Victory over Mainz on Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund claim third place — the minimum they want to achieve in the Bundesliga this season. It could even be the maximum, with Red Bull Leipzig keeping pace with leaders Bayern Munich.
Dortmund are still trying to find their groove in 2017. Last week, they had phases of domination in their 2-1 win against Werder Bremen, but also looked disorganised toward the end of the game against decimated hosts.
BVB’s struggles in Bremen were put into perspective by Bayern Munich, finding it hard themselves during their 2-1 win against the same opponents on Saturday.
“It is important for us [to] get away with three points for the sake of confidence and put another good week of training on top,” Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel added.
And a good week of training it was for Tuchel, as he had a full squad at his disposal, barring the injured Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned to team training on Wednesday after crashing out of the African Nations Cup with hosts Gabon.
“He will play,” Tuchel confirmed. It remains to be seen whether the striker will start, but there are changes to be expected in the lineup from the Bremen match. Goalkeeper Roman Burki is poised to reclaim his spot between the sticks after a broken hand had ruled him out since November.
Although Roman Weidenfeller played well against Bremen, too often it looked as if age had caught up with the 36-year-old. Burki’s return means a significant upgrade in Dortmund’s sluggish build-up play from the back, which will take some pressure off the defence, as the 26-year-old is much more comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Chances are, Dortmund will look much sharper in Mainz than they looked against Bremen, as Ousmane Dembele should also find himself on the teamsheet. The 19-year-old looked horribly off pace when he was brought on in the final 20 minutes in Bremen, as he was nursing a muscle injury, but with one week of training under his belt, Mainz have to be prepared for his agility.
Dembele turned into a key component of Tuchel’s plans during December, when he was not only directly involved in four goals but assumed a more central position to assist Julian Weigl in Dortmund’s build-up play. His mazy runs from midfield have allowed BVB to carry the ball into the final third and create space.
Weigl, Dembele and Marco Reus, who has scored 10 goals in 15 games against Mainz, are the only guaranteed starters in BVB’s midfield. Andre Schurrle, Mario Gotze, Raphael Guerreiro, Gonzalo Castro, Shinji Kagawa, Christian Pulisic, Emre Mor, Sebastian Rode and Mikel Merino will have to battle it out for the remaining spots.
While it will mean dissatisfaction for anyone who doesn’t make the cut, it is a luxury Tuchel hasn’t found too often this season due to several injuries. With a plethora of attacking options, the Dortmund manager explained: “As a head coach, you are always happy when it — finally — is like this. This is a situation where we can get the best out of your players. This competition for places is great for us, and it means we can reach the highest level.
“It is a totally different situation when you can train with more than 20 outfield players. This situation increases your concentration, your awareness.
“Of course, there are some tough decisions to make, but that’s how it is when you’re a coach.”
Although the Black and Yellows have won five out of their last six trips to Mainz, the Nullfunfer have always made it a tricky fixture.
However, the scoreless draw against Cologne exposed the lack of attacking threat from Martin Schmidt’s side. Mainz have lost their best outfield player this winter, with Yunus Malli looking for greener pastures at Wolfsburg. With the suspension of centre-forward Jhon Cordoba, who acts as Mainz’s target man, Sunday’s hosts will have to find new ways to get the ball forward. With the quick Pablo de Blasis and Yoshinori Muto, BVB will have to beware of counterattacks.
With almost a fully fit squad, there will be few excuses for the Ruhr side to not come away with all three points on Sunday.
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