The glitter of the Champions League has barely faded, but Matchday 23 in the Bundesliga gets underway with a mouth-watering clash between upstart Schalke and the winning machine of Bayern, as well as Dortmund’s next challenge as they look to catch Leverkusen.
Borussia Dortmund vs. FC Nürnberg
All eyes will be on Borussia Dortmund this weekend when they take on Nürnberg at home on Saturday. After their soaring victory over Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League, morale and momentum are high in the BVB camp, the negativity of the shock 3-0 defeat at Hamburg dispelled. But the BVB players cannot afford to rest on their laurels. The race for second has never looked hotter, and should Dortmund continue to slip, they might not make it to Europe at all next year. They trail second-placed Leverkusen by only one point, but are also only three points ahead of fifth-placed Wolfsburg. Shining in Europe this season is wonderful, but Dortmund must ensure that they will be there again next year.
While the Zenit game had flashes of brilliance—Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski were both at their marauding best—the scoreline flattered Jurgen Klopp’s team. Their high-flying victory was more of a testament to how poor Zenit were rather than how good they themselves were. BVB were disturbingly shaky in the back, a frailty that might be exacerbated by a new injury to Sokratis. The sight of the tough Greek lying on the Russian ground was the stuff of nightmares for every Dortmund fan. With Subotic out for the rest of the season, Hummels’ fitness still under question, and even makeshift central defender Sven Bender out, Sokratis’ knock would leave Dortmund with only veteran Manuel Friedrich and rookie Marian Sarr, whose mistake against Hertha Berlin left him in tears at halftime. Both Sokratis and Hummels are being closely monitored, and Klopp will make a decision close to kick-off.
The charismatic trainer will also be without Reus, who is serving a one-match ban after picking up his fifth yellow card against Hamburg. Klopp will hopefully give this opportunity to young Jonas Hofmann, who started the season so brightly, though the trainer may feel it safer to start Aubameyang and Großkreutz on the flanks instead.
Having flirted with relegation all season, Nürnberg now find themselves in a healthy 12th place. The Bavarians are enjoying a good run of form at the moment, pulling off a shock 3-1 win at Hertha and pummeling Hoffenheim, 4-0. But where Nürnberg have accrued a large portion of their 23 points is in draws; in fact, Nürnberg are the Bundesliga’s draw specialists this year, with a whopping 11 (the next most is Hoffenheim, with 8, and the league as a whole averages only 4.6). Both Schalke and Wolfsburg have recently fallen prey to this ability to equalize and hang on, and the reverse fixture against Dortmund saw Nürnberg hold Klopp’s men to a nervy 1-1 draw—the first points the then-leaders dropped.
A draw would be highly dangerous for the Schwarzgelben, and they should come out with all cylinders firing. Nürnberg will be missing experienced central defender Per Nilsson, who is serving a two-match ban after his red card last weekend, as well as American defender Timothy Chandler and striker Daniel Ginczek. Even without Reus, Lewandowski, Mkhitaryan, and co. should be able to outplay the Bavarians. Should under-fire Leverkusen slip against Mainz, second place would be black and yellow once more.
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller—Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels, Schmelzer—Sahin, Kehl—Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Hofmann—Lewandowski
FC Nürnberg: Schäfer—Angha, Petrak, Pinola, Plattenhardt—Frantz—Gebhart, Kiyotake, Feulner, Hlousek—Drmic
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 FC Nürnberg
Bayern v. Schalke
A thrashing are the only words that can be used to describe Schalke’s Champions League defeat by Real Madrid on Wednesday, but the Royal Blues face a different test entirely this weekend against Bayern. Jens Keller’s men boast a prolific attack, bolstered by Julian Draxler’s return, but are weak at the back. As such, they should take the game to Bayern rather than try to defend, as they will be torn to pieces if they try. They will be without left-back Sead Kolasinac, who suffered a jaw fracture against the Spaniards, while Kevin-Prince Boateng and Roman Neustädter are also carrying knocks.
Bayern, on the other hand, were hit by the news that Thomas Müller will be unavailable for the game due to a hamstring injury. The 24-year-old German international joins Franck Ribéry, still recovering from his buttock surgery, and Xherdan Shaqiri, who is back in training following a thigh injury. Pep Guardiola still has plenty of quality to choose from, however, and Bayern are probably not in danger of snapping their 47-game unbeaten run. Despite the present drama surrounding his contract, Toni Kroos was excellent against Arsenal and should make another start here, while Thiago has also been in rampaging form. At the heart of Bayern’s offensive machine, they will be looking to exploit Schalke’s weak defense. What is even more terrifying about Bayern is that they also haven’t conceded in six games, in all competitions, and have conceded only one (against VfB Stuttgart) since the restart.
Schalke will need more than a generous helping of luck if they are to get anything out of this game, but it should be an entertaining one for neutrals nonetheless. There is always a chance that Bayern will be complacent, as they were against Stuttgart, and Schalke certainly have the quality to punish the Bavarians if they are.
Bayern Munich: Neuer—Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba—Lahm—Robben, Thiago, Kroos, Götze—Mandzukic
Schalke: Fährmann—Höwedes, Matip, Santana, Fuchs—Neustädter, Boateng—Farfán, Meyer, Draxler—Huntelaar
Bayern Munich 2-1 Schalke
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
Hertha Berlin kick off Matchday 23 when they host Freiburg, hoping to keep pace with fellow contenders for European places. Bayer Leverkusen seek to halt their mini-crisis against in-form Mainz, while Borussia Mönchengladbach also look to regain their form when they visit bottom-side Eintracht Braunschweig. Mirko Slomka’s Hamburg, flying high after their 3-0 demolition of Dortmund, will try to repeat this result against struggling Werder Bremen. In-form Augsburg host Hannover 96, and on Sunday, Wolfsburg travel to Hoffenheim as they edge ever closer to the top four, while VfB Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt, separated by only three points, fight it out in Hesse.