The German Bundesliga’s return to action following the coronavirus shutdown has been successful so far, with goals galore and plenty of plaudits for their safety protocols and preparation to boot. Tuesday’s game at Signal Iduna Park is the biggest one yet, as Bayern visit Dortmund(kickoff at 12.30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. ET GMT) in a battle of first vs. second atop the table. (The pair are separated by just four points with seven games remaining.)
Dortmund will fancy their chances at home against the defending league champions, but recent history favors Bayern as they’ve won nine of their previous 15 Bundesliga meetings.
Tactics: Who has the edge?
Borussia Dortmund were maybe the most delightfully unstable team in the league during the first half of the season. Their ball-dominant, high defensive line system has been all-or-nothing: they’ve both produced 12 clean sheets and given up three or more goals in a match on six different occasions. Since the winter break, however, that ratio has improved: six clean sheets and giving up three-plus goals only twice in 10 matches.
There are two ways you score on Borussia Dortmund at this point: set pieces or quick, vertical strikes. BVB have given up 12 goals in 11 German matches since the break (10 in the Bundesliga, one in the DFB-Pokal). Ten of those 12 goals came in matches against Augsburg, Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen, teams that have scored 42%, 31% and 27% of their goals this season respectively on possessions with two or fewer passes. All three of Augsburg’s goals came on quick, vertical attacks, and Leverkusen and Bremen managed one each in similar fashion.
Bayern’s 4-0 home win over BVB in November didn’t really follow this script. Serge Gnabry did score on a lovely counter-attack, but two Lewandowski goals were produced from beautiful passing in tight spaces, and the fourth came on an own goal. No one else has been able to take apart BVB’s defense like that since; at the time, no team except Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League has held them scoreless. Since adding Haaland in January, they’ve scored a whopping 35 goals in those 11 German matches.
It sure feels as if Borussia are a dramatically different and more stable team since the break. Now they get the ultimate chance to prove it. — Bill Connelly
The players to watch
Lewandowski has been on fire when facing his old club Dortmund. The best Bundesliga player of the past decade has scored 16 goals in only 11 league games against the team he led from 2010 to ’14. He scored at least two goals in his past four outings against BVB and has been on target in every Bundesliga match since a 1-0 defeat at the Westfalenstadion in November 2016.
On the defensive side, Dortmund’s hopes rest on Hummels. The 31-year-old 2014 World Cup winner has only ever played for Borussia and Bayern, from where he returned to the Westfalenstadion last summer. Leading BVB’s back three, he has been responsible for a new-found stability at the back. BVB had conceded 32 goals after 21 matchdays, but only Borussia Monchengladbach was able to beat them once in the six matches that followed. BVB won all of them.
However, Hummels is facing a race against time after leaving the pitch early with Achilles tendon problems in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Wolfsburg. Should BVB’s defensive leader not feature, all Dortmund hopes rest on the exciting attack where wunderkind Haaland and England international Sancho have provided for excellent entertainment in 2020.
For Bayern, young Canadian winger/wing-back Davies could be the difference-maker. Playing against the attack-minded wing-back Hakimi and ageing defender Lukasz Piszczek, his speed will be hard for Dortmund to control. And don’t forget to keep an eye on Thomas Muller, who has hit his best form in several seasons under coach Hansi Flick. — Stephan Uersfeld
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