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Match Preview: Can Borussia Dortmund Finally Break Through at the Allianz Arena?

In the words of Willie Scott: please be gentle.


Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Der Klassiker. The most high-profile rivalry of the last decade in German football is afoot, and it will be broadcasted on ABC for the entire Bachelor-watching, George Stephanopoulos-stanning world to see.

Both sides are in good form, but certain circumstances exist that will give Dortmund fans cause for concern. Most notably, injuries to Raphael Guerreiro and Jadon Sancho leave the possibility of a very weakened squad facing Bayern on Saturday. BVB are also on shorter rest than Bayern, having played Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday in the DFB Pokal, whereas Bayern Munich have had a full week to prepare. But these are all excuses. Even without Guerreiro and Sancho, Borussia Dortmund have more than enough firepower to put up a decent fight. And they’d better, or we could see Die Schwarzgelben once again shuffle out of the Allianz Arena with a bloody nose.

Bayern Munich are having a somewhat strange season, by their standards. They’re in first place in the league and are about to advance to the Champions League quarter finals, so they have by no means been bad, and it goes without saying that their season has been much better than Borussia Dortmund’s. I suppose the proper way to describe their season is that they have been mostly dominant, with a few bafflingly poor performances sprinkled in every so often. Their treble defense has already ended, having lost to 2. Bundesliga side Holstein Kiel, on penalties, in the DFB Pokal, after surrendering a last-minute equalizer, no less.

Bayern’s struggles can be traced back to the fact that they concede a surprising amount of goals. Last season, Hansi Flick’s squad would steamroll their opponents, with Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka smothering any type of buildup through the middle, and a very mobile high line that could simultaneously maintain a press while preventing anybody from getting in behind. As a result, under Hansi Flick, Bayern Munich only conceded 21 goals through 25 matches in the Bundesliga. So far this season, Bayern have only played 23 games but have conceded 32 goals, an increase from 0.84 goals per game to 1.39. That’s only the sixth best defensive record in the league.

In my Q&A with Bavarian Football Works, I asked Ineednoname what has caused this increase, and he replied that Bayern have been unable to maintain Flick’s rigorous system during the compressed schedule. I’m not the Bayern expert he is, but in my opinion this phenomenon has been exasperated by a pretty glaring lack of depth. Bayern’s first XI, and even some of its best bench options, are absolutely world class, but once you get past that, there’s a pretty big drop off in quality. Going from Robert Lewandowski to Eric Choupo-Moting is a downgrade, as is Joshua Kimmich to Marc Roca, Benjamin Pavard to Bouna Sarr, etc.

So how are Bayern in first with such an uneven defense? Well, if you concede regularly, you’d better score at an even higher rate. Fortunately for the Bavarians, they score goals in buckets. They have scored 67 goals in 23 games, 19 more than the next best offense, Borussia Dortmund. Bayern have scored more than BVB and Schalke combined, and they create these goals in several ways.

When facing Bayern Munich you will have to withstand an unrelenting barrage of crosses. The Bavarians have attempted 415 crosses this season. The next most cross-happy team, Eintracht Frankfurt, has only attempted 326. In many ways, this strategy makes sense. One of Robert Lewandowski’s biggest strengths is being able to get a shot off from almost anywhere, so if you can hit him with a cross, even if it isn’t the best angle, he’s more than likely to make something out of it. Crosses don’t necessarily have to come from a shot, either. If you pick off somebody on the edge of the box, they can quickly tap a pass into the center near the penalty spot. If you watch Bayern consistently, you’ll see Joshua Kimmich do this A LOT. Of course, that’s just one of many avenues of attack that Bayern can use to do damage.

Now, lets talk about Borussia Dortmund. Things aren’t looking so great. Raphael Guerreiro and Jadon Sancho both injured themselves on Tuesday against Borussia Monchengladbach. Manuel Akanji is still injured. Another thing to consider is that BVB will have to face Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday, with only a slim one-goal lead to defend. This is something that Edin Terzic will have to consider. At the time of my writing this article, there still is no confirmation regarding the status of Guerreiro and Sancho for Der Klassiker, but even if they are theoretically healthy, Terzic may choose to rest both players to preserve them for Sevilla.

So I’m going to go ahead and assume that these two won’t play, whether it is because they ae legitimately injured, or they just don’t want to risk further injury. This is the lineup I predict:

With Sancho injured, Thorgan Hazard will have to cut his post-injury recovery short and jump feet-first into the hornet’s nest. Meanwhile, the same midfield that kept a clean sheet against Gladbach on Tuesday will need to start again. With Akanji out, Emre Can will need to slide into the back line again, which means Jude Bellingham, Thomas Delaney, and Mahmoud Dahoud are the only real options in midfield.

Update: Why.

The club has officially confirmed it. Raphael Guerreiro, Gio Reyna, and Jadon Sancho will not travel to Munich with the rest of the team. This doesn’t change anything in my predicted lineup, but it does confirm that BVB will have fewer options off the bench.

BVB’s mountain to climb just got a bit taller.