As numerous times this season, the injury bug has bitten again - once again testing the back line’s depth. After Diallo picked up a muscle injury during this past match, leaving him out indefinitely, Hakimi was subbed in. During his 25 minute cameo, Hakimi suffered a broken metatarsal, leaving him unable to compete during the remainder of the season.
All of this happened before a potentially title deciding match in the Allianz Arena with Bayern München trailing die Schwartzgelben by two points following their 1:1 draw with Freiburg on the weekend. That said, attempting to win points will be a massive challenge as Bayern has lost just once in the Bundesliga since the 3:2 defeat in Westfalenstadion in the Hinrunde. Beating Bayern is a challenge in and of itself, but to do win a point with the current shape of the squad could be Favre’s statement game of the season - a tactical achievement perhaps greater than the 4:0 dismantling of Atletico Madrid in the Champions League group stage.
Ultimately, many ideas will have crossed Favre’s mind by this point of how to line up against the Bavarians, including a potential system change. And while playing three center backs to make up for the shortage of fullbacks may seem like a valid idea, both the vulnerabilities of the formation to Kovac’s favored 4-3-3 and the lack of familiarity with the tactic will prevent Favre from moving in that direction. Only when Dortmund was incapable of fielding enough attackers to mold into a cohesive 4-2-3-1, has he strayed into the 4-3-3 that was abandoned after the second match of the season.
Long gone are the days of Tuchel, two seasons past, where an incohesive and unrehearsed 3-5-2 would be thrown to the wolves of Bayern, intent on parking the bus and having Aubamayang and Adrian Ramos playing on the counter, with Schürrle making late trailing runs from the midfield. Oddly, that game feels like the last time Schmelzer has played competitively for the club, as he has been reserved for mere cameos under Favre. In fact, Favre chose to move Guerrero to left back after Hakimi’s injury against Wolfsburg, moving Jacob Bruun Larsen to left wing - instead of playing the former Dortmund captain, who remained on the bench.
While the possibility of Schmelzer playing against Bayern remains open, chances of that happening are slim. To trust the left back to shake off the rust that has accumulated over the last year and bring about a vintage performance that all BVB fans dream of, may be what cements storylines like this Dortmund side conquering Bayern’s reign of the Bundesliga. However, Favre’s pessimism about the club’s loyal servant and his general pragmatic approach make starting Schmelzer in his first match since the 2:1 loss to Düsseldorf hardly a reality.
Much like the Wolfsburg match, Schmelzer could very well be overlooked for Guerrero. While Guerrero has made the inside forward role on the left wing position his own over the course of the season, Favre’s use of an attacking fullback on the left, in addition to someone who has the awareness to make intelligent runs in the wing position could be what Favre prefers. Despite Jacob Bruun Larsen having his struggles over the course of the season, playing the two wingers together, they could find a way to be almost interchangeable in the attack. The combination of their athleticism and defensive ability could be what is needed to keep Kimmich and whichever right-winger that Kovac prefers as unthreatening as possible. That combination could also go horribly wrong - leaving their defensive frailties exposed to two competent and quick attacking players.
That said, the left sided combination of Guerrero and Bruun Larsen would leave Favre with the strongest center back combination at his disposal - both Akanji and Zagadou. Playing Delaney on the left hand side of the double pivot would probably aide both the Bruun Larsen and Guerrero defensively. This game seems like the prime example of why Zorc bought the experienced midfielder from Bremen over the summer, where his experience and defensive prowess could be used to shore up the back line against a team of intimidating quality. While his limitations on the offensive side of the ball could hinder Favre’s side from gaining a real foothold in the match, Delaney’s presence could be vital in establishing a defensive block to launch counter attacks from.
Potentially suiting Favre’s defensive approach would be playing Zagadou at left back, with a center back pairing of Weigl and Akanji. Unfortunately, that would probably leave Weigl exposed to the brunt of Kovac’s tactics in the first leg - as Alaba exploited Sancho’s defensive ability (or lack thereof) and Goretzka’s runs marauding runs in the half-spaces to overload the right back and right center-back quickly left Piszczek in several uncomfortable positions. Not only would Weigl and Wolf have to deal with all of that pressure, but Lewandowski would likely take advantage of Weigl in one on one situations as often as possible - including but not limited to headers on the back post. As much as Wolf has done well in Piszczek’s absence, he has not had the qualities to replace the contributions of the experienced Polish international. Needless to say, the faith is not there for Wolf to be the defensive stalwart that would be asked of him.
While the puzzle of Favre’s lineup is not only limited to the back line, but also the midfield, figuring out how to mitigate the potential of a Bayern onslaught could put Dortmund in the position of winning the title. While three points on Saturday may be unrealistic, preventing Bayern from coming on top in this massive six pointer would put the title race, and the resultant pressure, in Dortmund’s hands. As difficult as it is to defeat a Bayern side with a healthy squad on any given day, Favre needs to form a cohesive squad and tactical idea to give the team he puts out there the best chance of winning a point in the Allianz Arena.