The best teams don’t win trophies by beating the other best teams - well, they do beat the other best teams, but on match day 34, when all the points are tallied, that’s usually not what carries them over the line. The best teams win by consistently, night after night, beating the medium-to-above-average teams that are able to take points from the other title challengers. Take last year for instance. The head-to-head matchup between Bayern and BVB was a wash: each side won their respective home match. What got Bayern over the finish line instead was their ability to consistently beat teams in the middle teams, teams that BVB struggled to defeat.
Teams like Freiburg.
You know that cliché about Lionel Messi and the Premier League? It’s usually something along the lines of “Sure Messi is good in La Liga, but could he win on a rainy Tuesday night at Stoke?” Within this metaphor, Stoke represent the kind of scrappy and hard-tackling side that makes up for in fighting spirit what they lack in talent, and are able to shit-house their way to a 1-0 victory with a single goal off their only corner... and a whole lot of yellow cards.
To win titles, you have to beat Stoke.
In many ways, Freiburg are the Stoke of the Bundesliga. At 9th place, they’re bang-average in the league. They don’t score a lot; of their entire squad, only Nils Petersen and Gian-Luca Waldschmidt offer much of an offensive threat. They also don’t defend particularly well: they’re second-to-last in the Bundesliga in expected goals against. They also don’t have the ravenous knack for hard tackles that they’ve been known for in previous years. They have the second fewest yellow cards in the Bundesliga (only Dortmund have fewer!). They’ve constantly been outplayed week-in and week-out. So, how the heck have they managed to climb all the way to ninth place?
As Napoleon said, “I would rather have a general who was lucky than one who was good.”
Take a look at this beauty, from Understat:
I mean... yikes.
SC Freiburg have been pretty bad by most metrics this season, but have somehow managed to skate their way into Europa League contention. It would be incredibly naive of Borussia Dortmund to assume that a similar result won’t happen to them. That being said, BVB are in great form at home, so a win should still be expected.
You would think that after fielding the same exact lineup for two matches in a row, Lucien Favre might be tempted to rotate. Allow me to emphasize the key part of that phrase: you would think that. Lucien Favre already doesn’t like to rotate, so the fact that his current preferred XI are in form and on a week’s rest makes me think that Favre might be tempted to field the same XI again.
That means a back three of Lukasz Piszczek, Mats Hummels, and Dan-Axel Zagadou, with Guerreiro and Hakimi at left and right wing back. Emre Can and Axel Witsel, who have shown instant chemistry since the former’s arrival at BVB, should be expected to start. If they do, Freiburg would be hard-pressed to find a way through BVB’s midfield. Finally, the attack led by Erling Håland and Jadon Sancho is firing on all cylinders at the moment, and it’s hard to see them not finding the net at least once against Freiburg.
This is the type of game that title-contenders should be expected to win. Three points won against Freiburg are worth just as much as three points against Bayern or Leipzig. The title race is going to be close this year. Get to work, BVB!