Borussia Dortmund face Augsburg in the penultimate match of the Bundesliga campaign on Saturday afternoon (3.30 pm CEST). There’s something on the line for both teams, as the hosts need a few more points to guarantee survival in the German top flight while the Black and Yellows want to hold on to third place.
The game at WWK-Arena comes on the back of a tumultuous week for Dortmund after a rift between head coach Thomas Tuchel and the club, particularly in person of chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke dominated the news cycle since the important 2-1 home victory over 1899 Hoffenheim.
Tuchel was defiant in his pre-game press conference on Friday, calling some of the reports that have received widely spread attention “bottom-drawer coverage”. Still, he admitted the topic will have had some effect on the preparations for a difficult game.
Augsburg were seconds away from an important away win at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 32, which would’ve helped a long way in ensuring another year of Bundesliga football for the Bavarian Swabians. As it stands, FCA are in 13th place, two points ahead of Hamburger SV in their familiar relegation play-off spot and six ahead of Ingolstadt, who may need a miracle to stay in the league.
However, Augsburg have arguably the toughest run-in of all relegation battlers, seeing as they will travel to Hoffenheim after the BVB match. Dortmund have good memories from recent trips to Augsburg, having never lost there and beaten the hosts four times in a row with a combined scoreline of 13-4. Augsburg have, though, won their last two matches at home and thoroughly deserved a point from the first meeting of the season, when they held Dortmund to a 1-1 draw (even though BVB should’ve had at least one penalty).
Tuchel will be without the suspended midfielder Gonzalo Castro but, in the best news in a long time, welcomes back Marc Bartra. The centre-back suffered a fractured wrist in the attack on the Dortmund players inside their team bus ahead of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg against Monaco and only returned to training earlier in the week.
His head coach cited a goal-line clearance à la Sven Bender vs. Bayern Munich and a fantastic slide tackle near the sideline as training-pitch evidence for Bartra’s readiness to play and announced that, if he was permitted to play with the cast protecting his wrist following surgery, the Catalan would be in the squad.
— Borussia Dortmund (@BVB) May 12, 2017
Seeing as Bartra made the trip to Augsburg, it’s safe to assume he will be available for selection, even though it would seem more likely he’ll be on the bench after a four-week absence.
Still, it’s an emotional boost if nothing else, with Tuchel often citing the team’s hightened cohesiveness and spirit in the last few weeks.
Thanks to their two points of advantage over Hoffenheim and a better scoring differential, four points from the final two matches will pretty much guarantee Dortmund third place and, in turn, a spot in the group stage of next season’s Champions League. Seeing as Hoffenheim travel to Bremen on Saturday, it’s not out of the question that even only one point at Augsburg will do the trick.
However, with the hosts needing points themselves, fans ought to prepare for a dogged, potentially feisty game. Especially not knowing how much of an impact the last week had on the team when all is said and done — Tuchel pointed out his players were thrown in the mud by speculation and anonymous quotes, too, so maybe he expects a defiant response — it’s a more complicated fixture than the table and history at Augsburg suggest.
Probable starting XI: Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Ginter, Schmelzer; Weigl; Démbéle, Kagawa, Guerreiro, Reus; Aubameyang.