VfL Wolfsburg in the cup since going out against Kickers Offenbach in 2010, making it to the final in four of the last five years.
Predicted Starting XI: Weidenfeller; Bartra, Sokratis, Ginter; Piszczek, Weigl, Götze, Passlack; Castro, Mor; Ramos.