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The XI: Der Klassiker

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The "Please God let us beat Bayern" Edition

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Der Klassiker is upon us, and in merciful (or cruel?) fashion, the soccer gods deemed fit for Mainz to pull out a late winner against the Bavarians on Wednesday while Dortmund took care of Darmstadt, cutting Bayern's lead to five points. If Dortmund beats Bayern on Sunday, they are only two points off the pace and the Meisterschale is a legitimate possibility for BVB. If they lose, Bayern wins the title. Again. No pressure.

Last Week:

Tuchel rotated his squad heavily for the Darmstadt tilt after a hard-fought victory against Hoffenheim, with 17-year-old Felix Passlack making his Bundesliga debut. After the teams settled down, it looked a bit like this in practice:

Ramos drifted into the middle to become a de facto second striker, and Durm pushed far into the attack to provide width.The lopsided 4-3-3/4-4-2 hybrid proved effective, with Ramos scoring off of an Aubameyang rebound before Durm sealed the match in the second half.

Notes:

-Weigl, Subotic, and Aubameyang reprised their starting roles from the Hoffenheim game on Sunday, but Tuchel rested the rest of his starters (Burki, Bender, Schmelzer, Piszczek, Sahin, Kagawa, Reus, and Mkhitaryan). Weigl played well in the center of the park. Aubameyang had the scoring yips again, but he's still sure to start against Bayern. Subotic, on the other hand, looked particularly shaky in the back, losing Sandro Wagner on several occasions.

-Ramos pinching in high and central proved to be particularly dangerous, and the Colombian enjoyed a continuation of his substitute performance against Hoffenheim. In addition to his second goal in as many games, he held up the ball well and played several clever distribution passes. Darmstadt had trouble with his size all night.

-Erik Durm was a superhero on Wednesday night, solid in defense and scoring a goal going forward. His presence as a backup in both defense and on the wing will prove invaluable as the season, Pokal, and Europa League continue.

-Castro poaches assists like a forward poaches goals. He might not show up for 75 minutes, but he can slice open a defense with one pass in the 80th, and who really remembers the first 3/4ths of the game, anyway?

Prediction:

Here's what I think Dortmund will look like against Bayern:

A return to a full-strength lineup against the Bavarians is in order. The only surprise here of note is the central three. Weigl, Sahin, and Gundogan changed the tide of the game against Hoffenheim, but with Sahin's extended absence, it's a look Dortmund fans won't be accustomed to. However, all three are responsible in defense and possession, while Gundogan and Sahin can make the last pass in the final third. The ability to control the middle of the pitch will be crucial, and will allow Aubameyand, Mkhitaryan, and Reus to try to pull apart Bayern's makeshift central defense. If Dortmund find themselves down a goal and needing to claw back, I'd expect Ramos to come in for Weigl and Tuchel to go for broke, putting in two forwards  and flattening out the midfield.

If I'm Wrong:

Tuchel puts Kagawa in for the more customary look with Weigl, Gundogan, and Kagawa in the center. The Weigl-Sahin-Kagawa trio lacked a midfielder to link the defensive and attacking midfield (which Gundogan does so well), and chances proved thin. I think Tuchel will want the security of both Weigl and Sahin in the midfield, but he might decide an outright attacking midfielder is necessary.

Have a prediction for Saturday's match? Let us know in the comments below!