Our next opponents: Searching for the right balance

Following a two-week break in the Bundesliga, the Werkself are away to Borussia Dortmund in the big match on Sunday 6 February (kick-off: 15.30 CET). Third away to second – that promises an exciting encounter as in the previous meeting this season. Both teams not only have similar strengths but also similar problems as the lowdown on our next opponents reveals.


BVB have won all of their three Bundesliga matches in this calendar year to make a perfect start to the second half of the season as far as results are concerned. Dortmund now have eleven more points than at the same time last season. So is everything going to plan for the team in second spot? Not quite. In addition to the surprise DFB Cup exit for the holders in the Round of 16 tie away to second division FC St Pauli (1-2), the wins against Eintracht Frankfurt and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim were not perfect. In the match at Eintracht, the Black and Yellows turned round a two-goal deficit in a dramatic end to the game to run out 3-2 winners. And the impressive 5-1 win at home to SC Freiburg was followed by a "flattering win for us" in Sinsheim as Dortmund's coach Marco Rose admitted. In the 3-2 win against a dominant TSG side, the Black and Yellows were clinical in converting three chances. "The win was down to efficiency," said goalscorer Marco Reus, hitting the nail on the head. The two-week Bundesliga break after that match was, according to head coach Rose, "not that inconvenient" for Borussia and the focus in intensive training sessions has been on the defensive work and winning the ball.


There was little movement in the winter transfer window for Dortmund as the BVB squad was in such good shape ahead of the second half of the season. Winger Ansgar Knauff (20) went out on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt, midfielder Tobias Raschl (21) signed for league rivals SpVgg Greuther Fürth. The move for goalkeeper Roman Bürki to French top-flight side FC Lorient did not go through. BVB did not announce any new signings. A number of regular starters returned after being sidelined through injury in the first half of the season. That included the 19-year-old youngster Giovanni Reyna who was out of action for almost six months due to a muscle injury. "We missed him, his creativity, goal threat and his craftiness in being able to move between the lines," said Sebastian Kehl, head of first team football at Dortmund. "Perhaps he might be in the squad at the weekend against Bayer 04." There is also a question mark over striker Erling Haaland who suffered a groin injury in the 3-2 away win in Sinsheim. The Norway international, who netted a brace in the 4-3 win for Dortmund at Leverkusen earlier this season, scored his 80th goal in 79 appearances for BVB at Hoffenheim. In addition to Haaland, Mats Hummels and Emre Can have slight injury problems. The chances of the three playing in the big match against Bayer 04 were rated as “unlikely” by Rose on Friday afternoon.


The Borussia Dortmund attack is among the best in the Bundesliga. In addition to top scorer and provider Erling Haaland (16 goals, 5 assists), there are some excellent players for fast, passing football in the shape of Jude Bellingham, Julian Brandt, Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard, Giovanni Reyna, Youssoufa Moukoko and Donyell Malen. Whenever BVB really get going it's uncomfortable for their opponents. With a total of 52 goals, Borussia have scored the second highest number in the league after FC Bayern (65). Bayer 04 are third in this ranking with 49 goals. In terms of chances converted, Dortmund are in top spot with 24% – followed by the Werkself on 22%. There was an object lesson in terms of BVB efficiency – see above – in the 3-2 win in Sinsheim. All three assists came from the Dutchman Donyell Malen. The best providers for the Black and Yellows are the former Leverkusen player Brandt and the 18-year-old England international Bellingham with six assists each. Dortmund are particularly strong at home at the Signal Iduna Park with their 27 points on their own turf the best return in the league. Only Bayern were able to come on top there in the Bundesliga (3-2). BVB have won nine games at home.


As strong as BVB are going forwards, they have proved susceptible in defence. "We are conceding too many goals," said Julian Brandt. "We often defend well but we don’t keep it up over the 90 minutes. That will also be an issue against Leverkusen but we can't just switch it from one day to the next." The Rose team have conceded 31 goals in 20 games including ten from set pieces. They have only kept two clean sheets. A disappointing return for a top team like Borussia. One reason is clear to Brandt: "This season we are playing a very high and very extreme pressing game." That is in the development stage at the moment, "and we haven't perfected it yet," said the 25-year-old. For sporting director Michael Zorc it is also about "the general determination to work off the ball. At corners, we’re not counter pressing and we have to be uncompromising in challenges as a team. We can all improve in that respect."


Borussia Dortmund are in a good place at the moment as they are second in the table. If the record champions from Munich should stumble then Dortmund want to be able to take advantage. Sebastian Kehl said there is too much ambition to give up the season now. "But it would not be right to talk about a really good chance of winning the title," said the head of the first team squad. "We know how quick things go, how solid Bayern are and we can also see that the teams below us want to catch up and stick at it." If BVB have less bad luck with injuries in the second half of the season and they succeed in all parts of the team of "continually maintaining a top level throughout a game" (Michael Zorc) then the title race could remain exciting for longer than in past seasons. After going out of the Champions League, Dortmund also have the ability and the desire to go far in the Europa League.


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