The always annoying September international break has concluded and Borussia Dortmund will return to action at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday afternoon when they welcome ex-BVB manager Peter Bosz and his Bayer Leverkusen side.
Both sides will be looking to rebound from disappointing results on Matchday 3. Dortmund, as we all know, fell to Union Berlin 3-1, in what was the newly promoted club’s first Bundesliga victory. Leverkusen meanwhile were held to a goalless draw by Hoffenheim. The solitary point was enough to put Leverkusen ahead of Dortmund in the league table; Leverkusen come into the match in 4th place on 7 points, while Dortmund sit in 5th place with 6 points.
It wouldn’t have been an international break without some Dortmund related injuries. This window bit BVB and Switzerland center-back Manuel Akanji, who suffered an ankle injury, as well as left-back Nico Schulz who was injured during Germany’s EURO 2020 qualifiers against the Netherlands. Both players are doubts for Saturday’s match. Axel Witsel and Thorgan Hazard could return from injuries suffered prior to the international break, which would give BVB a major boost in midfielder and attack. Leverkusen have few injury concerns leading into this match.
Dortmund supporters are very familiar with the tactics and style of a Peter Bosz led team: lots of possession, fast attacking football, and a high defensive line susceptible to counterattacks. Leverkusen’s attackers are among the most dangerous in the Bundesliga. Kevin Volland, Leon Bailey, and Kerem Demirbay are all fantastic players, but the talisman for Leverkusen is Kai Havertz. The 20-year old German international is looking to continue his impressive form from a year ago, when he scored 20 goals across all competitions. Dortmund will at least need to slow him down in order to come out on top.
It’s likely that Dortmund manager Lucien Favre will employ what has become his standard 4-2-3-1 formation for this match. Roman Burki will be in goal, but the injuries to Akanji and Schulz mean that Favre will need to shuffle his back line. Dan-Axel Zagadou is regarded at the 3rd choice center-back for Dortmund, but given that he is left-footed, which isn’t ideal for the right center-back spot, a more likely choice might be Julian Weigl, who could be moved out of defensive midfield to occupy Akanji’s spot next to Mats Hummels. Achraf Hakimi, who started against Union, is the likely choice at left-back in place of Schulz while Lukasz Piszczek remains the likely starter at right-back.
If Weigl is the choice at center-back, and assuming Witsel will be able to play, Dortmund will most likely employ the latter in the double pivot. But who will play next to him?
The likeliest choice is probably Thomas Delaney, but if Favre wanted to exploit Leverkusen’s sometimes frail high defensive line, a more inspired, although riskier choice, would be Julian Brandt. At Leverkusen last season, Brandt was deployed more centrally to great effect, and in preseason Favre seemed to indicate that he wanted to use Brandt in a similar capacity. Brandt is a faster, more offensive oriented player, one who should have more success against a team that presses like Leverkusen does. There is defensive risk in playing him in midfield however, but against a team with the offensive firepower of Leverkusen, it might be worth taking the risk if it gives Dortmund a better chance of exploiting the Leverkusen defense.
Up front, Paco Alcácer will lead the line with Marco Reus immediately behind him and Jadon Sancho on the right-wing. If Delaney is the preferred man in the pivot, look for Brandt to start instead on the left-wing. Hazard and Raphaël Guerreiro are options for the winger position should Brandt be played further back.
Both of these squads like to maintain possession. Dortmund have held over 70% possession in all 3 of their league matches thus far, but in the last meeting between these two sides last February, it was Leverkusen who finished the match with 2/3 of the possession. However, Dortmund ultimately won that match 3-2. Might we see a similar situation develop this time around?
With Champions League matches looming midweek (Dortmund host Barcelona on Tuesday, while Leverkusen host Lokomotiv Moscow on Wednesday), both sides will be looking to start off this run of fixtures with a win.
How do you think Dortmund should lineup?