After eight matches in 28 days followed by their first week without a midweek clash since the end of February, Borussia Dortmund will travel to the Cathedral City fully rested, looking to head into the international break on a high note.
At the moment the contrast in form between BVB and FC Köln couldn’t be more drastic. While BVB have been riding high with five wins in their last seven matches, including the Billy Goats have been in a rut. Their last win came over a month ago against fellow strugglers Borussia Mönchengladbach. In Köln’s last five matches they’ve lost four and drawn once. While they do sit in 14th place in the table, they are far from being safe from relegation. They limp into this match with a measly 22 points, one point above the relegation playoff spot currently held by Hertha BSC.
Unlike Hertha, Köln did not come into the season with Champions League aspirations. Their goal was simply to avoid relegation and as a result, the match should be very similar to this season's previous match-up. Köln’s top scorer is Elvis Rexhbeçaj, who enters tomorrow’s match with a grand total of five goals for the season. With a goal differential of -21, it would be reasonable to expect Köln to park the bus and hope for a point. With the way things have played out at the bottom of the table this season, a draw would be a welcome result for the Billy Goats and could go a long way in securing their place in the top flight for another season.
The black-and-yellows will be without Jaden Sancho and Mateu Morey who have already been ruled out with muscular injuries. They likely will be without Raphaël Guerreiro and Marco Reus, who despite the comments made by Sebastian Kehl following the Hertha match, should be given a rest after the vicious tackle he suffered. Reus’s ankle/Achilles Tendon could benefit from the extra rest heading into the international break. On a positive note, Manuel Akanji has been training with the first team and looks set to return to the matchday squad. Akanji’s return could not come at a more perfect time. Köln possesses a lackluster attack whose best scoring opportunities have come off of set pieces this season; a lesson BVB learned all too well earlier this year. An organized backline will be key in securing a victory.
I would expect to see a decent amount of rotation for this match. Perhaps we will see Reinier or Youssoufa Moukoko start in place of Marco Reus. While Moukoko is more effective coming off the bench, I would like to see what Reinier could do with a full 90 minutes. This could also be the perfect match to start Lukasz Piszczek. Köln does not have break-neck speed to threaten him, and his leadership on set pieces could be timely. If Piszczek doesn’t start in place of Morey I would expect to see Emre Can at right back. Edin Terzic seems to be a big fan of BVB’s Swiss Army knife and I would expect for him to find a place for Can if Akanji returns in central defense.
I also expect to see Mahmoud Dahoud start alongside Jude Bellingham and Julian Brandt in midfield. With Köln likely to park the bus, this doesn't seem to be a match where Thomas Delaney’s skill set is required from the start. If BVB opens up a decent lead, Terzic may sub him on for Brandt to secure the victory. Rounding out the starting 11 we should expect to see Erling Haaland and Thorgan Hazard. As with Brandt if BVB manages to open up a substantial lead I would expect to see Tigges and Reyna subbed on to lighten the load on their legs.
Köln has yet to settle on a standard formation this year, making predicting their potential lineup much more difficult. Dortmund's loanee Marous Wolf is a prime example of Köln’s ever-changing lineup. Wolf has started matches all over the pitch, including as a striker. This goes to show you how unpredictable their lineup can be. We may not know the formation Köln come out in, but we can be sure they’ll sit back in a tight compact defensive block.
I expect BVB to steamroll the Billy Goats and win by a margin of three goals. Köln was unable to train Wednesday due to a Covid-19 scare, before returning to team activities on Thursday. The lack of preparation, coupled with the anxiety of a COVID-19 scare could be detrimental to Köln’s ability to focus on Saturday’s match. If the Billy Goats come out sleepwalking we may very well see another Erling Haaland master class. After all, he often makes even the most focused defenders look silly. Imagine what he could do to a backline that isn’t fully switched on.