After an exuberant midweek performance against Legia Warsaw, Dortmund return to Bundesliga football, playing hosts to Darmstadt 98 on Saturday afternoon.
Last season, Darmstadt were considered the Stoke City of the Bundesliga by Nuri Sahin. However, this season, die Lilien look a little less impressive. After joining Darmstadt in 2012 and guiding them from the 3. Liga all the way through their first season back in the Bundesliga, manager Dirk Schuster left to take the Augsburg job. He led the team to a comfortable 14th place finish, five points safe from the relegation zone, more than anyone could have expected from a team with one of the weakest squads in the league.
Norbert Meier, an average 2. Liga coach, is Schuster’s replacement. Previously, Meier was in charge at Arminia Bielefeld, a mid-table second division side. While it’s nowhere near a sexy hire, Meier is a safe option. If Darmstadt were to get relegated, which would be no huge disaster for the club, Meier could still stay on as head coach, as he’s got a formidable track record in the 2. Liga.
Unfortunately for Darmstadt, Dirk Schuster wasn’t their only significant loss. Leading goalscorer Sandro Wagner, goalkeeper Christian Mathenia, midfielder Konstantin Rausch all left the club this summer, for Hoffenheim, Hamburg, and Köln respectively. All combined, Darmstadt have lost quite a few consistent starters, without replacing any players very effectively. It is hard to criticise a club that has already massively overachieved by not being relegated, but their luck might run out this year.
Darmstadt will likely be missing their captain and best defender Aytac Sulu through injury, a player who scored the late equaliser against Dortmund last season in a 2-2 draw at the Westfalenstadion. Immanuel Höhn, former Freiburg centre-back, was signed over the summer, and should line up at center back in the captain’s absence. Darmstadt won and drew quite a few games late on last season, and that seems to have carried over to this season too. They “smash and grabbed” their arch rivals Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend, taking all three points thanks to a 90th minute winner from substitute Sandro Sirigu.
Dortmund and Thomas Tuchel will be looking to build on their impressive midweek performance against Legia. Darmstadt are levels below previous league opponents Mainz and Leipzig, but still a step up from the horrific Legia defence. Raphael Guerreiro should retain his spot in the starting line-up, as Dortmund will be all over Darmstadt in possession and could use his creativity to help make the break through.
With two difficult opponents looming ahead in Wolfsburg and Real Madrid, Tuchel could opt to give a defender a rest. Sokratis and Marc Bartra have both started every single one of Dortmund’s competitive games this season and could benefit from a break. Matthias Ginter would be the natural replacement if either were rested, but Tuchel might hold off depending on his level of confidence in a player who has appeared sparingly at centre-back for Dortmund.
Other than at centre-back, Tuchel might be hesitant to make too much of an adjustment against the weakest team in the Bundesliga. André Schürrle missed the Legia game with a twisted knee, and may not be risked against Darmstadt, especially considering that Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembélé could both benefit from some more time on the pitch against Bundesliga opposition. Emre Mor could be in contention for a start, after playing an impressive 15 minutes on Wednesday and creating a goal.
Last season, Darmstadt fared much better on the road than at home. Dortmund easily dispatched Die Lilien 2-0 on the road, but struggled in a 2-2 draw at home. So far in the 2016-17 season, Darmstadt have won their lone home game, but lost 2-0 to Köln on the road. Dortmund should not have too many problems taking care of business against Darmstadt, if the Legia match kicked any of the players into gear.
Predicted line-up: Bürki; Passlack, Sokratis, Bartra, Schmelzer; Weigl; Dembélé, Guerreiro, Götze, Mor; Aubameyang
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