After what seems like the 15th interruption to the young 2017-18 season, BVB return home to face their toughest Bundesliga opponents yet.
After yet another international break the Bundesliga will resume play this Friday night. Borussia Dortmund will again be featured in the “Topspiel” or, match of the week in the league. That is no surprise either, as for the first time this season BVB will face a top-four opponent in RB Leipzig when the two sides lineup at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday evening.
With RB Leipzig you have a manager in Ralph Hasenhüttl who is out to prove a point. That point being that a side can contend for championships with players who are all 25 years of age or younger. In addition, RBL boasts one of the most talented rosters in the Bundesliga including incredibly gifted striker Timo Werner, the do-it-all midfielder Naby Keita, and last season’s league assist king, Emil Forsberg.
The Red Bulls finished second in the league last season for a reason. They play exciting offensive football with great pace and have a complex pressing scheme that fits in beautifully with their preferred 4-2-2-2 formation. They were able to take the league by surprise last season, as no one in Germany really knew what to expect. Were they talented? Yes. Were they going to remain safely in the league at season’s end? Yes. Certainly though, besides perhaps the club itself, no person could have predicted Leipzig’s march through the German top flight with such apparent ease. This unbelievable performance propelled them all the way into the UEFA Champions League in their first-ever Bundesliga campaign.
Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig both rank in the top three in the league when it comes to shots per match (BVB-18.4 / RBL-17.6) as well as shots on target per match (BVB-7.0 / RBL-5.6), so expect to see a lot of scoring chances. RBL are the top side in the Bundesliga in aerial duels won (59%), which is something for BVB to consider, especially as it pertains to set pieces. Both teams love to possess the ball, though Leipzig is far more dangerous in the counter-attack than Dortmund due to the outstanding pace of Timo Werner, Marcel Sabitzer, Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg, among others. Look for Leipzig to allow Dortmund to have the ball, much like Real Madrid two weeks ago, then pounce on them as soon as the inevitable turnover occurs. I expect the BVB back line to be tested for the full 90 minutes for the first time this season by a Bundesliga side.
Because Dortmund and Leipzig both have similar strengths and playing styles, it will indeed be interesting to see this match unfold. Leipzig are weak against the counter-attack themselves, though, should they let Dortmund come to them and attempt to control the match in their half of the pitch, this would create a lot of space behind the high line with which Peter Bosz so often plays. If this is indeed how Ralph Hasenhüttl draws it up, the Dortmund defence will need to be on high alert, more importantly, be able to re-organize quickly should a turnover occur in a dangerous area of the pitch. RBL might be wise to take a page out of SC Freiburg’s playbook from earlier this season against Dortmund. Combining this strategy with a lineup of far superior talent than that of Freiburg, could spell doom for The Black and Yellows.
Ultimately, I believe this match will come down to two key factors: Which back line holds up the longest against what should be a flurry of scoring opportunities, and which side will do a better job of converting them? To dig a little deeper into that question one could ask: Which striker will be the difference maker? Timo Werner or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? Each of these fantastic players are playing at an extremely high level (Aubameyang is tied for best in the league with eight goals, Werner is tied for third with five goals). It may simply come down to which of them can find the open space and convert their chances.
The international break did not come without casualties for BVB as right back stalwart Lukasz Piszczek was injured playing in a match for Poland during the World Cup qualifiers. He suffered ligament damage to his right knee and will likely miss the rest of 2017. Jeremy Toljan should be the replacement for Piszczek. RBL’s Timo Werner has been recovering from an apparent neck injury which he suffered in the Champions League match against Besiktas two weeks ago. He was back in training this week and Hasenhüttl has said that he is by no means ruling out selecting Werner to start on Saturday.
On paper, this match should be very competitive. With Borussia Dortmund being five points ahead of second-placed Bayern München in the table, as well as playing in front of the Yellow Wall coming off of a two-week break in play, they will be the aggressors and bring the match to RB Leipzig. Leipzig are well aware that if they can break the BVB pressure early with a quick score they will be in the driver’s seat. Dortmund are capable of scoring on anyone of course, and a 0-1 deficit at home should seem very petty, however, with less a than stellar performance against Augsburg before the international break, I am looking to see a re-invigorated and focused Dortmund. Die Schwarz-Gelben are hungry to make a statement in the Bundesliga, beyond the 6-1 victory over ‘Gladbach, disposing of RB Leipzig would be just that.
PREDICTION: Borussia Dortmund 2-1 RB Leipzig
BVB: Bürki – Toljan, Sokratis, Bartra, Zagadou – Kagawa, Sahin, M. Götze – Yarmolenko, Aubameyang, Philipp
Manager: Peter Bosz
RBL: Gulasci, Klostermann, Orban, Upamecano, Halstenberg – Keita, Demme – Sabitzer, Forsberg – Poulsen, Werner
Manager: Ralph Hasenhüttl