Borussia Dortmund still find themselves in need of three points, just two games ahead of the Winterpause. After a lacklustre 1-1 draw at FC Cologne, Dortmund travel to Sinsheim to face Julian Nagelmann’s undefeated Hoffenheim side, who sit one point above the black and yellows.
The Sinsheim club sit fourth in the table, despite their undefeated record of six wins and eight draws. Both Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt have more wins than Hoffenheim, but Nagelsmann’s side have been able to come up with draws rather than slim losses this season.
Julian Nagelsmann has been a revelation for Hoffenheim, as the Bundesliga’s youngest ever coach at 29 years old. He is similar with his foe on Friday, as Nagelsmann worked under Thomas Tuchel during their time at Augsburg. At the time of Nagelmann’s appointment as manager in February, Hoffenheim were seven points away from safety in 17th place, but the young manager was able to do a remarkable job and finish in 15th place, one point above the relegation playoff spot. It was Hoffenheim’s second close call with relegation in the past 4 years, as they narrowly escaped relegation in the 2012-2013 season by beating Dortmund on the last match day of the season.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) December 14, 2016
The young coach will be aware of Dortmund’s weakness against the press, and Nagelsmann will certainly send his players out looking to capitalise on it. Hoffenheim are typically an aggressive pressing team, much like RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen, two teams that Dortmund struggled mightily against this season. Nagelsmann would be smart to take a page out of their books, and force Dortmund to deal with pressure on the ball.
Nagelsmann has gotten the best out of players such as Kerem Demirbay, a Hamburg castoff, who has found his niche in Hoffenheim’s midfield. The central midfielder has been playing as an 8 for Nagelsmann, and has three goals and three assists in his nine league appearances, as well as being a vital presser in Hoffenheim’s 3-5-2 system. Unfortunately for Nagelsmann, Demirbay is doubtful for the match with a thigh muscle strain.
Demirbay is likely to be replaced by former Stuttgart midfielder Lukas Rupp, who will be paired with the young and talented Nadiem Amiri. Amiri broke into the first team around the time Nagelsmann took the helm, and has been an exciting youngster since his promotion. The 20-year-old has contributed five goals and six assists since breaking into the team, and even earned himself a call-up to the Germany u21 side. Along with Amiri and Demirbay, the young coach has assembled an attractive amount of quality youth in the side with Niklas Süle and Jeremy Toljan.
On the Dortmund side of things, Tuchel’s men are coming off what might have been their worst performance of the season against FC Cologne, which is no small feat considering some disappointing displays against RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen, and more recently Eintracht Frankfurt. Tuchel opted for the back three in the Cologne match after experiencing success with the formation against Bayern and Gladbach. However, Cologne challenged Dortmund to prove that they could break them down, which made the weaknesses of players like Gonzalo Castro, Erik Durm, and Sebastian Rode glaringly evident.
To make matters worse for Dortmund, Lukasz Piszczek, Sebastian Rode, Gonzalo Castro, Mario Götze, and Sokratis will all be sidelined this Friday against Hoffenheim, while Shinji Kagawa, Marc Bartra, and Erik Durm are doubtful. On the bright side, though, Sven Bender will make his return to the squad, although it’s a bit earlier than Tuchel would have preferred.
Tuchel: "Sven Bender is in a fantastic condition, we probably wouldn't play him if everyone was fit. We may have to be unreasonable" #TSGBVB
— Stefan Buczko (@StefanBuczko) December 15, 2016
Despite the lengthy injury list that also contains long-term absentees Roman Bürki and Raphael Guerreiro, Dortmund should be able to field a strong line-up, although Tuchel will be forced to do some rotating once again, which he has been unfairly criticised for. Felix Passlack should start at right back, and one could argue it’s deserved as he’s looked stronger than the ageing Piszczek this season. It’s hard to understand why Passlack was passed over for Erik Durm last weekend, but the 19-year-old should have the chance to make his case heard on Friday.
Julian Weigl, who is rumoured to sign a contract extension until 2021 soon, is almost guaranteed to start in the midfield, with Nuri Sahin and Rode both out. Tuchel is still spoiled for choice in attack, with Marco Reus, Ousmane Dembele, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Pulisic, Emre Mor, Andre Schürrle and Adrian Ramos all available for selection. Reus and Aubameyang are surefire starters at this point, while the rest of the spots are up for grabs. Tuchel may opt to use Schürrle a bit deeper this time, similar to how he was nearly deployed as an 8 against FC Bayern. Dembele will probably feature again due to his chemistry with Reus and Aubameyang, but could find himself on the bench as a result of his aggression against Cologne, where he could have easily been sent off.
Mor has not featured much recently for Dortmund, despite an impressive cameo against Real Madrid where he won the ball and set up the equalising goal. His opportunities have been few and far between this season after being sent off for pushing a Hertha Berlin player earlier this season. Tuchel might not like the showiness and aggression of Mor, but the talent is undeniable and he is long overdue for another chance in the Bundesliga.
Dortmund matches against Hoffenheim have been entertaining over the past few seasons, including an awesome Sebastian Kehl volleyed winner in extra time in the DFB Pokal in 2014-15. Dortmund have not lost to Hoffenheim since the last match day of the 2012-13 season, winning four and drawing three. In February last season, Dortmund fell behind 1-0 to Hoffenheim, but a Sebastian Rudy red card on his birthday turned the game in Dortmund’s favour, and eventually ended 3-1.
This time, Dortmund will have a tall task on their hands, as Hoffenheim have proved invincible so far this season. A win would certainly raise spirits in the Dortmund camp before the Winterpause, but it may be too much to ask for considering the injury list and the current form of the team.
Predicted Line-Up: Weidenfeller, Passlack, Ginter, Bender, Schmelzer, Weigl, Dembele, Schürrle, Pulisic, Reus, Aubameyang