Since returning from the winter break, Borussia Dortmund are on a three-match winning run and will look to extend that run on Friday when they head to newly-promoted Heidenheim. A fourth win in as many games in the Rückrunde would lift BVB to third in the Bundesliga, at least temporarily, and would put pressure on Stuttgart and RB Leipzig to keep up with the pace Dortmund are setting.
Heidenheim’s first season in the Bundesliga has so far been a huge success. The Baden-Württemberg club currently sit 10th in the league table, 11 points clear of the relegation zone. The Heideinheim fans have made the most of their success, selling out the 15,000-seater Voith-Arena in every home game so far this season, and they have been rewarded with some very respectable home form (W5-D2-L2).
Heidenheim’s underlying numbers do suggest they are probably overperforming quite a bit, with their expected goal difference placing 16th in the Bundesliga, but their goal difference ranks 12th in the league, suggesting they’re at least better than relegation quality. Heidenheim’s goal difference plus the 11-point advantage they have on the teams propping up the rest of the league gives me confidence that they will get to enjoy at least one more season in Germany’s top flight. They should rest on their laurels. They can certainly afford to drop some points at the weekend!
Player to Watch: Jan-Niklas Beste
Jan-Niklas Beste had a breakout year in the 2. Bundesliga last season, firing Heidenheim to the title with 12 goals and 12 assists (0.68 non-penalty goals and assists per 90 (npG + A/90)). The 25-year-old German left-winger had previously shown glimpses of the player he could become at Jahn Regensburg, but it wasn’t until he joined Heidenheim in 2022 that he took the next step. Incredibly, he has not just maintained his 2. BuLi pace since Heidenheim were promoted, he is actually performing even better! Beste has scored five and assisted a further seven so far this season, averaging 0.75 npG + A/90.
Beste has combined his great numbers in the final third with plenty of hard work out of possession and solid ball progression from deep, and he has been a big part of Heidenheim’s excellent form this season. The underlying numbers do suggest he is running a little hot at the moment — I think there is probably quite a lot of air in his finishing right now. But even with some regression to the mean I think Beste’s numbers will look pretty good for a winger in their first season in the top flight. At worst, he is a creative winger who will chip in with a few goals and work hard on both sides of the ball.
The part of Beste’s game that should give BVB real cause for concern is his set-piece deliveries. Beste has averaged 4.25 shot-creating actions per 90 (SCA/90) this season, and just over 50% of that has come from dead balls, and of his 0.21 xAG/90, just over 70% of that has come from set-pieces. That’s not great news for a team that ranks 11th in the Bundesliga in shots conceded from dead balls per 90 and 13th in goals conceded from dead balls.
Dortmund’s lineup against Heidenheim is going to be patched together from the remains of a slightly depleted squad right now. Edin Terzic confirmed that Julian Brandt, Marco Reus, and Gregor Kobel are still unavailable due to illness, in a press conference earlier in the week, while Jadon Sancho has picked up an adductor injury. It is possible that Sancho will still be a part of the matchday squad, but at this point, it seems unlikely he will be in the starting eleven. The good news is that Emre Can, Mats Hummels, and Ramy Bensebaini will all be available.
Given that BVB are still a little light on offense, I think Terzic will go with something similar to the 4-4-2 we saw against Bochum, but with a few personnel changes.
While Youssoufa Moukoko and Niclas Füllkrug were an awkward fit at times against Bochum, I think there was enough there to suggest they should keep running this system while Brandt and Reus are out. This should hopefully give both the opportunity to work together and grow into their roles in the system, potentially giving BVB another approach to games in the future.
I think Jamie Bynoe-Gittens will replace Sancho, and if Sancho is fit he will be a great option off the bench. I have also gone for Can instead of Salih Özcan, though it is possible that Can may not be fit enough to start. Finally, I’d expect Hummels to come back in and sure things up at the back, because the Schlotterbeck-Sule pairing always seems a little too chaotic. Hummels brings some much-needed leadership in defense.
Heidenheim have been tough to beat this season, especially at home, and with BVB missing a few key players right now, I think this game has the potential to be a banana skin. Heidenheim are dangerous from set-pieces, and that has long been Dortmund’s kryptonite, but with Hummels back in the backline I hope that any damage can be limited.
I would not be shocked if BVB dropped points on Friday night, and as long as the performance is not torrid, I wouldn’t necessarily be distraught if the game ended in a draw.
That said, I think the most likely outcome is still that Dortmund come away with all three points. Ian Maatsen has been the difference maker for BVB since joining on loan in January, and I don’t think Heidenheim have the quality to really slow him down. I suspect BVB will get the win, but it will be slim margins, and I think Heidenheim will make things a little nervy by grabbing a goal from a corner.
Heidenheim 1-2 Borussia Dortmund
Do you think BVB will go with the same 4-4-2 that they tried against Bochum? And how many jump scares are you expecting from Heidenheim corners?