Borussia Dortmund kick off this weekend’s Bundesliga action on Friday evening, hosting FC Ingolstadt at the Westfalenstadion.
A superb run of form lately was brought to an abrupt end last weekend, when Thomas Tuchel’s side lost in Berlin thanks to a Marvin Plattenhardt free-kick. Nonetheless, a midweek cup quarter-final defeat of Sportfreunde Lotte lifted the mood and BVB are still in third thanks to their Rückrunde form thus far.
Friday’s squad should look similar to the one which came away from Lotte as DFB Pokal semi-finalists, minus suspended Ousmane Dembélé, who picked up his fifth booking in Berlin, and with the addition of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who was suspended in the cup.
It was hoped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Julian Weigl would be fit to play but neither had trained by Thursday evening.
Tuchel: "Aubameyang is doubtful for Ingolstadt. We'll have to decide tomorrow if he can play." #fcibvb
— Stefan Buczko (@StefanBuczko) March 16, 2017
Shinji Kagawa, who shone despite the result in Berlin, is also doubtful.
With Aubameyang and possibly Kagawa out, Dortmund should at least be able to return to the 3-4-2-1 formation that has brought some stability and a lot of attacking verve in recent weeks. The form of Christian Pulisic is an enormous plus, given the team is already without Marco Reus and could miss Aubameyang as well.
Julian Weigl is a bigger miss, with Gonzalo Castro and Raphael Guerreiro a somewhat underwhelming combination in midfield. Maybe it is time for a Mikel Merino masterclass in the middle of the park. [Ed’s note: What about Sahin though?]
Ingolstadt travel to Dortmund in desperate need of points. Currently 17th in the table, they have won just four points from their last six games and find themselves seven points adrift of the relegation play-off place.
Having said that, there is no excuse for complacency. We have seen Dortmund struggle badly against Ingolstadt already this season and only a few weeks ago we were cursing a defeat to SV Darmstadt, the only team in Germany’s top flight with fewer points than Friday’s opponents.
Though they have struggled for much of the season, “die Schanzer” have impressed against the top clubs, pushing Bayern Munich all the way in September and becoming the first team to beat RB Leipzig in the Hinrunde.
They also gave Dortmund an incredibly tough game during the Hinrunde. A late equaliser rescued a totally undeserved point for the Black and Yellows, who conceded twice from almost identical set-pieces. The delivery of Pascal Groß will be a threat again this time around.
As well as dead balls, Ingolstadt are adept at pressing high, which may explain why they have caused problems for the league’s better sides. Using three centre-backs should help Dortmund alleviate some pressure but, as we saw against Hertha, that may not be enough if spacing and ball retention in the final third does not improve.
With Hoffenheim hosting Bayer Leverkusen and FC Köln playing Hertha this weekend, Dortmund have a fantastic opportunity to put some breathing space between themselves and the chasing pack again.
Kicking the matchday off with a win would be perfect, adding pressure to direct rivals before they play, allowing the rest of us to sit back and enjoy our weekends relatively stress-free.
Predicted XI: Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Bartra; Durm, Castro, Guerreiro, Schmelzer; Pulisic, Mor; Schürrle.