Germany’s established top-two, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, meet in Saturday’s late clash. However, the recent duopoly of German football is under threat, with RB Leipzig joint-leaders. A win is paramount for both sides, even at this early stage – and in particular for Dortmund.
Defeat. Draw. Defeat. Defeat. It’s the single chink in Thomas Tuchel’s tenure at the Westfalen. Six points off the top after 10 matches and 10 behind at the conclusion of last season, the yellow-and-blacks haven’t been able to maintain their rapid-fire progress. Dortmund have stalled, while the Bavarians have steamed clear of their Bundesliga rivals – both on the park and commercially.
At the fifth time of asking under Tuchel, Dortmund will be presented a considerable opportunity to land a decent blow on the champions. FC Bayern are ponderously adjusting to life under Carlo Ancelotti who replaced Pep Guardiola this summer. Three points, in the match billed as ‘Der Klassiker’, won’t just relive Tuchel of a poor record – it would move Dortmund within three points of Ancelotti’s side.
Considering the upheaval at Dortmund since the last league-or-pokal meeting, Tuchel’s team have competed impressively to remain in touch of the champions. The respective losses this summer of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan threatened to derail the club’s measured progress over the last eight years. “The path we have taken is a risky one,” the coach said in the summer, after almost 110 million euros was reinvested in the playing pool.
The keys are in the hands of Tuchel:
Virtue of this summer’s transfer policy, which placed importance on the quality of depth, Tuchel has been granted a yield of tools to find a match-winning formula. In addition, Marcel Schmelzer and Marco Reus are able to join the squad once again after an injury lay off. Indeed, Reus hasn’t pulled one a Dortmund shirt since the German Cup final, and while he may not play, the good news will be welcomed at the Westfalen.
However, the return of influential club captain, Schmelzer, may give Tuchel the answer on Saturday. It frees up Raphael Guerreiro, one of the league’s outstanding, combination players, to be deployed in a more effective area. Aside from last week’s destruction of Hamburg, Dortmund have missed the influence of Guerreiro in an advanced inside-forward position, a role that was executed to great usage during the team’s best form of the campaign.
Similarly, how Tuchel deploys Mario Götze from the start will have effects for Dortmund’s game. Expectation is nothing new for Götze, but recent comments about his previous style indicate his open-ended career evolution. What that final product will look like during his second Dortmund spell remains unclear.
“I want to go back to the 18-year-old Götze?” he asked in a recent interview. ”I’ve played almost 60 international matches and had six years of success with Bayern and Dortmund. Every footballer continues to develop. This old Mario Götze does no longer exist.”
As Marti Perarnau notes in his second study of Pep Guardiola, Götze and the former Barca coach forged an excellent professional relationship. Perhaps his skills in transitional play weren’t quite suited to positional play. Yet the narrative is that Götze failed in Munich, and Saturday unquestionably presents an ideal time to influence, dictate and dominate an high-pressure match.
And from the litany of precocious forwards, who is given the nod will have a say. Ousmane Dembele probably holds a starting place, but his temperamental issues often cloud his judgement, while Emre Mor is equally high-risk. So far, in his short Dortmund career, American teenager Christian Pulisic has looked most at ease in Tuchel’s game structure, and possesses a maturity and cleverness well beyond his 18 years.
Even with numerous options, certainly a wider selection than Ancelotti in Munich, there remains a question mark over experience and big-game influencers. “Now, we expect teenagers or one-year-old professionals to seamlessly deliver the results that the fans and ourselves demand. You can not bring about experience, you have to make it,” he stressed after the 3-3 draw in Ingolstadt.
On Saturday, Tuchel can not only observe where his team stands when the German champions come to town, but make an important mark in his own career by showing his project can compete with the Bavarians.
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